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The Video Game Critic's
Summer Olympic Games Review Special

Updated July 30, 2016

I'm a big fan of the Olympics, and this feature highlights most of the Summer Olympic-themed games I've reviewed over the years. Hopefully it will help everybody get pumped up for the games in Rio!

Summer Games (1987)

Originally posted 2016/7/25
System: Atari 2600
Grade: B+
screenshotI own so many versions of Summer Games that I completely overlooked this remarkably good Atari 2600 edition! Not only does it offer seven unique events, but two players can go head-to-head in five of them! Up to eight players register themselves as athletes from the USA, Japan, Italy, France, U.K., Greece, Canada, Spain, and the now-defunct USSR. The events are so short and sweet you can breeze through them all in just a few minutes.

The opening event, hurdles, is not the joystick waggler you might expect. Instead you hold the joystick right, tapping up to hop the hurdles. It plays very well but why is my athlete decked out in black pants and dress shoes? Two swimming events let you propel yourself through the water by pressing the fire button in a rhythm. You get a satisfying boost with a well-timed kick off the wall. Skeet shooting is a simple aim-and-shoot affair that might be a bit too forgiving.

The 100 meter dash requires you to jiggle the joystick (you knew it was coming). Fortunately the race only lasts about 15 seconds so the chances of breaking a joystick (or shattering a wrist) is well under 20%. Gymnastics is the single dud of the bunch, mainly because it's so much more complicated than the others. One-third of the instructions are dedicated to it!

The competition winds down with a rowing event that lets you move the joystick in rhythm with the oars. The tournament concludes by displaying the top three countries, but some overall scores would have been nice. Still, Summer Games is an impressive technical accomplishment and a lot of fun. And I love the idea of playing an entire Summer Olympics in under ten minutes.

Decathlon (1983)

Originally posted 2002/2/7
System: Atari 2600
Grade: B-
screenshotMy initial review of Decathlon was fairly scathing, probably because I broke a joystick just trying to review the [expletive] thing! But eventually it dawned on me that Decathlon is really the precursor to all of those button-tapping track and field games we all have grown to love (or hate) so much. Moreover, the fact that it packs in ten events and supports up to four players is also noteworthy.

The events include the 100m dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400m race, 110m hurdle, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1500m race. Your smoothly-animated athlete is rendered in four colors, but for some reason the coliseum is only packing about 18 spectators. Only one player competes in each event at a time. Each requires a good bit of joystick jiggling, and the action can get pretty intense. Unfortunately, there's too much emphasis on running, and these events nearly ruin the game.

The 100-meter dash is tolerable, but the 400-meter race will have you jerking your wrist back and forth for a full minute! The final event is a 1500-meter race, and it is sheer torture! Another problem is that in most events each player gets far too many "tries", which is aggravating for the other players. One nice feature is how you can pick and choose individual events to customize your tournament. Overall, Decathlon is a fine choice for some spirited multiplayer action. It's the only Atari 2600 game that's ever made me break into a sweat!

Track & Field (1984)

Originally posted 2012/8/10
System: Atari 2600
Grade: B+
controllerThis is one of the most competitive games you'll ever play on your Atari 2600. Released to coincide with the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Track & Field provides frantic action similar to Decathlon (Activision, 1983) and Summer Games (Atari XE, 1984). The sharp graphics feature multi-colored and fluidly-animated athletes.

There are six events including sprint, long jump, javelin, hurdles, hammer, and high jump. If you've ever played the 1500m race in Decathlon, you'll appreciate the fact that all of these events are very short. Custom controllers were created specifically for this game. You alternately tap the two white buttons to build speed, and press the red button to perform an action (like throwing a javelin). The controllers are cool, but when push comes to shove, joysticks are the way to go. If nothing else, you'll get better scores.

Another thing that distinguishes Track and Field is its sheer difficulty. A minimum event score is displayed at the bottom of the screen, and if you don't qualify, the whole game abruptly ends. Even when playing on the novice setting, reaching the sixth event is a major achievement. In the two-player game, when one player gets knocked out early, the other must play out the remaining events against the CPU. Track & Field is highly entertaining and even thrilling at times. Difficulty notwithstanding, modern Olympic video games could learn a thing or two from this.

