Overall Score 85%
Checkers (or draughts) is so old, nearly everyone has heard of it. Two players sit at opposite sides of a chessboard with twelve counters each side. Advance them diagonally towards your opponent, capturing enemy counters by jumping over them. Get a counter to the end of the board and it gets 'kinged', allowing it to go backwards as well as forwards. Capture all the enemy counters to win.
And here we have Checkers Ultimate. It's Checkers, with a few new twists. For one thing, you can view the board from any angle, even your opponent's view or looking down from above. Another is to play using regular counters, buttons, or even "Magic Cola" bottle tops. And you can play tournaments against a range of AI opponents, over the internet or just play a friend on the same computer.
Checkers is almost entirely played by mouse. The only time you'll need the keyboard is when you enter your player name at the very beginning. From then on you select all the options with the mouse, and move pieces by clicking on them and then the destination square (helpfully lit in green). Rotate the board by holding down the right button and moving the mouse. You can zoom in and out with the middle button.
I was very impressed with the graphics. The three different kinds of counter (and board) are neatly rendered and the jumping of the counters is smooth and stylish, especially when you take a counter and it goes spinning off the board! The AI players (and your own self) are depicted by linedrawn caricatures; a nice touch, though I sometimes would have liked some more 'ordinary' faces. The 3D motion of the board is also well executed.
Assuming you know how to play (I did not find any instructions for Checkers itself in the game documentation) this is a very easy game to operate. The controls are intuitive and the AI players range from almost random to rather strong. You can play any unlocked players you wish, so if it gets too tough for you, you can replay easier opponents. All good.
Sound effects for Checkers Ultimate are understandably limited. There aren't many noises above the click of menu buttons and the tap of a counter landing on the board. That said, there are some nice touches, like the applause when you win a game and the fanfare when you get a counter 'kinged'. In addition to this, a soft jazz style background music plays throughout. You can turn it off if you wish. I am not a jazz fan for the most part but I rather liked this tune.
The biggest downside to Checkers Ultimate is that it is simply Checkers. This doesn't make it a bad game - it plays Checkers very well - but there isn't much in the way of variation. The only rule you can alter is the "you must take if you can" rule. I'd like more options - new styles of board, perhaps, or new rules. If they turn out to be awful to play, so what? It's fun to experiment.
Checkers Ultimate is an excellent game, and checkers (or draughts) fans will enjoy it immensely. With style and quality like this, Lantern Games are a development team worth watching.
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