Video Checkers Review

Developer: Activision Publisher: Activision
Release Date: July 1980 Also On: None

Some games have been popular for ages. Indeed, Chess has its roots back in the Middle Ages, or possibly even before that. I do not know the exact origin of Checkers, but it is also a game that has been around for a while. Although much simpler in execution and easier to understand than chess is, that doesn’t make it any less strategic than its more involved counterpart. Early in the Atari 2600’s lifespan, Atari seemed to favor games that were relatively easy to program, so it is no surprise that a Checkers title found its way into the Atari 2600 library.

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Aesthetically, the game is far from impressive by today’s standards, but, by the standards of 1980, the graphics and the sound in this game are likely just about average. Boasting fairly large pixels, but not quite as big of ones as were prevalent nearer to the Atari 2600’s launch, and a whopping three on-screen colors at any given time (although the flashing of the board after you win flashes in four or five different combinations of colors), the graphics were certainly more than good enough to get the job done of conveying checkers on a checkerboard. The sound effects were very simple, a sound for when you selected a piece, another for when you moved a piece, and a short melody that would play if you won. Overall, the graphics and sound effects are okay for the type of game being conveyed.

Most anybody has probably played Checkers before, but for those who haven’t, here is how the game works. Checkers is played on a board made up of sixty-four squares on an eight-by-eight board, the same type of board used to play chess. The squares alternate in color between two colors, with squares of the same color diagonally attached to each other. Only one of the square colors is used in checkers.

On a turn, a player will take a checker and move it one square diagonally forward until it reaches the other side of the board, at which point they can move one square in any diagonal direction, forward or backward, with that checker. The exception is that if there is a checker of the other color on the square directly diagonal to you that you could move to, you can jump over it if the square in the same direction from it is vacant, a move which results in the checker being removed from the board. This move, called a jump, can be performed multiple times with the same checker in the same turn if the opponent has left another checker in position to be jumped over (in any legal moving direction for the checker at hand after the last jump), although a checker which reaches the other side of the board must stop at that point.

The objective of the game varies depending on what game type you select. With game ten being meant for two-players, games one through nine are regular checkers, with the higher game numbers resulting in higher computer skill (and unfortunately, more waiting time for the computer to make its moves). In regular checkers, the objective is to somehow trap your opponent in such a way that they cannot move, whether by blocking their checkers from moving or removing them from the playing field. Essentially, the player with checkers left at the end wins, with rare exceptions. In this video game incarnation of the game, you have to take a jump if it is available, although I am not entirely sure the actual rules require that, as I have seen people play without that rule.

Game modes eleven through nineteen are for a type of checkers called giveaway. Once again, the higher game modes result in higher computer skill and more time for the computer to consider its moves. Giveaway is the exact opposite of regular checkers, with the objective being to purposely put yourself in a position where you can no longer move. Once again, jumps must be taken if they are available.

One other option that you have if you want to use it is the ability to custom set the board, an ability which you can activate using the left difficulty switch. The right difficulty switch affects whether player one or player two/the computer goes first in the game. For an Atari 2600 game, especially such an early one, nearly twenty game modes plus the extra custom option is above and beyond what was really necessary. As such, longtime fans of checkers will certainly get much enjoyment out of this title, and even newcomers can enjoy it at the lower skill levels.

Graphics: 6
Sound: 6
Gameplay: 8
Creativity: 7
Replay Value/Game Length: 8
Final: 7
Written by Martin Review Guide

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