Decathlon (1983)

Originally posted 2011/6/18
System: Atari 5200
Grade: C+
screenshotFinally I have discovered a game well suited to those wobbly Atari 5200 joysticks! Decathlon requires you to shake the joystick continuously, and it's especially easy with a controller that's designed to be loose. This Olympic-style contest includes ten events: 100M dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400M, hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and the grueling 1500M run. Up to four players are supported, but only two compete at any given time.

Decathlon's controls are so easy that you won't need a manual. Running involves twiddling the joystick and jumping is done by pressing a button (or holding it in, as in the case of the pole vault). Your performance in each event awards points toward your overall tally, and it's fun trying to edge out your buddies down the stretch.

Most events are brief, and the throwing events are the best for that very reason. Longer events like the 400M dash will wear on your wrist, and my advice for the 1500M is to skip it altogether. It requires about 7 minutes of constant joystick wiggling, and no game is worth inflicting such repetitive stress on your wrist.

The athletes are nicely detailed and fluidly animated, but it looks funny how their upper bodies remain perfectly still while running. Decathlon's audio is so quiet that my friend Scott likened this game to "performing athletic feats in a funeral home". Activision could have probably done more with it, but Decathlon provides some much-needed multiplayer action for the system.

Track and Field (1987)

Originally posted 2004/1/22
System: NES
Grade: B
screenshotFor many old school gamers, the words "classic NES action" evoke fond memories of Track and Field in all its button-tapping glory. Picking up where the joystick-wiggling Olympic games of the early 80's left off (Summer Games, Decathlon), Track and Field combines simple controls with addictive, competitive gameplay. Your athlete competes in eight fun events: 100 meter dash, long jump, hurdles, javelin, skeet shooting, triple jump, archery, and high jump.

Each event is brief and easy to learn, and a few can be played by two people at once. In general the controls involve tapping a button to gain speed, and then holding down the directional pad to measure your angle. I remember back in the 80's when people were coming up with all sorts of crazy techniques for tapping the buttons, including running a coin back and forth feverishly over the controller. When you qualify for an event, the crowd roars and flashes enthusiastically, but breaking a world record is the ultimate achievement.

Most events are terrific but the difficulty is uneven, and I found games like skeet shoot and high jump to be excessively difficult to qualify for. Another issue is the obvious lack of playing modes, probably due to the game's arcade origins. You basically keep playing events until you fail to qualify, at which time your game ends abruptly. Upon completing a round, you advance to the next with a higher difficulty. Track and Field is a bit simplistic compared to latter day track and field games, but in terms of sheer fun, it's hard to beat.

Track and Field II (1988)

Originally posted 2004/1/22
System: NES
Grade: C+
screenshotWith the success of the first Track and Field, Konami went all out with this sequel, dramatically enhancing the presentation and expanding the event list. It's hard to compare this to the first game, because it's completely different. First of all, the graphics are nothing short of spectacular. The athletes look absolutely huge and well proportioned - a far cry from the cartoon characters in the first Track and Field. In fact, these graphics may be the best I've ever seen on the NES. The audio is commendable too, with numerous voice samples sprinkled throughout.

Track and Field II is more like Summer Games than Track and Field, with more realistic action and sophisticated control. The extensive event list consists of fencing, Taekwondo, triple jump, pole vault, freestyle swimming, canoeing, high dive, archery, clay pigeon shooting, hurdles, hammer throw, and horizontal bar. To be honest, I'm not sure if many of these events deserve to be in a Track and Field game. Fencing and Taekwondo play like mediocre fighting games, and I'm still clueless about how to use that stupid horizontal bar.

The highlights of the game are the "real" track and field events like the pole vault and hammer throw, which tend to employ the same tap and hold controls from the original game. The archery and shooting events have been completely overhauled from the previous version, and these new versions are brilliantly conceived and satisfying to play.

Track and Field 2 also offers new playing modes including training, championship, and a two-player versus contest. Unfortunately, the two player "versus" mode is sorely lacking, with only three events: Taekwondo, fencing, and… arm-wrestling?! There's no good reason why more two-player events couldn't have been incorporated. Overall, Track and Field II is an impressive technical accomplishment for the NES, but players who crave head-to-head arcade action will probably gravitate towards the original game.

