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Let the Games Begin: Twenty-Five Years of Videogame Olympics

For the past twenty-five years, developers have been trying with varying degrees to success, to duplicate the spectacle and competition of the Olympic Games. Today, Tech-Gaming looks back on a quarter century of Olympic simulation, ranging from humble button-mashing, 2600 joystick destruction, to one obscure Japanese title.


Track and Field (Arcade, 1983)
The grandfather of all Olympic videogames, Konami’s Track and Field challenged players at seven events: 100 meters, long jump, javelin, 110 meter hurdles, hammer throw, and high jump. Gameplay revolved around hitting two ‘run’ buttons in an alternating pattern as fast as possible. For every event beyond the 100 meter run, a third button was pressed to initiate a jump or to throw an object; for some contests, a trajectory was determined by the length of the player’s button press.

Although, Track and Field seems dated today, its core gameplay mechanics are still copied in modern games. While Beijing 2008 features 38 events and motion-capped athletes, its rapid button pressing mechanic doesn’t deviate from T&F’s precedent.  Recently, the original title had a DS update in the form of New International Track and Field, which offered players the ability to move a stylus in rapid left and right motions in lieu of the button mashing. Sadly, we didn’t like the lack of tactile feedback found in this new technique. Fans seeking a taste of the original arcade gameplay can find this title on the Xbox Live Arcade.

Fun Factoid: The strains of Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire theme can be heard when the arcade game is in attract mode.


      Note: Commodore 64 version is shown. See the logo in the bottom, left picture? That’s 1984 processing power!
The Activision Decathlon (2600, 1983)
With the sudden popularity of Track and Field in the arcade, Activision programmer David Crane quickly adapted a ten event game for the Atari 2600. Instead of pressing an alternating set of buttons, players wiggled the 2600 joystick back and forth to simulate an athlete’s speed. What seemed to be a reasonable alternative input method, became an exercise in joystick destruction; we remember going through about three or four sticks, while at least one person claims to have broken fifteen.

Masochists may remember the infamous 1500 meter run. Players would spend five minutes moving the controller back and forth, culminating in a carpel-tunnel inducing spring to the finish line.  Finishing this event left players with a herculean sense of accomplishment and extremely sore forearms.

Fun Factoid: The main sprite of Decathlon is a slight variation from David Crane’s previous hit- Pitfall!


Decathlete (Saturn, 1996)
While Sega’s title added little to the Olympic button-mashing formula, it is remembered for successfully bringing the genre into the 3D realm. With a speedy framerate, high resolution graphics, and player models that rivaled Virtua Fighter, Decathlete was a great looking game. The title was faithfully ported from the arcade, and because the Saturn hardware was similar, the game delivered the full arcade experience.

Decathlete’s success was duplicated in 1997 with Winter Heat, a game that replicated eleven Winter Olympic events, from ski jumping, bobsleds, speed skating to snowboarding.  The game was one of the last titles to be released for the beloved Sega Saturn.

Fun Factoid: Both games were developed by AM1, creators of the House of the Dead 1-3; in 2000, the group became known as WoW entertainment.


Masashikun Hi! (PC, 2008)
PC Freeware game genius Kenta “Saba” Cho created this five event title. Players use circular mouse motions to simulation athleticism in this wacky, novel game. The graphics features a quirky, stick-figure aesthetic that is both unique and charming. Events include a hill run, high jump, tug-of-war, shotput and high dive.
 
While Masashikun Hi! features none of the pageantry of the Olympic Games, its events are just as compelling, is a fun alternative to the seriousness of full-priced titles. The title runs briskly even on older PCs.

Fun Factoid: The English Readme was written by our very own Tidegear aka Adam Milecki.


Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games (Wii and DS, 2008)
While Mario and Sonic for the DS suffers from the same fate as the aforementioned New International Track and Field– scribbling on a touch screen isn’t an accurate conveyance of athleticism, there is fun to be found in the Wii version. Gameplay has been adapted to swinging the Wiimote and nuncheck wildly to replicate running. Luckily the mechanic translates well- and feels like a spiritual successor to Decathlon.
 
We liked Mario and Sonic’s shooting games, which recalled the skeet shooting from NES Duck Hunt. Field events call for finesse; for example, players are required to raise the Wiimote slowly to initiate a jump angle. Because of the title’s movement away from button-mashing, we found the game to be a refreshing alternative to a majority of similar titles.

