Ludeme Games developed Chess 2: The Sequel in association with designer David Sirlin, and has released it as a timed exclusive for the Ouya. I was invited to take a look, and I’m glad I did.
No longer is a checkmate the only way to win – the updated game is about territory, with a new “midline invasion” contingency. Either side to get his or her King on their competition’s side of the board claims victory, meaning fewer draws. There’s also a new blind-bid “dueling” mechanic. Land a bishop on a rook and you’re guaranteed to take your opponent’s piece. But in a duel, your opponent might take your bishop down beside his or her rook. Now taking an opponent’s piece is a risk.
Players are able to choose from one of 6 “armies”, each playing differently than the rest. The most familiar set is named appropriately enough, “Classic” — and it plays via the standard move set. Another army, “Animals”, has replaced the rook with a wild elephant. Able to trample any pieces in its way — including its own army — a player is no longer blocked by his or her own pawns. “Two Kings” swaps out the Queen, sacrificing her movement for double the chance to claim a midline victory. The rest are Empowered, Nemesis, and Reaper. Different move sets mean you can’t assume you know how your opponent’s pieces will move.
The game looks nice, with each army having several custom pieces. These are rendered in both solid 3D and, helpfully, 2D if you move the camera to an overhead view. The detail on each piece is nice, and I’m happy to have a freely rotating camera. That said, I’d like to see the ability to unlock different boards the vein of the old Chessmaster games just for the sake of variety. And while some of my favorite classical pieces (Moonlight Sonata, anyone?) can be heard, it would be nice if there was an option to turn off the music. And while you can play against the computer or with someone sitting next to you on the couch, online play is the real draw.
Waiting for a match didn’t take long at all. My opponent had 65 games to (I assume) his name, and this was my first. It was then I first noticed a few niggles I have about the online mode. First, players have up to 25 minutes to move a piece – and there’s no way to change that. And because this is played with a controller, there’s no chat box or any way of alerting each other if you’re suddenly interrupted. If, for example, you have a baby and it requires a sudden diaper change, there’s no way to say “Hey, wait, be right back.” Instead there’s just a silent count down.
As well, when the match is over there’s no way to say “good game!” or something to that effect. Maybe that’s possible on the Ouya itself and I missed it? Those minor quibbles aside, I experienced no noticeable lag in the match and experienced no disconnections or hiccups. Pretty solid all around.
I’d be remiss in not mentioning the pay model here. Like every game on Ouya, Chess 2 is initially offered as free-to-play. Online matches cost “crowns”. New players start with enough for 30 matches, which is definitely more than enough to decide if he or she likes what they’re playing. Players can re-up at any time, with the cheapest option costing $1.99 USD for 120 tokens. (Or, 15 games.) I’m not sure how I feel about this payment model, to be honest. On one hand, local play is unlimited and Chess 2: The Sequel is a solid game that cost exactly nothing to download. On the other hand, online multiplayer is the real draw, and if you get hooked you’ll end up shelling out. Then again, that isn’t so unheard of for those of us who remember playing in arcades.
I’m not sure I’d call Chess 2: The Sequel a system seller. But if you have an Ouya, dust it off and give this game a play. I think you’ll find it exciting in a way you never thought chess could be.