Summer Games (1987)

Originally posted 1999/9/15
System: Atari 7800
Grade: B+
screenshotSummer Games puts you in the Olympics and lets up to eight players compete in six events. The graphics are excellent, with plenty of attention to detail. I really like the opening ceremonies. The athletes are colorful and animated realistically, although not always smoothly. The first event is diving, and it's probably the best of the bunch. You control your diver's body position and rotation speed during the dive. Although you want plenty of movement, you need to make sure you enter the water head-first, which requires some skill.

The next event is the 400 meter relay, and the key to this one is to control your pace. The following contest, the 100 meter dash, is one of those events that breaks joysticks. You have to wiggle it as fast as you can - not much strategy there. Gymnastics (vaulting) is another winner. You control every aspect of the vault, so there's plenty of room for error. It requires some practice, but it's great fun when you get the hang of it. The last two events are swimming. The only control you have is a button push for each stroke, which is supposed to speed up your swimmer if you time it correctly. The freestyle relay swimming event runs a bit too long.

Overall, Summer Games features two great events, three good ones, and one that's just fair. You have the option of playing one, all, or some of these. The running and swimming events allow you to go head-to-head against another person, which always livens up the action. I was disappointed that there's no closing ceremonies, but overall Summer Games is a great sports title.

Summer Games (1984)

Originally posted 2008/10/13
System: Atari XEGS
Grade: B
screenshotSome may prefer Decathlon (Atari 2600, 1983), but for my money, this is the game that pioneered in the multi-event, Olympic-style games popular to this day. And Summer Games has held up incredibly well over the years, with intuitive controls and fast pacing that puts a lot of modern Olympic games to shame. The eight events cover a nice cross-section, and there's really not one dud in the bunch. Only the 100-meter dash relies on frantic joystick wiggling, with the others employing precise timing techniques.

Some of the athletes look a bit blocky, but you have to love the fluid animation. The diving event is the most spectacular graphically, with its deep blue sky and colorful stands of spectators. In the track events, it's neat how the crowd forms the pattern "USA" in the background. The gymnastics springboard event is surprisingly fun, and the skeet shooting is perfectly executed. The weakest event is the swimming freestyle relay which runs too long and is glitchy to boot.

The biggest problem with Summer Games is how you must constantly flip the floppy disk and sit through those blue load screens (beep beep beep...) It's especially obnoxious when it's just loading the worthless "medal ceremony" screens. I will give the game props for saving all world records (to disk) along with the player's initials. You can configure the game to use two joysticks, but when players are not going head-to-head, you still have to share a joystick, which makes no sense. Summer Games does show its age at times, but if you're looking for some back-to-basics Olympic action, you will love this. Note: An enhanced version of this game was later released for the Atari 7800.

World Sports Competition (1993)

Originally posted 2016/6/5
System: Turbografx-16
Grade: D
screenshotWorld Sports Competition supports up to five competitors via turbotap, so I had some friends over to try it out on my deck one pleasant summer evening. I assumed this was a "can't miss" game but it turned out to be a minor disaster. Each player can configure his athlete "type" but there's only white guy (with blonde hair, of course) and could his pink jumpsuit be any tighter? The 18 events (!) cover track and field, swimming, rowing, and shooting.

Unfortunately learning how to play each one requires reading the manual's tiny font. Not only do these instructions fail to provide adequate descriptions of the controls, they refer to some events by the wrong name! Did the author even play this game? The competition is divided into three-event "days", each concluding with a lady at a sports news announcing "It's dog-eat-dog at the Hudson Stadium Championships!"

The trap shooting, archery, and rapid-fire pistol (is that even a thing?) events are probably the best of the bunch. The track and field events are a somewhat exhausting combination of button mashing and timing. But man, Hudson Soft really beat the swimming contests into the [expletive] ground! There are no less than five of these boring events. I can't tell one from the next, and they take forever.

But the worst flaw would have to be the outrageous difficulty. You practically have to set a world record just to qualify! Hell, in the long jump you pretty much have to clear the [expletive] sandbox! Adding insult to injury, failure in any event means you'll have to start the entire day over! Was Hudson Soft too cheap to hire one lousy play-tester?! The qualifying score is flashed briefly before each event; is it asking too much to keep that thing on the screen?

