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.