Chess Ultra for Xbox One review: A deep chess game with cross-platform multiplayer
Ripstone, the British publisher of Pure Chess, has just developed its own sequel called Chess Ultra. With realistic graphics, cross-platform multiplayer versus the Steam version, and plenty of puzzles, Chess Ultra really has almost everything chess players could want – although a few choice features are limited to the Steam version.
A serious chess simulation
Chess is a two-player board game dating back to sixth-century India. Each side has six different piece types, each with different styles and move values. The goal is to take as many of your opponent’s pieces as possible and eventually put their king in checkmate, a position from which there is no escape.
By now, most of us have played chess at some point in our lives. If you are new to chess or not an active player, you could probably use a rules review. Luckily, Chess Ultra has an extensive tutorial mode with short tutorials dedicated to individual pieces, different opening styles, and other fundamentals of the game. You’ll earn multiple achievements as you go through the tutorials , so they are certainly worthwhile, even if you know your failures.
As a single-player game, Chess Ultra features a unique game mode with plenty of options, as well as a robust set of challenges. Some of these options include selecting between four beautiful slots, four piece sets (including a Checkers style set for aerial play and a fantasy set which I find too hard to tell apart), six color themes for non-fantasy pieces , five timer options and ten AI difficulty levels. I’m completely rusty at chess and can always beat the lowest difficulty, so that’s a plus.
The Challenges menu offers eight sets of challenges. Historical matches consist of ten real matches starting with a famous match from 1912 and going all the way to a great match from 2008. shots. If you play it without cheating, you will spend hours in Challenges mode.
Chess Ultra’s multiplayer options consist of single games and online tournaments. When playing locally, both players must share a controller. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an option to use separate controllers.
Online games seem to be largely asynchronous in nature. After choosing to start a new online game, the system will pit you against another player who has probably done the same. The online game will then appear in your games list (you can have six games running at a time). It’s worth noting that the game doesn’t do a great job of letting players know that the match has actually started, so just check back once in a while.
The option to start a matchmaking online game where the other person is actually present and staring at the screen when you join would have been really nice. As it stands, it takes patience to launch a game. But playing against friends is always an option, if you want a more controlled and/or real-time experience.
Online tournaments offer a promising alternative to simple games. Players can join large-scale tournaments hosted by Ripstone or create their own. You can watch the replay of any match in an ongoing tournament, so watching even after you’ve been knocked out can still be fun. Player-created tournaments suffer from the same problem as regular player matches, however – you have to wait and hope other players realize they’re even in a game with you.
Matchmaking issues aside, Chess Ultra has a big feather in its cap: cross-platform multiplayer! The Xbox One version can play against the Steam version but not the PlayStation 4 version (due to Sony’s restrictive policies). You can disable cross-platform functionality in the options, but since there’s no chat functionality, I don’t see any downside to playing against Steam users.
Steam vs. Xbox One
The Xbox One version lacks a few Steam game features:
- Virtual reality support.
- The opponent of the grim reaper.
- The ability to play against Twitch viewers.
- The ability to export move lists to text files.
The lack of VR support isn’t an issue, given the current lack of a VR solution on the Xbox One. But the reaper opponent can only be experienced in VR – you don’t see your opponent outside of VR. Games like this need all the personality they can get, so not being able to play against Death on Xbox is a drag.
The missing Twitch multiplayer functionality is less excusable; there is no technical reason why the Xbox game cannot connect to Twitch as well. If you were a popular Twitch streamer and wanted to integrate Chess Ultra into your channel, Steam gaming would be the way to go.
The Xbox One version of Chess Ultra has 38 achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. Many of them are quite easy; I got 22 after a few hours of play. You will have to complete all the solo challenges, which will take time but will be doable.
Online multiplayer presents the real problem. One achievement requires you to win 20 tournaments and another is to win a 32-player tournament. There is a boostable method to do this, but it involves creating 31 alternate accounts – yuck!
I haven’t played Pure Chess, so I can’t compare Chess Ultra’s improvements to that game. But Chess Ultra is a really solid chess game. It’s beautiful and has quality quiet music that varies by location, including a few songs with lyrics. The robust tutorial and large number of challenges ensure that solo players can learn the game and have a great time, and the cross-platform multiplayer is great too.
The only area where Chess Ultra falls short is its asynchronous matchmaking system. Not that asynchronous play has no place in chess games, but the game should also have an option to instantly start playing with someone who is actually present at the time. Waiting for another player for an unknown period of time isn’t the most exciting way to enjoy chess.
Chess Ultra is $12.49 on Xbox and $12.99 on Steam. Whether you’re a novice or expert chess player, the clean looks and wealth of features make this a great buy.
- Almost photorealistic graphics.
- Lots of single-player challenges to solve.
- Cross-platform play between Xbox One and Steam!
- Matchmaking is entirely asynchronous.
- Some part colors and sets are too difficult to distinguish.
- Sterile games like this could benefit from some personality.
Xbox One review copy provided by the publisher.
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