The Olympics of 1988 in Seoul are the only ones I still remember vividly. It was Frans Peeters, an ordinary factory worker, that got the Belgians a bronze medal for his outstanding performance in the discipline of clay-pigeon shooting. In those days it was “Duck hunt” on the Nintendo that enabled you to shoot ducks and skeets on your TV. Today, you can try out (amongst dozens of other sports) a modernised equivalent in Athens 2004.
This time you will play with the controller but the game does have more profundity. You can shoot from every possible stand and you will have to use good techniques in order to hit the mark or else you will always be too late or too early. Archery is fun too but it does not add a lot to the basic methods from the ones used in the Sega Master System’s predecessor “Olympic Gold”. A circle with a dot represents the view from the bow which you will have to position on the target’s bull’s-eye. Of course things are made more complex with factors such as wind, time and the sureness of one’s touch.
Jumping is fun too if you forgive your horse moving in such an odd way. Then there is weightlifting, definitely one of the most exciting features in this game. There are three steps to be completed and for every one you will have to alternately bash the x- and circle-button to build up power and push L1 if you think you’ve got enough. It does not look like it is interesting but let me assure you that you can actually feel the weight you have to lift and you will be literally out of breath afterwards too.
Although I could forgive this game for still being a button-basher like the ones I played ten or fifteen years ago I must say that some modes offer too little or no variety to be interesting. Running and swimming for example are the same. Of course you can see athletes swimming in stead of running but for both exercises you need to press and let go of L1 to start and simply push x and circle alternatively to go as fast as possible. Other athletic events like discus, javelin, triple jump, high jump, long jump, pole vault are basically combinations of powering up and pressing buttons at a precise moment. Some of them are more fun than other but for using such ordinary gameplay systems they have really achieved a magnificent result.
Last one up are gymnastics, with plenty of amusing games. I will explain one: in the upper left corner there are four arrows. Moving arrows will start rising and you have to push the right buttons when the moving arrows are perfectly lined up with the ones standing still. The other ones too are more amusing than you would expect from this mini-game style. I think they made the right choice by creating a fun and simple game that everyone is able to play instantly without ever having touched a controller before.
I guess the accent does not really lie on sound-effects or commentary. Sound does have impressive moments but as this game does not emphasise simulation, neither does the sound. Commentary is good the first time you play but the second time it is almost completely alike which is quite regrettable to say the least.
The same goes for graphics: nothing spectacular but far enough above average to be enjoyable. Players are detailed and move in realistic ways but once again they are always the same, over and over again.
There is only one thing I strongly disapprove of with this game: game-modes. Single-player one’s are all present (championship, single event, practise, …) but competing against a friend in only one event is impossible. For example: if you only like skeet then you will have to play archery, jumping and weightlifting too as there is no multi-player option to let you choose this one event. A real pitty, certainly for a party game!
I like this game, in fact I like it a lot. They’ve opted for a mini-game style for the gameplay and that still suits games like these very well. After all, a pole vault simulation would be tremendously dull . Some of the games do use a little too much button-bashing or look too much alike, but just skip those and play the ones you like. Those of you who played “Olympic Gold” or an equivalent will have an up-to-date version with Athens 2004 that offers good sound, graphics and the same exciting gameplay on a current console. A game worth buying.