Motion controls may have breathed new life into the archaic track and field genre, but next to Sega’s Mario & Sonic effort, Summer Athletics is as likeable as a pint of sour milk. Half of the problem lies in the controls, not that they’re bad per se. In fact, compared to the competition, the movements involved are very engaging and intuitive. But the pre-game instructions are roughly the size of the Beijing Yellow Pages. It makes every event seem roughly 206 times more confusing than it is.
Developers: if you’re going to slice your events into multiple parts each with their own control interface, would it kill you to give us on-screen prompts? There’s a heavy leaning towards multiplayer events, and thankfully all of them come unlocked (thus avoiding a common scourge of Wii party games). Sadly, it’s not immediately accessible enough to be a true party hit, but being in a group does improve your chances of understanding the tutorials.
Patient gamers, however, will find much to like. Among the 25 events, there are few duffers (although the kindest thing we can say about the archery is that sometimes it works). Swimming requires you to pull down on the controllers to dive in and then replicate the swimming motion with your arms. It certainly beats spamming the pad like some poor chimp in a lab, but it makes you look like you’re clucking around like an eggstipated hen, so keep those curtains drawn. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the throwing events, which are desperate to feel authentic. Take the javelin. You have to hold the remote backwards, pump it up and down on your run-up, simultaneously angle it and then press B to release. With so many variables, it should come as no surprise that the criteria for success seem somewhat woolly and imprecise.
In the absence of a licensed Beijing 2008 game, you could do worse than Summer Athletics. In fact, the game is much like the city of Beijing itself: plenty to see and do, but make sure you bring along a gas mask, as it has the occasional propensity to stink.
Jul 29, 2008