After finding themselves stuck in track-and-field limbo, my friends resorted to two people sharing one same controller - one to run and the other to time the jump. Next time we'll stick to the training mode, which at least returns you to the event selection screen. World Sports Championship is a botched olympic title that feels like it was rushed out the door in world record time.

Summer Challenge (1993)

Originally posted 2016/6/24
System: Genesis
Grade: D+
screenshotSummer Challenge features one of the more elaborate opening ceremonies I've seen in an olympic title. First tiny athletes carry a torch up to an elevated platform in a jam-packed stadium. Then the platform opens, causing balloons and doves to pour out. Very nice! The tournament mode supports up to ten (!) players, but guess what? You'll all need to share the same controller! I do like how you can select the order of events and view the standings at any time.

Figuring out how to play each event is the real challenge. The thick instruction book says a whole lot of nothing. The actual controls are listed on a separate card which I don't have. I was able to figure things out though (I think). The visuals are ambitious for the Genesis, incorporating some modest polygon graphics. The archery event is mainly a matter of aiming a shaky reticule at a target. Equestrian and kayak feature impressive 3D graphics but choppy animation and laggy controls take their toll on the gameplay.

At least the events are mercifully short. If you wipe out during equestrian, hurdles, or cycling, you immediately move on to the next event. It's probably for the best. In the pole vault you need to press up to plant your stick, which makes no sense. The high jump is hilarious - especially when you jump way too early and completely miss the mat!

The javelin is probably the best event just because it's easy to grasp. Cycling isn't hard, but riding around an oval track with no competitors is not very exciting. The games close with a nifty ceremony complete with fireworks. Summer Challenge is worthwhile once you wrap your mind around the controls, but it shouldn't be this hard to do.

Olympic Summer Games (1996)

Originally posted 2016/6/24
System: Genesis
Grade: B-
screenshotI've played my share of Olympic games and this one really nails the formula. Similar games tend to be bogged down by over-complicated controls that make it hard to qualify, or events that drag on forever, causing players to lose interest. The name Olympic Summer Games is generic but the people who programmed this knew what they were doing. The game is based on the 1996 Games in Atlanta. The opening ceremonies aren't anything to write home about but I like the streamlined interface, fast pacing, and common-sense controls.

Up to four players can enter their names and select a country. The events are mainly track-and-field, and they are presented in a rapid-fire manner. The lanky athletes are sharply rendered and move quickly. The 100M dash is simple as can be as you tap buttons to run and lean into the finish line. I was disappointed I couldn't go head-to-head with a friend, but at least we didn't have to share a single controller. Likewise the long jump, high jump, and javelin events are a lot of fun. I love watching the high jump guy warm up - it looks like he's doing a new kind of dance! And is it just me, or is that Asian chick in the black skirt holding the clipboard seriously hot?

Archery is pretty cool and skeet shooting is a crowd-pleaser thanks to its forgiving (too forgiving?) collision detection. Between events the winning times and current standings are displayed. I was pretty stoked about this game but leave it to my so-called friends to knock it down a few notches. Scott called into question the game's precision when he scored the exact same distance on all three of his long jumps. Chris complained about the repetitive music.

We all struggled with the timing for the pole vault, triple jump, and discus events. The medal ceremonies can be tedious to sit through - especially when six CPU players tied for the bronze medal! The tournament comes to an end with the Atlanta logo rendered over a stadium with a "laser" as the credits roll. Olympic Summer Games may lack pomp and circumstance but its brisk pacing and playability place it well ahead of most competitors.

Izzy's Quest for the Olympic Rings (1995)

Originally posted 2015/8/7
System: Genesis
Grade: D
screenshotConsidering how unoriginal and sugary-sweet this generic platformer is, I'm surprised I enjoyed Izzy's Quest at all. The game is sponsored by the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and features its mascot. This poorly-designed creature looks like a big blue raisin with bulging eyes. Suffice to say he failed to win over the hearts and minds of kids everywhere.

If you've played any platformer in your life you've played Izzy's Quest. The main character possesses slapstick mannerisms, a zany voice, and even an obligatory spin move. Izzy leaps between grassy platforms, climbs vines, and collects floating items. And there's a lot to collect, including gems, medallions, stars, torches, eggs, hearts, gems, and more! In fact, there's so much junk cluttering each stage that I got sick and tired of trying to collect everything.

