Features// Replay: The Alternative Olympic Games

Posted 29 Jul 2012 13:43 by
After years of excitement/moaning, the London 2012 Olympic Games have finally begun! Good luck to all our sporting heroes playing for our good nation. And stuff everyone who makes our commute into work that little bit more difficult for the next several months!

To celebrate, we're presenting a very special Replay feature at SPOnG. Our Underwater Castle has records of many, many games you see - a good number of them happen to be related to, or inspired by the Olympics. So here's a list of five games that will get you in the mood for the real thing (or make you hate it more).

But, this is SPOnG. We're not the kind to be showing you official sport sims or Mario & Sonic crossovers. No, we do things differently here. So join us as we walk you through our alternative Olympic retrospective...

Daley Thompson's Decathlon - SPOnG Page
Ocean, 1984 (Spectrum 48K)

Let's start with a golden oldie, shall we? Daley Thompson was the sporting athlete of his time, and everyone wanted a piece of him. He lent his face to an Ocean-developed Spectrum game called Daley Thompson's Decathlon, which has all the colourful retro charm of a Teletext page (maybe even that comparison is now too retro?).

Never mind the blue sandpit when performing the Long Jump. Ignore the rather concerning manner in which your character bends his legs and feet as he runs (you can see that in video form right here). What this game really captured was atmosphere, even with limited graphics and sound.

After every successful event, you could see the crowd cheer and wave as you pull off the weediest strongman pose the gaming world has ever known. Every following event brought you in with an infectious ditty that got you pumped up to perform at your (fingers') very best.

We can all look at it now and think it as rather cute (and crude). But it's a solid title, despite it's short length, and it became the benchmark by which all other domestic sporting releases would be judged by.

Alien Olympics 2044AD - SPOnG Page
Ocean, 1992 [US]/1994 [UK] (Game Boy)

If you don't want to replicate the Olympics in a realistic fashion, why not take the Games to outer space? That's what Dark Technologies and Ocean did back in 1992 with Alien Olympics 2044AD. You take control of a slug-like extra-terrestrial and participate in a number of unorthodox sporting events.

Traditional events have been mimicked with a button-bashing, alien vibe. 100m sprint involves the stabbing of both the A and B buttons on your Game Boy, while the game's equivalent to the Long Jump event involves holding down the D-pad to set the angle of your leap.

There are a lot of events to be found in this, a rather playable if frustratingly difficult game. Each of these events have different controls and involve twists on Archery, Swimming and Skeet Shooting. The graphics are pretty nice - lovely, chunky sprites so you can see what you're doing. Even if the CPU opponents are amazingly unforgiving.

Izzy's Quest for the Olympic Rings - SPOnG Page
U.S. Gold, 1995 (SNES, Mega Drive)

Colourful, cartoon platformers starring anthropomorphic animal mascots were all the rage back in the 1990s. They were as ubiquitous as the first-person shooter is in today's gaming era. So it made sense, to a degree, to follow in the footsteps of Sonic and Mario when making an official Olympics video game for Atlanta 1996.

This bizarre looking blue dude is called Izzy. Well, that's not his original name. His original name was Whatizit. Yeah. He/She/It veered from the tradition of past Olympic mascots, in that it wasn't representative of some kind of nationally-significant animal or human figure. It was just a blob.

This me-too video game is just as bland as the character that stars in it. Izzy tries to be cool but barely holds a torch to Aero the Acrobat, let alone Sonic. He's just a step up from Bubsy the Bobcat, though. Even the game makers don't like him - the opening level tells of some "[Olympic] Ring Guardians" that have hidden their Ring to "keep Izzy from taking it out of their world on his quest to reach the Olympic Games." No wonder the bosses in this game hate him, he's trying to steal their shit! Izzy's a dick!