Fun Factoid: SEGA of America president Simon Jeffery, pleased at worldwide sales on 10 million copies, alluded to a another collaboration between the two video game icons.

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert 'DesertEagle' Allen is Tech-Gaming's resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.

48 comments

  1. Excellent review. Some great memories there!

  2. Man, you guys brought me back!!! Where’s California Games, tho?

  3. Great post, even though I’m not a fan of olympic games.

  4. Great work guys!

  5. My kids love Mario and Sonic but I’m indifferent; Swimming is pretty damn hard.

  6. Yes, sweet memories of the “hit the buttons as fast as you can” Olympic video-games.

  7. TechGaming really knows their stuff. Maybe you guys should make a game?

  8. Excellent work- I remember using a pencil to cheat at Track and Field.

    I got kicked out of the arcade once after getting a warning.

  9. Cool article, informative.

  10. I haven’t from Mario and Sonic in a while and recently, it came up in a commercial. Guess its that time. Great article.

  11. You guys played all of those game?

    I can’t believe it; not originally when they were in the arcades!

  12. Tech-Gaming rolling with the big guys now, doing an IGN style overview.

  13. Tried Masashikun. I couldn’t tell what was going on even with Tide’s English page.

  14. A thread full of memories.

    I had the pad that came with a Track and Field clone for the NES. Anyone remember that?

  15. Strange, now I have a strong urge to go home and play Olympic game, but no urge to watch the real thing!

  16. Why is Beijing 2008 not included?

  17. One of your best overviews yet.

    Funny how the Olympics game hasn’t really evolved in 25 years.

  18. Eh, I rented it. Nothing but the amount of events saves it. Button-mashing still.

  19. Have any of the actual Olympic games been any good? I haven’t tried them in the past…

  20. I think the the mario and sonic game and the new international track and field for the ds are pretty good games. The stylus use seems gimmicky (as opposed to games that use it well such as Phantom Hourglass) but it is still much better than all the shovel-ware that comes out for the DS.

  21. I bought the Track and Field; I see your complaint; buttons you could feel. With the scratching you don’t get any feedback.

    Its a shame they didn’t perfect a technique, because the rest of the game is quite good.

  22. good review i may just have to pony up and buy this one.

  23. I greatly enjoy Fun Factiods. You must keep this a regular feature.

  24. I haven’t played an Olympic game since track and field. Wait, I take that back there’s the cavemen games (or whatever it;’s called.)

  25. Great article; I learned alot.

    Want to play an olypmic game now.

  26. Great retrospective!

  27. Whats up with the game that looks like it was made by a six year old?

  28. Found this on accident. I have to say- great article!

  29. A few months ago, I came here and the site was neck and neck with Wombat’s UGO blog.

    Now, after seeing this article, you guys have progressed significantly, while Wombat is spinning his wheels.

    The UGO site looks shit, too.

  30. Great post.

  31. great article!!

  32. Excellent overview. I too played Cali games by Epyx.

  33. Are you guys Tibitan? that would explain why no Beijing 2008 discussion.

  34. The sales for Mario & Sonic at the Olympics are downright scary.

  35. Most of these games stink!

  36. I’m pretty excited for the new olympics game. My dad and I have been playing olympics games since I was a kid, it’s just something we always enjoyed doing. I’m now 22 and still can’t wait to bring over the new one to play with my dad next time I visit home.

  37. It’s a shame there really haven’t been too many advances in Olympic sports gaming up until the Wii. They’ll probably decide to use the Wii Fit board for the next release of the Mario and Sonic game. That’s probably the best they can do without hooking up a real diving board or waterwings to a Wii. I’d love to see the developer do something really trippy, like a Mario and Sonic at the Olympics RPG.

  38. Just read I won Soul Caliber! Thanks so much!!!!!!!!!!!

  39. I love Mario and Sonic. Greatest type of this game.

  40. Mario and Sonic wins the gold.

  41. Real nice article.

  42. Solid work, guys.

  43. Worthy of my precious time!

  44. Button mashing at the arcade with Track and Field down at the local 7-11 eating rat burgers. Those were the days.

  45. I once spent $10.00 in tokens on Track and Filed. It was the most addicted I ever got to a video game.