Enemies like little goblins mindlessly march from side-to-side. Pouncing on them causes them to splatter in a satisfying manner. Touch a lightning bolt icon and all the creatures on the screen explode, and I like that! Power-ups provide the ability to glide or wield a baseball bat. These are undeniably fun but usually don't last long. The controls are forgiving and the difficulty is low, making this a good choice for young children.

The frame rate is erratic however and half the time you feel as if you're moving in slow motion. Apparently the programmers weren't familiar with "blast processing". The stages are repetitive in design and that awful looping music is the worst. Izzy's Quest for the Olympic Rings is marginally fun if you play for score, but I'm afraid you'll reach for the power button long before you reach the end of this quest.

Decathlete (1995)

Originally posted 2007/4/19
System: Saturn
Grade: C
screenshotDespite a title screen that depicts a woman engulfed in flames, Decathlete really isn't painful to play. Like so many other Olympic-style games, it is fast-paced, easy-to-learn, and unintentionally hilarious. But why in the world is Decathlete limited to just two players? At the very least, some kind of multi-tap should have been supported (if not included). Each event is introduced with a quick tutorial, although this feature is inexplicably omitted for the first event, the 100-meter dash.

The contests are fun but uneven in terms of difficulty. The shot-put requires only a single, well-timed button press, but the pole vaulting is so complicated I couldn't figure it out. The controls in the javelin event are erratic, causing you to become "stuck" in mid-throw. The character models look awful, with angular bodies that do absolutely no justice to the curves of the female athletes. The guys appear to be wearing thongs, and that's never a pretty sight. The stadiums aren't much to look at, but the soaring skyscrapers and desert mesas looming in the background look great.

Although Sega Sport's slogan in 1995 was "We Sweat the Details", you'd never know from all the rough edges, including laughable text ("Let's Go Next Game!") and irritating audio glitches (especially during the 1500 meter dash). I do like how it automatically saves world records and high scores though, and it's pretty easy to get "on the board". Despite its faults, Decathlete is still amusing to play against a friend. Sega would release a much improved sequel for the Dreamcast called Virtua Athlete.

International Track and Field (1996)

Originally posted 1999/7/15
System: Playstation
Grade: A-
screenshotThis addictive Olympic-style game has clocked a lot of hours on my Playstation. Featuring eleven track and field events, one to four players compete in the pole-vault, long jump, shot put, javelin, discus, hurdles, sprint, triple jump, high jump, and swimming. Like any good video game, the button-mashing controls are easy to learn but tough to master, and the 3D visuals are smooth and lifelike. Record-setting performances can be saved to memory cards and replayed. International Track and Field is challenging when played solo, but it's an absolute riot with a few friends.

International Track & Field 2000 (2000)

Originally posted 2007/1/14
System: Nintendo 64
Grade: B
screenshotI've always had a thing for these four-player track-and-field games. The variety of events tends to even out the competition, so even if you suck at pole vaulting, you can make up for it in the 100-meter dash. When playing against friends, you'll experience some hilarious moments like long jumpers who land on their asses (missing the sand completely), and shot-putters throw in the wrong direction (including straight up).

Track and Field 2000's tournament mode is composed of twelve events, and they're slightly randomized which adds additional drama. Each is preceded by an elaborate tutorial depicting a virtual controller and a liquid-metal man (the T-1000?) acting out its commands. These cinematics may have looked impressive at one time, but they unfold too slowly and in some cases overcomplicate things. A few seconds would have been sufficient I think.

On the field, the action is competitive and exciting. The athletes sport a decidedly angular look, but at least they have muscles texture-mapped onto their polygons. Their animation is lifelike, and they even react appropriately to their performances. Slow-motion replays provide some nifty camera angles, and professional-sounding PA announcers broadcast the introductions and results.

My friends and I enjoyed most of the events, but there are a few clunkers in the mix. The weight lifting is ridiculously overcomplicated, the gymnastics is boring, and the lengthy swimming events are arduous at best. Clearly Track and Field 2000 could have been streamlined a bit, but that doesn't prevent it from being a worthwhile sports title.

Virtua Athlete (1999)

Originally posted 2001/7/12
System: Dreamcast
Grade: C+
screenshotVirtua Athlete is similar to Konami's Track and Field for the Playstation, and it makes an awesome four-player party game. There are only seven events, and they include shot put, javelin, long jump, high jump, hurdles, and two running events.

