Friday 5 August 2016

Snes Review - Olympic Summer Games (Game 112)

As the Olympic Games start you're perhaps keen to play games that capture the spirit and excitement. 'Olympic Summer Games' would be a terrible choice.
Developed by Tiertex Design Studios
Published by THQ / Black Pearl
Released in 1996

It was way past my bedtime but sat up, illuminated by the light of the TV, I furiously waggled my joystick. Imagine my shame when my mum walked in, confused as to why she could hear such a commotion so late at night. She looked at me with disappointment. "Go to bed!" she sighed, shaking her head. As she turned and walked out of the room she looked back at me. "If you keep playing like that you're going to break it aren't you!" She was right of course, it would break, but that's how Ocean Software designed 'Daley Thompson's Olympic Challenge' to be played on the Amiga.

It was a game released in the wake of Thompson's popularity following his gold medals in the decathlon at the 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games. Magazine reviewers quickly labelled the game a "joystick killer" though, since the gameplay involved furiously moving the stick left and right as fast as possible. The faster you waggled, the quicker your avatar would run. Success in the game was the result of maximum physical effort and minimum amount of skill. Though most sports games typically are sedentary experiences, there are some,like this, that encourage the player to get physically tired as a result of playing. The most obvious would have to be 'Wii Sports' with its Wiimote waving shenanigans, or if you want to feel exhausted playing a 16bit game 'Olympic Summer Games' is for you.

Released on a plethora of console, this was the official video game of the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. Following on from similar games 'Olympic Gold' and 'Winter Olympics', gameplay consists of pressing one or many buttons as quickly as possible and occasionally timing a specific button press. Playing like a mini game compilation 'Olympic Summer Games' consists of 10 events with all but two based on track and field events. 

100m Sprinting is a good place to start as it involves the simplest game play. Four runners race simultaneously, with the winner being the first over the line. For that to be you, you'll need to react quickly to the starter’s gun and press the A and B buttons quickly. As reviewer Marcus Hawkins once said "never has pressing two buttons been so draining". You'll be tempted to use a controller with a "turbo" or auto fire button but, like the real Olympics, cheating is a terrible idea. If you don't alternate the button presses you won't win the race. Master this and provided you can press up on the controller every few seconds you'll do well at the 110m hurdles too.

Jumping events are a mix of shorter button bashing followed by timed jumps. These can be straightforward like high or long jump events which equates to running then holding down a jump button to determine a launch angle. They can also be insanely precise like the triple jump where buttons presses have little margin for error. Then there's the complex pole vault, where a strong run must be followed by a precise "down" press.  If that's not enough, then you have to build the perfect amount of momentum by pressing and holding "up" at the right time and for the right duration. 

While the practice mode allows you to select any event at any time, there really is no point considering the throwing events (discus and javelin) until you are adept at jumping events. In these, button tapping to run is followed by angle setting much like the leaping events. However, both of these are for nought if you don't throw at an exact time. Super Play magazine noticed a rather large flaw in these events when they reviewed the game. "There's no measured way of seeing exactly what angle you're throwing your projectile at" they criticised. "An onscreen degree indicator would have made this a lot more accessible".

The shooting events are in practice the most fun and varied, though their appeal does evaporate quickly. Both involve moving a crosshair on screen and pressing a fire button when it lines up with something you wish to shoot. Archery sees you having to launch six arrows at a target but each must be calculated according to the wind. You get to adjust the force you're firing the arrows at, the faster they travel the less wind will affect them but the more your target will wobble on screen.
Skeet shooting is essentially the clay pigeon mode from 'Duck Hunt', made slightly less fun by the removal of a sarcastic dog. Targets fire in a small section at the top of the screen at random times and your objective is to line the target up and shot before they vanish. It would be fun if they didn't all fall at precisely the same angle, so once you've perfected the timing it’s almost impossible to miss. 

With no in-game tutorial, playing 'Olympic Summer Games' without an instruction book to hand is pointless. Unless you first read what you're meant to be doing you'll end up seeing the phrase "disqualified" more than anything else. This is partly because the controls are so inconsistent. It seems almost random if an event will require you to press a direction button or if it will demand an action button press to get your athlete to do something.

