Retro Game Review – Summer Games 1&2

Publisher: Epyx
Platform: Commodore 64
Release Date: 1984 & 1985
Media: 5 1/4 Floppy Disk
Download The Disk Images
Get a C64 Emulator

Several years before Electronic Arts would bring sports gaming to the main stream, Epyx released a series of games that were destined to become classics. Sports games of the time generally had bland titles such as Baseball and Basketball, with even blander game play. Summer Games sought to bring something new to the table, with innovative controls, superb graphics, and a memorable sound track.

Summer Games was a very successful attempt to bring the Olympics to the desk top. Up to that point many games had been created to simulate individual olympic events, but never had they been brought together in such a complete way. Summer Games began as a simple decathlon game that bloomed into eight distinct events. Summer Games 2 followed a year later adding 8 more events to the list. A great feature of Summer Games 2 was that owners of Summer Games 1 could play the events of the first game along side the second.

One of the best features of the series is that up to eight players could compete in these events against each other. Each player has to choose a country to represent and is rewarded with their nation’s anthem when they win a gold medal. Those holding no national allegiance have the option of choosing the fictitious land of Epyx. The player receiving the highest score in an event would receive a gold medal, worth 5 points; The next highest receives silver, 3 points; Third highest receives bronze, 1 point. The player with the most points after completing every event wins the game. Summer Games 2 added the ability to choose events to compete in, as opposed to competing in all of them. This made the game more entertaining for those of us that found the long races boring.

The events are quite varied, and each has a distinct method of control. For example, in the Cycling event speed is determined by how fast the player can spin the joystick in a circle. The Javelin requires the player to bring the stick back and then push it forward for the throw. Such techniques are just now being rediscovered as analog joysticks became prevalent in the console arena. This alone makes Summer Games noteworthy today.

It should be noted that when playing Summer Games in an emulator a joystick or analog controller is a must. It is nearly impossible to complete some of the events with keyboard controls.

First in the Summer Games 1 lineup is the Pole Vault. Players have a selection of bar height and pole grip, high medium or low. The different settings vary the game play and add to the strategy. The player must land the pole right in the slot, spring upward, and release the pole at the right moment. It requires split second timing to release the pole without slamming into the bar.

Diving comes second in the lineup and is one of the most entertaining of the 2 games. Choose from forward, backward, reverse, or inward posture. Press the fire button to jump and then toggle the joystick in the four cardinal directions to perform various flips. The first few times it’s fun just to cannon ball into the pool, but that won’t yield a high score. Players are judged by the number of flips and amount of splash made upon impact.

Next up are two races, the 400m Relay and the 100m Dash. Both will take a tremendous toll on your joystick. The player’s speed is determined on how fast the joystick is jerked left and right. The Relay adds a bit of strategy requiring the player to pass the baton to subsequent runners.

The Gymnastics event is one of the harder to master. It combines split second timing, like the Pole Vault, with varied techniques, like the Diving. The player must run up to the spring board, jump onto the horse, perform a flip, and land upright. Sound hard? It is. Jump to soon, or to late, and miss the springboard. Flip too quickly or too slowly and land on your rump.

Much like the races, there are two Freestyle events, the Freestyle Relay and the 100m freestyle. Sadly, these races have the least interesting controls of the lot. The player dives into the pool and begins swimming, press the fire button when a hand enters the water to increase the speed.

Summer Games 1 closes with its most nerve racking event, Skeet Shooting. The player is required to line up a target with the skeet and shoot as it’s moving. To make things even harder two skeet will crossfire at points in the event.

Summer Games 2 went on to add interesting new events, never loosing sight of that unique control system. Events of the game open with the Triple Jump. The Triple Jump is, as the manual states “three continuous, fluid actions: the hop, the step, and the jump”. To perform these actions the player has to shift the control to the right to hop, shift to the right to skip, shift to the left to power up and then roll the stick up to jump. Needless to say, this takes practice, as do most of the events.

The next event, Rowing, is much like the land races of Summer Games 1. The player must rock the controls back and forth to increase speed. The control system has improved though and the motion is a lot more fluid.

The Javelin is one of the most entertaining events of Summer Games 2, not too difficult, not too simple. Begin by repeatedly pounding the fire button to gain speed down the track. Once the throwing point is reached, shift the controls to the left to wind up and then swing to the right to throw. Timing is crucial, wind up too long and the javelin arcs too high, wind up too little and it won’t arc enough. The perfect combination of speed and windup is key.

The Equestrian is a distinct new event added to Summer Games 2. The player rides their horse through the course jumping over fences, walls, and water. The controls are fairly straightforward. Up and down to go and stop, right and left to jump and land. If the landing is not timed correctly the horse will fall. Jumping too late will cause the horse to stop and back up. Speed is key but also decreases the reaction window. At the time, the Equestrian event could have been a game in and of itself. The fact that it is one of eight makes Summer Games 2 that much better.

The High Jump has controls similar to the Javelin event and the Pole Vault of Summer Games 1. As the player runs up to the bar, move the control Up or Down to determine the angle of approach. Pressing the fire button begins the jump if the timing is not right, the player will miss the jump. If successful, there are two more jumps at increasing heights.

Fencing is a great change of pace from all of that running and jumping. Players are pitted against the computer in a battle royal. Move the control up down left or right to block in the corresponding direction. Press the fire button and move the stick to attack in that direction. The skill is in that the a sweeping motion must be made with the sword in order to successfully block.

The Cycling event is a much improved takeoff of the races in Summer Games 1. The cycle is controlled by spinning the control in a circular motion. The faster the control swings around the faster the cycle will go.

Summer Games 2 closes with Kayaking, one of its more challenging events. Controls consist of sloshing the control left and right. The object is to work with the current and steer the kayak between numbered buoys. It’s very easy to over steer and spin the kayak out of control. Make a wrong turn and the kayak will get stuck between rocks, wasting valuable time.

The creators of Summer Games went on to create Winter Games as well as several other titles before Epyx went bankrupt. These games were truly ahead of their time. Multiple players, innovative controls, and superb graphics allow these games to stand out as examples even today. The best way to play them is with a group of friends, making them one of the original party video games. If you’ve never played Summer Games before, download the emulator and disk images right now, call at least two friends over, and fire it up. The graphics may seem a little primitive by standards today, but the game play will keep you hooked at least until the next big EA release.

— Matt

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