I can’t really say that Chess 2: The Sequel is a sterling example of the ills that will be the downfall of the games industry. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not because that isn’t the case. It’s difficult to imagine people actually paying out for the game so it can’t be directly responsible for the downfall of anything but my wallet. Say what you will about the industry’s AAA ‘Whipping Boy of the Week’, but at least games like Watch Dogs, Call of Duty and God of War are (mostly) straight with you about what you’re going to get for your money. Chess 2’s $25 asking price, on the other hand, offers a painfully crippled experience and does so while hiding behind the beloved “indie” label. It’s a nasty stab to the heart of the consumer and it betrays the gamer-friendly image the indie movement is trying so hard to cultivate.
Here’s the skinny: Chess 2 is, at its core, a pretty solid and enjoyable game. It offers a unique and engaging fast-paced variation on the classic game. Reaching the point where you can enjoy this juicy center of fun is a comically broken experience that, at the time of this writing, is only possible precisely because nobody has actually purchased the game. You can’t play Chess 2 with other players of your choosing. There’s a random player option available, however, and by timing the selection of this option with a friend it’s possible to ensure you’re matched up. The pool of potential players is (apparently) so small that this works nearly every time.
Let’s talk about the actual game for a bit. As mentioned, Chess 2 is presented as a “sequel” to chess itself, as unnecessary as that might seem. It presents a significantly different experience; first, both players are allowed to select from six different “armies.” Along with the classic chess set, there’s the Reaper set (where the queen is able to teleport around the board and capture any piece at will, while the rooks become impassible teleporting ghosts), the Two Kings set (where the player has a pair of kings with enhanced offense instead of a queen, but either king is vulnerable to check and checkmate) and several others. Playing with these armies is a whole different ball game and learning the strengths of weaknesses of various army match-ups brings to mind a fighting game.
Perhaps more significantly, the basic rules of chess are altered in Chess 2. The most important change affects the game’s victory conditions: along with the standard checkmate rule, a player wins if their king makes it past the horizontal midpoint of the board. This encourages a much more aggressive style of play, typically causing games to end very quickly. The other change is that players can collect and use tokens in the course of play. Each player starts with three tokens and gains another each time they capture an enemy pawn. When a player attempts a capture, their opponent may initiate a “duel;” both players wager a hidden number of tokens. If the attacker wagers more, the capture takes place as normal, while if the defender wagers more, the attacking piece is captured as well.
Both of these rules turn Chess 2 into some sort of bizarre insano-chess that feels like you’re playing some other planet’s idea of what the game is like. No longer can you safely capture pawns early in the game to jockey for a strategic advantage; now you run the significant risk of losing your capturing piece to a token wager. Early moves with the king are also significantly more useful in this version of the game, since sneaking the king past the board’s midpoint is an equally viable win condition. These aren’t necessarily bad changes, but they do ensure that this is a significantly different game than the original.
This might sound like fun, especially if you’re into chess. It is! It’s actually a fairly addictive and enjoyable experience that vastly speeds up chess and throws a little more variation into the mix. It doesn’t look or sound all that terrible, either, though it’s certainly very loud. The problem here is the fact that the game launched for $25 without friends list support, in-game chat, resolution adjustment options or even a simple volume control. These seem like they’d have been very easy to add and their absence strongly implies a slapdash port job from the OUYA in an attempt to rake in some easy Steam dollars.
If the developer wises up and does the work necessary to make Chess 2: The Sequel a more feature-complete package I’d be able to recommend it. As it stands, $25 is way, way too much for what you’re getting here. As a final note, despite the classic army being present it’s only possible to play using the Chess 2 rules here. You’re unable to play standard chess using this game, so if that’s what you’re after you should look elsewhere.