Day 77 - a sporting chance

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Right, now that I've finished with all that tedious job application stuff, I can finally get back to the business of playing games.  I've missed that in this last week!  Today, I decided that I'd treat myself to a sporting extravaganza, which ties in nicely with the last weekend of the Olympics.  I thought I'd play sports games or events that are featured in the Olympics.  I decided not to necessarily focus on any one person or any aspect of the book... purely writing about what I've played, instead.

Although there were arcade conversions of classic multi-event sports games on the 8-bit systems, there were a surprising amount of original games based on sports, too.  Many of them were quite successful, meaning that when we weren't out kicking a ball around in fields or the streets, we had plenty of athletic activity to keep us busy in front of the TV screens.  I probably can't cover everything in detail, but hopefully you'll enjoy this look at our computerised world of sport.


What's an Olympic Games without an opening ceremony?
The first multi-event game I ever played in my own home was Activision's Decathlon, on the Atari 2600/VCS.  It was a good job the Atari joystick was a sturdy effort, because this legendary game would have broken a lesser stick in no time at all.  The amount of waggling required was phenomenal, and I'm certain that our generation had the biggest biceps of any era of teenagers as a result of this and arcade games like Track and Field.

Once computers became more commonplace, we were treated to more sports games than we could ever have imagined.  I remember the time I went to a friend's house and found he had Daley Thompson's Decathlon for his Spectrum.  We must have practically battered those rubber keys into submission that afternoon.  Featuring the ten traditional decathlon events, it used the usual waggling control method to build up power, helping you to run faster, jump further and be more awesome.


Not showing the greatest technique, there.
You were (somewhat generously) given three lives to help you through the game, although technically you should have been allowed to play every event, regardless of score.  Although it would be surpassed by later titles, it became a legend in its own right and was a great starting point for the computer multi-event sports game.

The first game I played of this type on the Commodore 64 was the much less-well-known Brian Jacks' Superstar Challenge.  If you're anywhere around my age, you'll remember Superstars... it  was a TV show featuring top sportsmen and women of the era competing against each other in a number of sporting disciplines.  You'll probably have three main memories of it... the theme tune, Kevin Keegan falling off his bike and getting gravel rash, and judoka Brian Jacks destroying all opponents.  He was simply awesome.


This would be a strange sight in the Olympics!
Because of this, although perhaps a few years too late, he was immortalised in computer game form.  This game proved to be more interesting that you might have expected though, being more of a cross between Track and Field, the Superstars TV show and Summer Games.  Along with more traditional events such as canoeing and cycling (which make it eligible for inclusion in an Olympic feature!), it featured some unusual and even unique events to tackle, such as squat thrust and the boar shoot.  These proved to be enough to hold your interest, and the control methods were a bit more thoughtful, not relying on pure waggling but incorporating timing and rhythm.  This variation was enough to make Brian Jacks' Superstar Challenge a worthwhile addition to the collection.

Speaking of Brian Jacks, he came to renown as a judo expert, and his sport was represented on the 8-bits by Martech's Uchi Mata.  This was another game I owned, having bought it at a second-hand shop after reading the enthusiastic review in ZZAP! 64.  Now, judo is not like karate or boxing, or any other fighting, really.  You don't punch, and you don't really kick.  Instead, you throw.  You might think that this would be difficult to get across in a computer game, but Uchi Mata handled it surprisingly well.


Early series of Strictly Come Dancing lacked pizzaz.
Incorporating a grip meter and a graphic representation of the players' stances, it took a lot of effort to score points.  You had to really work hard to get the measure of your opponent.  Satisfyingly, counter-moves could be pulled off pretty successfully once you had the hang of the game, meaning that bouts could last for quite some time, although that proved to be just as exhausting as joystick waggling!  The transition didn't carry across well to the Spectrum, but the C64 version was a nice change of pace.

