Review: Summer Olympiad

Summer Olympiad

This is someone else’s video – they played it so you don’t have to.

In 1988 the Olympics visited the South Korean city of Seoul, and in the best tradition of the late 80s and early 90s, a million cash-in games were released, just as they would be for world cups and european cups. Some might get a license, and would get to call themselves Olympics 88 or World Cup 90 or whatever the event was, but many would have to make do with something almost, but not quite. And so we find outselves at the 1988 Summer Olympiad, with it’s not-quite selection of sporting events.

We find ourselves at what appears to be a menu. You might expect to click on the skeet and get to do the skeet, or maybe click the diving to do that. Not so. You must instead click on the tooltip at the bottom, which serves as a start game button. 80s UI at it again.

So, clicking to start we find ourselves at the opening ceremony, one which would surely have made the Olympic lawyers get itchy had the game been good enough or notable enough to attract their attention. Thankfully, it’s shit.

You may notice the skeet doesn’t appear in the video above. I suspect that this is because the skeet was pulled from the very bowels of Satan himself. First up, if you find that you must play it, then for fuck’s sake please use the mouse controls. They are utter shit but the joystick for this event is neither use nor ornament. Do you see that tiny black dot in the top middle area? You have to pilot the sight over that black dot and click the right mouse button. But the dot is moving at insane speeds and the mouse is about as responsive as an arthritic slug on valium. I somehow managed to hit 7, though I’m buggered if I know how.

Winter Olympiad also had a shooting event (actually it was a skiing between points and then shooting event) but the targets were still so the unresponsive controls didn’t matter, but here.. what the buggering hell were they thinking?

Moving on we find ourselves at the triple jump. This one in theory shouldn’t be too hard. Waggle the joystick to build up speed, press the firebutton before the jump line for the angle to increase and release when ready, before the jump line. The joystick response is however never reliable enough to actually execute the damn jump, rarely even making it to the sand, my best efforts persistently thwarted.

Moving to the fencing and we find once again that the lag between joystick press and on-screen action is such that I may as well be walking through a bucket of treacle, with lead weights tied to my balls, such is the disadvantage I face against my CPU adversary. This is not fun.

The diving is almost fun – the controls do at least make some kind of sense though I can’t quite fathom the scoring – it’s unclear what is expected of me but apparently I score well on tumble and entry, but 0 on pike.

Finally we have the hurdles. Waggle the stick to run and fire to jump. Simple enough. The 3D-ish graphics are pretty decent, though they do mean facing off against only 3 runners in a curious best of 3, but it works well enough, even if jumping is a little imprecise.

To check whether Winter Olympiad was as good as I remembered I decided to fire it up for comparison. First up, some sensible UI choices. It asks how many players and then lets you type names in, instead of considering an empty name to mean that you don’t want to add any more. It lets you choose which events you want to participate in too. Good start. Music is jolly, chiptune rubbish but still jolly.

The downhill skiing is as bad as I remember. While graphically a delight, your skiier gets in the way so you can’t see the damn obstacles, leaving me wondering why they didn’t take the approach used by Seconds Out, of having a wireframe see-through character. There is a small ‘first-person’ view but that is neither use nor ornament.

The ski jump is still fun – fire to start, fire to jump off the end of the ramp, then up and down to straighten your skis while left and right lean your skiier as you seek to go as far as possible without crashing. Graphics are decent and it’s generally fun. The biathalon is up next, as you ski from point to point, with each stop seeing you shoot at 5 (thankfully stationary) targets. It looks gorgeous and the controls are responsive.

Slalom controls well and looks decent enough as you scroll through its isometric wilderness, but I feel the difficulty is a little misjudged with some of the gates places in impossible positions. Playtesting wasn’t big in the 80s. They save the best for last though with the bob sled. This is a fast-paced 3D 3rd person battle with physics as you manoevre your sled trying to keep it in the pipe through sharp turns that push you up over the edge. It’s fantastic fun, even to this day, and what’s more worrying is that I even remember the damn course having not played it in years.

All this begs the question, why is there such a gap in quality between the two games? For me, it’s night and day, the difference is enormous and mostly driven by responsiveness of controls. Winter Olympiad is the vastly superior game and for the life of me I can’t figure out how Summer Olympiad scored as well as it did in ST/Amiga Format.

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