The stadium backgrounds are nicely detailed, and the athletes are smoothly animated, but boy do these guys look silly. First off, it looks like they're all wearing thongs! Next, they run like a bunch of pansies! It's hard not to laugh at this game. Before each event, there are some quick instructions flashed on the screen.

The controls are simple, usually involving tapping two buttons and pressing a third at the correct time. The trajectory meters are numeric only (opposed to graphical), making it difficult to judge them very well. There's not much lag time between events, and you can breeze through the game in just a few minutes.

While I enjoyed the first six events, the final event is pure torture. It's the 1500-meter sprint, but it feels like 15 miles. You really need to pace yourself. If you sprint ahead, you'll soon find yourself languishing in last place. Virtua Athlete has a unique feature that lets you build your own athlete and store him to VMU, which is pretty neat. Overall this game is mediocre in many ways, but it's an absolute riot if you have four players.

Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games (2007)

Originally posted 2007/12/6
System: Wii
Grade: B-
screenshotEver since Summer Games (Atari XEGS, 1984) I've always had a "thing" for these multi-event, Olympic-style titles. In this case, the Sonic and Mario franchises provide a likeable roster of competitors, including Shadow, Knuckles, Tails, Peach, Yoshi, and Bowser. You can even play as your "Mii", who apparently has sprouted little arms and legs!

The game is fun to play alone, but absolute gangbusters when played with three or four people. You can select from a series of "circuits" comprising three events each, with the option to customize your own tournaments. Keeping the number of events small is a good idea, not only because it lets you play a quick game, but because some of these events will really wear you out! As expected, the Wii's motion controls add a new dimension to a genre formerly characterized by crazy button mashing. Running is performed by quickly alternating both hands up and down, which works great.

During long-distance events, the game mercifully "locks in" your speed, functioning like cruise control. I love how the hammer throw requires you to twirl the controller around, but other events, like the javelin throw, are far less intuitive. Initiating jumps is done by raising the controller quickly, but until you've played the game a few times, it's hard to determine how much force is ideal. The swimming events require you to move your arms and press the B button at an even tempo. Table Tennis plays like a scaled-down version of Wii Sports Tennis, and is arguably more playable than Rockstar's recent full-blown Table Tennis game.

As you might expect, the Wii excels at target-shooting events like skeet shooting and archery. A few events like trampoline and rowing require you to quickly react to button prompts on the screen. But the biggest surprise is the marathon events which resemble Sonic and the Secret Rings (Sega, 2007). Racing through exotic environments, you'll navigate around obstacles and employ power-ups like shells missiles to gain the upper hand. I found all of the events to be fun to some degree, but a few of the control schemes are more complicated than they need to be. "Powering up" before each sprint seems unnecessary, and clapping your hands to excite the crowd is just pointless.

Even more annoying is the excessive number of superfluous screens you'll need to hit "A" to page through. Do we really need introductions before every event? How in the hell do I turn off these lame replays? Get on with the game already! Although most events clock in at less than five minutes, Ping Pong and Archery can easily run over a half-hour, wearing out their welcome in the process. Also, I wish the game would record world records based on initials instead of character names. Despite a few missteps however, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games offers competitive, fat-burning fun for the whole family.

Summer Athletics (2008)

Originally posted 2008/8/15
System: Wii
Grade: D-
screenshotApparently the publisher couldn't afford the rights to "Summer Olympics", so we're stuck with the cheesy title "Summer Athletics". I'll be sure to avoid using the "O" word in this review so I don't get sued! Anyway, much like Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games (Sega, 2007), Summer Athletics tries to infuse the classic button-tapping track-and-field gameplay with motion controls. There's a lot of kinetic action, but the execution is clumsy and the fun is tempered by frustration.

Just getting off the starting block is hard in many events. It seems like each has a different starting motion, so pay close attention to the instructions! The controls aren't overwhelming, but they are more complicated than they should be. The controls are inconsistent too. When biking, you change lanes by leaning the controllers, but when running track the Z and B buttons serve this function. The final motion in many events is "maintaining posture" by holding the controller out and twirling it around! Yeah - just like the athletes do in real life!

