Checkpoint Champion is a game that answers one of mankind’s most burning questions: can any car be turned into an off-road rally car? I have a Scion xB sitting outside my window right now that would be vociferously shaking its head if it had one, but Protostar’s simple but fun top-down driving game says yes. It’s a pleasant distraction that is only missing some additional depth to hold your interest long term.
If driving was as simple in real life as it is in this game, no one would ever fail a driver’s exam. There would also be a lot more traffic accidents, but you take the bad with the good. Since your car is always going forward like it had a brick attached to the accelerator, all you have to do is tap and hold on one side of the screen to turn in that direction. Holding down both buttons at once activates the turbo, giving you a speed burst. Simple, right?
It sort of needs to be since the difficulty level is somewhere between challenging and merciless right from the start. Each level requires you to pass a series of checkpoints before time runs out, either by driving over them or slaloming around them. Most stages ask you to take the checkpoints in order, only pointing the way to the next one once you’ve reached your current goal, while others are free-form and you can tackle the points in any order you choose.
Compounding the trickiness is the fact that you have multiple types of terrain to master, from asphalt to dirt to water. Each one slows your car and affects its handling in slightly different ways, and knowing that’s the case doesn’t always mean you’re up to the challenge of handling transitions from one to another.
Is that a fault of the controls? They certainly feel pretty tight, which is a must considering how much turning you need to do, and yet there were so many times where I would just miss a checkpoint by a hair. You can switch to a different car that might fit your driving style better, but only two different vehicles are available to start and only three total — a shockingly low number for a modern driving or racing game.
There’s also not a whole lot of variety as you work your way through the challenges, so you’ll be seeing the same two maps a lot. That’s something that is easily fixed through updates, though, so it’s not a deal-breaker. Neither are the ads, which can be turned off with a one-time in-app purchase.
The graphics are also a strength, giving off a distinct retro vibe withoput necessarily reminding you of one particular game. The dust clouds that trail behind you while driving over dirt and the splashes of mud while plowing through the … well, mud, are also well done. I dig the music too, there’s just not enough of it to grab your attention for long periods of time.
And that’s something that can be said about the game as a whole, as well. Checkpoint Champion is easy to play yet difficult to master, but it does leave you wanting more: more vehicles (especially), more game modes, just more in general, and not necessarily in the good way. If you get hooked on the challenge of perfecting your turning skills so you can get all three stars on every level, this is going to be your new favorite game. Otherwise, you’re going to do what I did, which is to play it for a bit, admire its good parts and move onto something else.