Tennis is now an Olympic sport, for better or worse, and it's been served by video games since the year dot.  Of course, everyone is aware of Pong, and who didn't have some kind of variant console in their homes?  Again, it was Activision to the rescue on the Atari, with their Tennis providing epic battles in households across the land and the world.


Look everyone!  Tim's winning!
There were loads of tennis games on home computers, though.  I wasn't going to play them all, so I concentrated on one that I had strong memories of... Psion's Spectrum classic, Match Point.  As is usually the case with Spectrum games, I played it at a friend's house, and I distinctly remember getting thrashed as I just stood there, swinging the racket wildly.  If you held the 'hit' button down, your player would just constantly swing away.  It looked silly, and it didn't help your game at all!  Once you got the hang of it, though, you could get into some lengthy rallies.  It was fun, but it seemed a bit slower than I remembered when I played it again.

Heading back down the "obscure Olympic sports that you wouldn't expect to play on a computer" road, the next game I played was one that, again, I owned courtesy of the local second-hand shop... Gremlin's Water Polo.


Pah.  There's even an action replay to confirm how rubbish you are.
On the other hand, why shouldn't it be a computer game?  If you can have football, you can have water polo.  They're both team sports where you have to put a ball into a goal, after all.  I quite enjoyed it when I bought it, although playing it now proved a tricky proposition.  I might have accidentally set the computer opposition a bit high, because I was trounced.  No Gold Medal for me!

Now, I know you probably won't believe me here, on any counts, but there was actually a sailing game available.  Well, there were a few as it happens, but the most prominent was Sailing by Activision... and I owned it!  Yes, really.  It was another four quid special from my favourite second-hand shop.  I must have spent so much pocket money at that place!


Shouldn't this game have been released by Ocean?
Part simulation and part racing game, it took a different tack on the racing genre (ho-ho!) and proved to be surprisingly absorbing.  It was difficult to get into, and the lack of variety meant I didn't play it for months, but it made a nice change from racing cars.  I might have liked it more if I had any kind of sea legs...

One of the most popular Olympic events is boxing.  In parallel to that, we've always loved a good scrap on our computers.  I don't think there are any Olympic boxing games, so I've played the one that was always my favourite... Barry McGuigan World Championship Boxing.


'Ave some of that, Ramirez.
Despite the fact that a side on view is quite restrictive for boxing, Barry McGuigan's did an awful lot right.  It gave you the chance to construct a boxer (although options were limited), and then either work your way up from the bottom or start as a contender.  I like taking the hard road, so I always started from the bottom.

You always have a choice of opponents, and once you've picked your fight, you can allocate the amount of time you spend training using various methods.  This determines your abilities in the ring, such as strength and endurance.


And it's a sweet left from Morrison...
I always enjoyed the flow of fights in this game, with a genuine momentum being built when you started to get on top, and the rising volume of the crowd noise (which seems sadly missing on the Spectrum version) added hugely to the atmosphere.  I never did get to be champion, but I always had an excellent time with this game.

One of the more intriguing Olympic events is table tennis.  The players get so pumped up and the games are really intense.  The games can make for some spectacular viewing... you can't quite believe some of the shots those players can pull off!

Table tennis is represented here by Konami's Ping-Pong, a conversion of the obscure arcade game of the same name.  I've played the arcade version before, and it's not a bad little game.  I'd never played a home conversion though, so I played Spectrum and C64 versions.  I have to say, the Commodore version looks and sounds a lot like the arcade version... I was pretty impressed.  As for gameplay, well, I was rubbish at both.  It's not exactly a top-drawer game, but it's a fun way to pass half an hour or so.


There's no body here.  What?
I've been surprised, in recent Games, to find that BMX is included as an Olympic sport.  I think most things can get in nowadays... when will darts be given its rightful place, I wonder?  Still, it gave me the opportunity to play a number of games from my younger days, all in the name of sporting greatness.

