Summer days, summer nights are gone.
PLAYERS: 1-8 alternating
DEVELOPER: Epyx (port by Sega and Zap)
GENRE: Sports Minigames
RELEASE DATE: 11/90 – (EU)
If you’ve journeyed with me the last couple years, you know how much I despise Epyx’s Games series. Originally designed and released for computers, Winter Games, California Games, and World Games are all sports minigame compilations with some of the most counterintuitive controls I’ve ever handled. Succeeding at the majority of the minigames involves a mixture of complex inputs and precise timing. Rather than have the player button mash their way to success, Epyx wants to replicate the feel of each event. This was feasible on a keyboard, but on an NES or Master System controller, it doesn’t really work. A stiff D-pad and two buttons may have gotten us through countless action, platforming, arcade, and puzzle titles, but they’re not enough for what these games require.
Those are some scary 8-bit muscles.
Pole Vault, 100m Dash, Gymnastics, Platform Diving, and 100m Freestyle are the five events in Summer Games. I’ll be honest, my fingers are afraid. Will their dexterity help them rise above the game’s limitations, or will they stumble over busted controls like so many potential champions before them?
Let’s start in order. The Pole Vault isn’t as unwieldy as other events Epyx has brought us in the past (Ice Skating, ugh), but any success I achieved here was a fluke. As the athlete runs with the pole, slowly lower it to the ground with the D-pad. Once it hooks onto the ground, press button 1 then hold ‘Up’ and ‘Right’ to sail over the bar… or bounce into the bar and biff. I did get better the more I attempted the Vault, but my success was more luck than skill.
More like Pole Fault, amirite?
Epyx doesn’t usually put button mashing events in their games, but 100m Dash and 100m Freestyle are mashers for days. In 100m Dash, you race against an opponent by pressing ‘1’ and ‘2’ alternately and as quickly as you can. In 100m Freestyle, you swim back and forth across an Olympic-size pool to beat the world record. Hold ‘Right’ and keep pressing ‘1’ until you hit the opposite side. Then when you turn around, hold ‘Left’ and press ‘1.’ If only all the events were this easy to pick up and play!
Put those handcrafted American legs to use, boys!
In Gymnastics, you sprint across the mats, press ‘1’ before you reach the springboard, and launch onto the vaulting horse. Press ‘1’ once you’re on the horse and you’ll hurl into the air, do tricks with the D-pad, and hopefully land on your feet for a good score. This is a toughie. You can’t get a winning score without tricks and a proper landing, but you have so little time to perform tricks before you land, that doing them can make your gymnast face plant. I tried this event about a dozen times, and I was only able to land on my feet once.
That’s a pretty bad score, but at least she didn’t break her neck.
In Platform Diving, you can choose to dive forwards, backwards, reverse, and inward. Whatever direction you decide to dive, always straighten out by pressing ‘Up’ before you land. If you do this, you’re guaranteed a solid score. Like Gymnastics, the point is to impress the judges with your in-air twirling. Unlike Gymnastics, sticking the landing is all that matters here.
Someone‘s having a bit too much fun on the high dive.
I recommend practicing these events as much as possible before you compete in them. Once you feel ready, you can take on just one event or do all the events in a row. Up to eight players can compete against each other, though you will have to pass the controller back and forth. You’d think Sega would have made a four-player multitap for the Master System, if only because they loved creating useless peripherals, but one was never released for a Sega system until the Genesis.
A squad of milkmen wait anxiously to assist you.
Summer Games is a surprisingly pain-free experience. Even though I wrestled with the pitch-perfect timing required to clear Pole Vault and Gymnastics, I do believe they can be won with enough time, patience and luck. Meanwhile, the 100m Dash, 100m Freestyle, and Platform Diving have a more subdued challenge. You can get a decent score without much trouble, but to get a good score, you’ll have to practice. When it comes to the sports minigame genre (such as it is), I’m more of a Track & Field man, but Summer Games is still the best in the Games series.