In the butterfly swimming competition, you move your arms as if you're doing the actual stroke, causing the wires to tangle around your wrists. This makes you wonder what the hell wires are doing attached to wireless controllers in the first place! Nice going Nintendo! I also hate how only one player is ever competing at a time, despite the fact that many events (like running and swimming) are well suited to head-to-head action.

The graphics are nothing to write home about. The chalk lines on the track look jaggy, and the athletes themselves resemble zombies - complete with rolled-back eyes! I did get a kick out of the dancing monkey "mascot" who tends to go bonkers whenever you break a world record! Go Monkey! It's your birthday! Go Monkey... Summer Athletics is also saddled with a poorly-designed user interface that makes you constantly press "A" to skip uneventful cut-scenes - such as your undead athlete standing around in a daze. Although each player gets a chance to view instructions, it's possible to skip your friend's instructions - a strategy I employed effectively against my buddy Scott. You also have to press A after you've done each heat, so expect to hear this a lot: "Dude! Press A!"

When you break a world record, you're prompted to enter your initials, even though you already entered them at the beginning! Yes, I changed my name since I started playing this! There's not even any closing ceremonies! I hope you were paying attention to who was winning, because after that last event you're whisked directly back to the main menu! Summer Athletics drags on for way too long, and your friends will be climbing the walls before the debacle is finally over.

London 2012 (2012)

Originally posted 2012/8/13
System: Xbox 360
Grade: B+
screenshotAfter the recent Mario and Sonic Olympic debacle, it's good to see Sega redeem themselves with this strong effort. London 2012 packs an amazing cross-section of events including track and field, swimming, diving, shooting, archery, gymnastics, cycling, canoeing, rowing, table tennis, weightlifting, and beach volleyball. The events depicted here look very much like the ones I watched on TV. The venues are gorgeous with waving flags in the stadiums and inviting blue waters in the Aquatic Center. The athletes look sharp and exhibit a lot of subtle mannerisms. The camera angles are excellent, and the underwater view of the swimming competition looks amazing.

The controls are a nice approximation of the athletic movements employed in each sport. The schemes aren't too complex but not overly simple either. When running, you need to tap a button to keep a meter in a "green zone" instead of mindlessly pounding it. With archery, you simply pull back, aim, and release the thumbsticks. Prior to each event you have the option of watching a tutorial which walks you through all the actions. As with any Olympic title worth its weight, up to four players can compete in a list of events of their choosing.

For the single player, a rich campaign mode takes you through ten days of competition - also with selectable events. The campaign takes about two hours to complete, but the sheer variety kept me glued to the screen. Trying to put your country over the top in the medal count makes for a nice challenge. The only problem with the campaign is how you need to compete in qualifying rounds, which really drags things out. I could also live without the constant replays which nobody really needs to see.

Certain events wear out their welcome because they have too many rounds. There are five rounds in archery, six in javelin, and eight lengthy rounds in skeet shooting. Three rounds each would be ideal, especially when competing against two or three friends. A few of the button prompts can get lost in the scenery, but in general London 2012 is very polished and playable. I love the music and the brief load screens are full of eye candy. As the spiritual descendant of Summer Games (1984), London 2012 is really one of the best games of its kind.

Michael Phelps: Push The Limit (2011)

Originally posted 2015/6/17
System: Xbox 360
Grade: B-
screenshotWhen I first got Push the Limit a friend and I tried to set up a head-to-head swimming contest. Like most Kinect games we went to great pains trying to select the proper profiles and make sure we were recognized by the Kinect. After struggling with it for a half-hour we finally gave up in disgust. The prospect of registering eight players for the "party mode" is an absolute joke! Later I played the game alone and fared a whole lot better.

The career mode is loaded with helpful tutorials, branching stages, and a wide variety of challenges. The pool locations are nothing short of spectacular. One features huge windows revealing a gorgeous city skyline during a raging thunderstorm. Other stages include a rooftop pool and one nestled in the snowy mountains of Poland. In terms of gameplay Push the Limit is the purest, least contrived application of Kinect I've seen. Your movements more or less mimic the moves you would perform at an actual swim meet, but is it really necessary to "hype the crowd" before each race? That's just a silly waste of time.