A couple of games get a mention here, from opposite ends of the quality spectrum.  One of my favourite budget games was Richard Darling's BMX Simulator.  A variation on the Super Sprint genre, this game gave you a number of BMX tracks to race around, either against a computer opponent or a friend.  The tracks were well-designed, and looked really nice, with ramps and raised bends all being effective obstacles which could help or hinder.  It was well worth the £1.99 asking price.


I'm doing about as well as the Team GB racers here.
Less successful was Richard's brother David Darling's BMX Trials.  Also a budget game, I received it on Christmas Day, the day I got my Commodore 64.  Frankly, it was appalling, not that it stopped him from going on to much bigger things.  It gave you a number of events to complete, such as racing, wheelies, etc.  It just played really badly and wasn't any fun!


"FOUL" is right...
Finally, and more in keeping with the mayhem of Olympic racing, I owned a game called BMX Kidz.  Again, it was a budget game, but this time it saw you racing against a decent number of computer-controlled opponents.  Tracks had a variety of jumps that you could (and had to, in fact) pull stunts off, and there were pick-ups along the way to boost your skillz.  It was pretty entertaining stuff, although a little bit annoying when you lost because you had to do well in the race and do enough stunts or you were out.  Nice title tune, too!


Go! Go! G-G-G-Go!
Of course, multi-event games are more in keeping with the Olympics, and that's how I'll finish this piece.  Hyper Sports was always one of my favourite arcade games.  I'd play it in arcades, taxi offices... wherever I could find it.  I was pretty good at it, too.  So I was very happy that it was released for the home computers.


Oh toss, I've failed.
Naturally, I owned the Commodore 64 version, and a very good version it was, too.  It was missing the pole vault, but that wasn't that big a deal, and worth the trade-off to get it in a single load.  It had the now-legendary version of the Chariots of Fire theme music, and the events were pretty faithful representations of the arcade game, so I was really happy with it, and it gave my Zipstik a real workout.


I expect the American coach might have something to say about this.
Spectrum owners were also well catered for.  Their version was also missing the pole vault, but it was also very playable and great fun.  Having played it myself now for this piece, I reckon it's pretty much on a par with the C64 game, with its skeet shooting having a slightly better feel but the C64 long horse being a better representation.  I think we all did well out of this one.

But the daddy, or daddies of the multi-event games were Epyx' classic Games series.  I'm not kidding, I couldn't believe my eyes the first time I saw Summer Games II.  The animation in the triple jump was astonishing.  The games themselves were stunning, with intelligent control methods linked to very enjoyable events.  There weren't too many mis-steps in these games.


A bit of over-rotation early in the dive.  That'll cost him.
The original Summer Games is something I didn't play for a long time.  Coming after I'd played Summer Games II, it lost some of its "wow" factor.  Nonetheless, it featured a number of very impressive events that were fun to play.  I expect that it blew a lot of minds upon release.  Personal favourites for me were diving, rowing, pole vault and skeet shooting.

Good though it was, it was improved upon to a massive degree for Summer Games II.  Right from the opening triple jump event, you're hooked by the presentation, graphical brilliance and sheer playability.  Being a triple jumper at school, I loved this event, and would play it over and over, attempting to get further and further.  I never got tired of it, even when I'd more or less maxed out the distance.


Good form there.  A good attempt is on the way.
Some of the other events were equally stunning.  The high jump and javelin throw featured the same stunning animation and clever controls, making them a joy to play.  The other events were varied and brilliant, making sure that Summer Games II is a game that has stayed in memories for a long, long time.

I've missed many games out of this, of course.  Epyx released a number of other Games which featured all kinds of varied events.  There's Track and Field and loads of games inspired by it, along with alternative Olympic-style games.  I could have sat here for a week and not finished, if I'd wanted.  You have to draw the line somewhere, and here it is.  Hopefully there are some happy memories for everyone in here... I've played about fifty Olympic events, and had a great time putting it together.