Battling shonky controls, you must guide Izzy throughout a number of Olympics-inspired stages (the opening level is inspired by Ancient Greece) to snatch these Olympic Rings and make it to the big ceremony in Atlanta. At times, you can morph into various sporting forms - a Baseball batter, a hang glider, a fencer - which will give you special abilities to progress.

The level design is confusing as all hell, and involves a lot of backtracking and zig-zag platforming. There's a ton of shit to collect in Olympic torches (obviously) and bronze, silver and gold coins, but you'll still wonder what the point of it all is. Izzy didn't hit the mark in his video game outing, mirroring the success (read: ridicule) he received in the real world.

Zoolympics - SPOnG Page
J.M. Cruells / No Man's Land, 1984 (Oric)

That's right - way back in 1984, someone had the bright idea of spicing up the Olympics by letting you control as animals. Coded by Frenchman J.M. Cruells for the Tangerine Computer Systems' Oric platform, Zoolympics tells us that the desire to better ourselves and push ourselves to the limit is not limited to the human anatomy. We are all but animals, each and every one of us, and to run like the wind is to run like the Ostrich.

Or maybe Cruells just thought it'd be hilarious to dart the 100m Sprint as an Ostrich. Who knows.

The graphics are your standard fare for an early '80s machine, but there's very little to keep you entertained. When you first load up the tape, you must navigate a number of menus - how many players (up to four), a choice of four difficulty levels and four countries (of animals) to choose from.

Depending on your country, your animals will be a different colour. Great Britain is coloured red, France in blue, USA in pink (ha) and West Germany (Republique Federale Allemande) in black. From there, you must tackle four Olympic events in any order you wish - ostriches feature in the 100m, seals participate in the Swimming event, kangaroos have a go at the Long Jump and some absolutely massive gorillas try the Javelin.

No matter which event you play though, the controls are the same. Simply mash the keyboard. Slamming keys as quickly as possible will get your animal going as fast as their bodies can take them. The only break in this Track & Field-style monotony is the Space Bar, which is used to chuck Javelins and leap the sandpit. It took me ages to figure this out though, resulting in many Long Jump faults and some very confused kangaroos.

It's over in a matter of minutes, and it's a crude and creaky experience. But, to cut the game same slack, it is an independent game written solely by a French dude. Who probably created this game after going a bit mental. And, you play as animals! Can't argue with that really, even if it is only for five minutes.

California Games - SPOnG Page
Epyx, 1989 (Master System, Mega Drive... everything)

Does this really count? Well, it's a string of sporting events, so in essence California Games does take its inspiration from the traditional Olympics. Of course, none of the events here are particularly what you would call traditional. Half-pipe skateboarding, BMX riding... erm, frisbee-throwing...

The thing is, Americans (or specifically, Californians) might have a funny way of doing things, but for all their questionable reasons for existence (keeping up a ball, on your own, in a park, is considered a sporting event now?) each event is well designed and feels good to play.

In particular, I've been having a good go on the Sega Master System version of the game, but Epyx made sure that California Games was available on every single platform known to mankind when it was released in the late 1980s. Atari ST, Lynx, NES, C64, Spectrum, Amstrad, VCS, Atari 400... there was nothing that this game didn't touch.

It's probably the furthest away from a true Olympics game there is... but then again, as a string of urban sports challenges set up in an incredibly similar format, this could well be the perfect Alternative Olympic Video Game.

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Andrew Joseph 30 Jul 2012 09:35
What about the legendary James Pond 3 - The Aquatic Games
Dreadknux 30 Jul 2012 10:27
I could only pick so many - but that's a brilliant choice! Maybe we can extend the choices later in the week! Who else has any suggestions? :)
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config 31 Jul 2012 16:25
Epyx were the Lords of all things "Games" - Summer Games, Winter Games, California Games, World Games, even "The Games", Summer & Winter Editions
deleted 7 Aug 2012 20:09
Daily Thompson was the game of choice for my very young self, and California games simply one of the best games i ever played on my Mega Drive!
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