You pose at the starting block and stand up when you hear the shot. In the water it's critical to move at a steady rhythm. Occasionally you can activate a boost powerup by yelling "boost!" At the finish you'll want to keep your arms tight at your side before reaching for the wall. The Kinect controls are loose but the gameplay is a lot of fun. Placing in the top three earns points to strengthen attributes like speed and stamina. I love the user interface with its soothing water effects. Push the Limit got off on the wrong foot but managed to redeem itself. This really is the ultimate Michael Phelps experience. Bong not included.

Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games (2011)

Originally posted 2012/8/5
System: Wii
Grade: D
screenshotOlympic-style video games have been around for 30 years, so it astounds me how Sega managed to botch this one so badly. Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Games packs over 30 events, including traditional stuff like track and field, swimming, gymnastics, and volleyball. But you also get fringe sports like equestrian, fencing, canoeing, shooting, synchronized swimming, and rhythmic ribbon gymnastics.

Instead of tradition button-mashing, most events are played by shaking the controllers with good timing. For example, in swimming you must move your arms to the rhythm, but move too fast you'll tire out. The controls are often oversimplified on the instruction screen, so you'll be caught off-guard when you're presented with a series of non-intuitive prompts during the actual games.

London 2012 is brimming with multiplayer action but it feels shallow and unsatisfying. The motion controls can be imprecise and the outcome often hinges on executing a super cheap "special move". Table Tennis is rendered unplayable by the bad controls, and Badminton is just an exercise in mass confusion. The better events like swimming and equestrian are simple and intuitive, but they're the exception to the rule. Most events are mercifully short, but others (like football and shooting) wear out their welcome. Event records are recorded, but there's no player associated with them if you use a Sega character instead of your Mii. The "dream events" are flashy mini-games that have nothing to do with the Olympics. For example, Dream Sprint is a Super Monkey Ball clone. Lengthy and yawn-inducing, you'll be begging for these to end.

The main menu lets you play any individual event, but there's no way to put together a list of events to play in a tournament format. This huge oversight makes the game hard to play competitively with friends. The London Party mode should have served this purpose, but it feels like a glorified game show with irritating mini-games that involve collecting rings and answering trivia questions. Bogged down with repetitive cut-scenes and unwanted replays, Sonic and Mario at the London 2012 Games is long on pomp and circumstance and short on gameplay. A clear case of quantity over quality, only younger gamers will find much to like in this hodgepodge of events.

Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (2016)

Originally posted 2016/7/30
System: Wii U
Grade: C
screenshotMost of my friends wrote off the Mario & Sonic Olympic series years ago. Since appearing on the Wii in 2007 the games have been hampered by awkward motion controls, excessive set-up screens, and events that drag on for far too long. Rio 2016 addresses many of those concerns with events that are well-organized, easy to play, and short. The splashy, colorful graphics and upbeat salsa music are bound to put you in a festive mood. The controls are usually limited to two buttons, with on-screen prompts to help you along.

I kicked things off with football (that's soccer to me) and I love the short, three-minute match format. You view the action from the side and it's great. The next event, rugby, is presented with a vertical view to change things up a bit. I don't know the first thing about this sport but I had a ball playing it. Volleyball boasts some appealing sunny visuals but oversimplified controls make the action feel automatic and unsatisfying.

Equestrian and BMX Racing are both similar in design, prompting you to hit buttons at specific times to execute speed boosts and tricks. The 100M Dash is one of the few games that require button mashing but it's over in just a few seconds. The triple jump and javelin events place the focus on proper timing. Swimming looks gorgeous thanks to some dazzling water effects but the controls are needlessly confusing.

Boxing is surprisingly simple and fun. Rhythmic gymnastics owes its mechanics to Guitar Hero, and watching Mario prance around is only slightly less hilarious than when Will Ferrell did it in Old School. Table Tennis is my least favorite thanks to endless volleys that continue until someone pulls out a super-cheap flaming shot.

I enjoyed Rio's single-player mode but the multiplayer can be a hassle. Forget trying to associate Miis; it's bad enough having to select a new set of characters for every event. Sometimes you need to assemble an entire team for Pete's sake! For a while the game displayed instructions before each event, but at some point that stopped, which is really inconvenient. Top scores are recorded but couldn't they be displayed during the actual events so we know what we're shooting for?

There's plenty of content in Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games but the quality is uneven. I have to give the game credit for realism however after seeing Tails robbed at gunpoint and watching Eggman become violently ill after ingesting some water.

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