Two players can compete head-to-head in the sprinting events, and a total of eight can play in the same game taking it in turns but it's really not a game that's worth gathering people around the TV to play. 'Wii Sports' worked so well in groups as it was so accessible. "How do I play this tennis game?" You would be asked. "You swing this Wiimote like a racket" would be your reply. It's a much easier conversation than "how do I play this javelin game?" "Well you alternate tapping the A & B buttons till you reach an imaginary line, where you must stop tapping and hold a different button to set an angle which isn't represented on screen. Then you have to press another button again at exactly the right time to throw it". When playing with people new to the game you simply stick to the simple running events. Problem is, as these are based on speed rather than skill, who ever can press the buttons fastest in the first race tends to be able to press them fastest in every race that follows. 

So it is a game for a single player, but that quickly becomes limited when there's such an inconsistent challenge. For example it is seemingly impossible to break the World Record in archery and skeet shooting. However, once I managed the rhythm and controls of Discus I was recognised as the greatest in the World on my first successful attempt. Perhaps it was beginners luck, but more likely I was the only person who had ever managed the ludicrous button presses. 

The game Character sprites (like the game ‘Flashback’) appear rotoscoped but they lack any facial features and at times seemed to be moving at odds with their direction of travel. As Super Play magazine noted, this is partly due to the camera angle since "an isometric first person perspective doesn't allow you to see who's actually in the lead". Maybe the events are shown in this way to mimic TV coverage but it would have been more beneficial to stick to a side-on view as seen in games like 'Track & Field'. 

Every event has the same character animations, although obviously sometimes they'll be holding something. The backgrounds are static with motionless officials equally devoid of detail.
This is most obvious in the archery stage where you're aiming your shot in accordance with the wind direction. You have to wonder why a gale so strong in can blow arrows off course doesn't move leafs on trees or even cause clouds to move. Even with it offensive unnaturally garish colours it’s worth remembering that this game came out at the very end of the Snes' life. It even straddled the transition to 32bit consoles also seeing a release on the PS1. By this point the 'Donkey KongCountry' series, 'Star Fox' and 'Yoshi's Island' had shown exactly what the Snes could do. While it doesn't look awful 'Olympic Summer Games' looks primitive, reflecting the past rather than foreshadowing the future. As reviewer Hawkins remarked "this is on the Snes for gawd sake, not some tawdry little home computer from the early eighties". 

The menus are an embarrassment; White text on green backgrounds for the most part. They look like placeholder screens that have somehow made it into the final release, functional, plain and cheap. Thankfully they're not on screen long and as Hawkins observed "the presentation between the events is very quick allowing you to get quickly onto the process of playing. [But] it seems wholly satisfied with shoving reams of Atlanta '96 emblazoned title screens down your throats rather than sorting out its faults." 

But even these lurid screens are not the worst thing about the game. The audio throughout 'Olympic Summer Games' is akin to something you would find in a cheap pachinko game. It's tinny, repetitive, distracting and thankfully can be turned off. When I think if the World's largest sporting event I imagine strident themes, national anthems the roar of a crowd 'Olympic Summer Games' lacks them all. In their place are occasional judge calls that are indecipherable, bizarre whooshing running noises and the sound of a disqualification whistle over and over again.   

You have to think that that developer must have spent such a large amount on the Olympic license that it left no money to actually hire anyone of merit to make the game. Perhaps the need to release the game in time for the Atlanta games truncated development, "a mad rush to cash in" as Super Play noted. Considering they had already made several similar games before you'd be forgiven for thinking the Olympic license was in a safe pair of hands - but how wrong you'd be. 

Nintendo magazine system seemed to be of the opinion that " 'Olympic Summer Games' is just excellent and should be in every sports enthusiasts list of games to buy". The rest of the world disagreed. There are certain gamesthat are worth building up a sweat for and this certainly isn't one of them. Had my Mum walked in on me pounding buttons to this game, she would have been right to tell me to "turn it off" and I'd have been deservedly ashamed for being caught playing it. 

Where did I get this game from?

Often it’s cheaper to get an expensive game in a bundle, as it means the rare gem isn’t obvious to those quickly glancing at eBay. But usually included in the bulk buy deal are games you don’t want. This is how I ended up with ‘Olympic Summer Games’, which I never would have purposely bought. When you divide up the number of games in the bundle by the price paid, I actually paid £9.00 for this. It's sat on my shelf for a few years solely because I wanted to play it when the Olympics were on. If anything the anticipation made the short comings of the game even more obvious. 

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