Budget-priced Olympic fun!
It has always been a guilty pleasure of mine when it comes to gaming, but I simply love Olympic-style games. From the original Track and Field to even the most recent offerings such as Beijing there is something about them that is just enjoyable to me. When I first picked up Summer Athletics: The Ultimate Challenge for Xbox 360 I was skeptical. With a $29.99 price point and dreadful boxart the game looked like a quick cash-in for the summer games. While this will certainly not dethrone Sega’s current effort there is a lot of fun to be had in this budget-priced collection of Olympic events.
As you would imagine there are several different events crammed onto this disc. Each one is broken down into a category such as running (100m Dash, Relay), swimming (Diving, Breast Stroke), two types of archery, and a handful of throwing events such as discus and hammer throws respectively. You can opt to play these in either career or free play and you can also choose to play them from two perspectives; arcade and pure. Arcade is much what you would expect offering boosted stats and easier challenges while pure focuses more on the actual skill of the event.
Anyone who is familiar with the mechanics behind games of this type will quickly pick up on the idea behind Summer Athletics. Everything here involves violent rotation of the analog sticks, mashing of buttons and precise rhythm to win some of the harder events. The biggest problem is that some events – such as the high dive – offer such vague instruction you will likely fail them once or twice before getting the motions down. It is best to start off the game blasting through single events one-by-one and learning their intricacies before tackling the main single-player game.
In the Career mode you are able to upgrade your athlete with various stat points to improve your performance. There are three difficulties to play through and thankfully your upgraded character can be transferred from one to the next. The difficulty hits a brick wall once you reach Pro forcing you to upgrade smarter and replay almost every event more than once. To be honest the game is best played multi-player with friends, but be warned it will have to be local as the game regrettably does not support online at all.
The events themselves range from enjoyable to downright frustrating. Highlights were the archery, throwing and diving. These events are fun and entertaining even after multiple play-throughs. With the good comes the bad though and there are some events that simply drive me insane, such as the endurance running which requires more focus on pacing and carries on far too long for its own good. The swimming is also in question for its unresponsive rotation mechanic. While it may be realistic to fight against the current in a swim, I find it hard to believe it would be this hard in an indoor pool.
Visuals and sound are where the game takes on its budget price. Character models are criminally lacking detail and the environments, while colorful, permeate with a sense of PS2 in the air. Sound effects repeat far too often and the dialogue is kept to a bare minimum making the game feel less like an Olympic event and more like a backyard affair. Loading times between events is also extraneously long, and even the cart-wheeling monkey cannot save the fact that the game pace is broken up by poor streaming.
Sure the game may not be the prettiest on the market, and while there isn’t a lot of competition it does have some major hang-ups, but for what it is it is quite enjoyable. There are a number of events at your fingertips and multi-player can turn into a hectic game of endurance for your hands. Some events are far better than others and a lack of online is really brings down the overall appeal, but there is still a lot of fun crammed into this $30 disc. If you were a fan of classic Track and Field games this will likely satisfy your desire, for everyone else it will be a pleasurable rental.