Mike Roberts takes up the sporting challenge of Summer Games II
About a year ago, Quicksilva launched its first 'badged' game. It was brought over from the States in the first wave of American imports and was written by an American company called Epyx. The game was called Summer Games, and was released in America in time for the Los Angeles Olympics - though sadly after their end in Britain. This particular game was universally acknowledged to be the best of the 'sports' games that have persisted in the computer market since Activision launched 'Decathlon' on the Atari VCS about two years ago.
Could Epyx improve on perfection? Summer Games II is their follow up, and is all that you could expect after the original Summer Games, and then some more - the game is simply brilliant. Currently on a double-sided disk for the Commodore 64, Summer Games II will be sold by US Gold, since the demise of Quicksilva as an independent production company. This is the first release by US Gold from the range of software that was going to be launched by CBS before the closure of that company by its American parent.
The style of the game is very much similar to Summer Games, a number of people playing at once, national anthems and flags. The menus are the same as well with the addition of an option to use Summer Games as well as the Summer Games II disk for an extended 16-game match.
When you start up the disk, you are greeted by the Olympic opening ceremony, complete with a runner running up the stairs with a torch to light the Olympic flame. The contestants (up to eight!) can then input their names and the country that they wish to represent. This is done by scanning around an array of eighteen beautifully drawn flags, with national anthems playing at command.
After the start up formalities there is a menu that allows you to select the various options, number of joysticks, whether Summer Games is to be played in addition to the normal eight events. You can then choose whether to play all the events in sequence, whether to play one, or more selected games, or to continually practice at one event.
There are also options to see the closing and opening ceremonies and to display the current world records. This is like an ordinary high score table, but as you beat the scores, your improvements are recorded for posterity on disk.
When you play, the events come up in sequence and if you play alone there is a computer opponent to play against in the head-to-head competitions.
First up is the triple jump; this event requires an awful lot of good timing and control. The man runs by himself and the joystick is used to indicate which foot is to be put on the ground as he flies through the air. The graphic sequences and animation are amazing in this event (well, actually they're no better than the rest of the graphics in all of the other events - that's a compliment!). There is a representation of one of those huge televisions in one corner of the stadium. Your flight through the air is played back after you have landed on it and your distance is also scrolled past on it. This event is very difficult.
Next comes the rowing, the event is the single sculls head-to-head race. Two players race at a time, the person with the lowest time out of those competing wins. The screen is split between the two players. The first zone showing the race from the first boat's point of view, the other is for the benefit of the other racer.
Control is by rocking your joystick back and forth to indicate the return and the thrust as you travel along. I recommend using very short but jabby movements of the stick as shorter bursts of thrust and quicker returns seem to be good tactics.
Javelin comes next and is one of the easiest events to get the hang of quickly, yet one of the more awkward to perfect properly to get really good distances. The controls are simple: press the fire button repeatedly and the character runs (good move this for Quickshot II owners, autofire makes him run like a house on fire!). Pulling the joystick back causes the thrower to pull back and start to raise the javelin, let go at the right moment and the javelin will fly off. What you have to watch though is that the thrower lunges forward as he throws and can jump across the foul line, destroying an otherwise perfect throw. So launch earlier that you would otherwise expect.
The equestrian event is the most difficult of them all. You have to control the speed of the horse, then you must control its jumping and landing. Otherwise you end up on your bum, with a very smug looking (though also dazed) horse. All this takes time and the competition is against the clock.
The high jump is another field game like the triple jump, that comes on first. You control the speed and position of the jumper as he approaches the bar that he is going to jump over. A good position is one that is a bit closer than the one he starts up in. Get close to the first bar of the jump then press the fire button to send him over. At the top of the flip you can make him sort of roll over to clear the bar. If in any doubt of your final speed, do not press the fire button as you run past the post; that does not forfeit your attempt.
The fencing competition is one of the more complex events in the series. Two people or the computer and another play on the piste. The points scored after a number of people have played are very strange and there is a formula in the manual; otherwise, just concentrate on hitting your enemy. There are various defensive and aggressive moves supplied using the fire button to switch between lunging and parrying. The computer opponent is very good and drives me off the edge of the piste sometimes.
Cycling is another one of the split-screen method of head-to-head racing. The controls are also strange. The idea is to point your stick in the direction that you want the pedals to pedal. This means you have to wind around the shaft of the joystick to make the vehicle go. However, this is perfectly satisfactory, and quite apt.
Lastly, the final sport is kayaking or canoeing. This covers a very complex route through some excellent graphics on this event. All the really mean gates are there along with a load of rocks just to annoy you. Remember the New Generations 'shoot the rapids' game of a year ago. Well, this one event, this subset of a game is up to the standards of that standalone game - in some ways it is better.
The closing ceremony is a work of art. The sky darkens, the flame dies, a clap with a jetpack on flies around the stadium for a bit. The Epyx airship turns up with adverts on its sides. And then the fireworks start - which in themselves are amazing to behold.
Overall, this game is the best 'sports' game that I've seen, the graphics are stunning and as it takes two sides of the disk to hold the game, that's over 280K of program.
If you are into sports games and you have a disk drive then get the game as soon as possible. If you only have a tape deck then it's going to be a bit of a wait, but US Gold are planning a tape version. However, Summer Games took to two tapes and it was only a single-sided disk, so I don't now what they're going to do with Summer Games II. Price of the tape version is unknown as yet, but you can expect it to be marginally less than the current £14.95 asking price for the disk.