Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Game 422: Summer Games II


Epyx's VIC-pushing, Olympics license-dodging killer app returns with another set of eight events.

The formula is still the same. Practice individual events as much as you like, then compete in one, all of them in sequence, or a selection. You can even add events from the first Summer Games disk into the lineup, for a total of 16 events!

It took a while to organize a session, but I got "D" and "B" to join me for a repeat - once again we sampled all of Summer Games II's events through practice, and then played our favorite events in competition, but didn't bother replaying the old ones from the first game.

Unfortunately, only three of the eight events made the cut, and one of them just barely. At least the recording worked fine this time.


Loading seemed to be much faster than in the first Summer Games, anyway, taking just a few seconds per event. I have no idea if this is due to improved code or a difference in emulation settings.

The first event, and one that made it to competition, is the triple jump.

Conceptually it's hard to imagine this being much simpler. There is no button bashing - you automatically sprint to the fault line, and then you press RIGHT on the joystick to jump. Press RIGHT a second time as soon as you land from the first jump to spring into the second jump, and press LEFT upon landing from that to push off into the third and final jump, and press UP to maximize your airtime. The more precisely you time your inputs in sync with the optimal timing, the farther you'll jump.

Competition mode gives everyone three chances and only the longest jump counts. Unfortunately, "B" and "D" both choked here despite practicing earlier and couldn't stick a single jump, consistently tripping themselves on the third one.

Event 2 is rowing. I was once an okay rower in real life!


Alternate pushing left and right on the stick to row - it's not about waggling at maximum speed, but about maintaining rhythm, as seen in the animating sprites. You want your oar strokes to be complete, not rapid.

In competition two players will race each other, and a third races the computer, but the final rankings are determined only by time, much to the irritation of "D" who beat the computer by over three seconds but still came in last.

The third and final event that we played in competition was the javelin throw, which was easily "D"'s favorite event.


We've seen this one before in Activision Decathlon, Microsoft Decathlon, and Track & Field, and it's the same formula; tap the button to build speed, hold LEFT before reaching the fault line to begin the throw, and release at the optimal angle to launch. Angle matters more than speed here.

From here on out, the games get worse, with one exception.

The equestrian event is baffling. It helps somewhat to think of the joystick as controlling the rider, not the horse, but that doesn't make it less frustrating when the horse refuses jumps and all you can do is wonder why. Pressing RIGHT at a precise time will make the horse jump over obstacles, but the correct timing is difficult to read, and an incorrect one gets you a refusal, forcing you to back up. Though occasionally it would instantly launch itself from a standstill over the obstacle at horse warp speed instead.

Also, the monochromatic horse is crudely drawn and animated compared to the humans. Not only does it look out of place here, like it belongs in an Atari VCS game, but better animation could have improved gameplay by giving more visual feedback on the horse's gait, cues for the jump timing, etc.

I got okay with solo practice, but it takes rote memorization to know where the obstacles are, how far apart they are, and how wide they are, which informs when to speed up, slow down, and the jump timing, which never felt intuitive.

Event #5 is the high jump.

It's another baffler! We've seen this one in Activision and Microsoft Decathlon, but in those two, you ran toward the launch head-on, while here you run perpendicular to it and sort of push off at a sharp 90 degree angle. Real high jumpers run in a J-shaped pattern to let them lift off with one foot, which seems to be what Epyx is trying to simulate, but it just comes across as awkward.

Controls are badly explained in the manual, and technique isn't explained at all. You move up and down the track widthwise by pushing the joystick up and down, but it's hard to do that while also tapping it right to build speed, and it's not clear at all what the purpose is.

The actual jump seems like it has to be initiated way before you reach the mat, otherwise you don't even jump and just run past it. And most of the time we just crashed into the bar no matter how low it was set. Pressing UP is supposed to perform a mid-jump hip lift so that your feet don't hit the bar while your back sails over it, but the game won't tell you if you're doing this correctly or not unless there's some subtle animation cue that I'm just not seeing.


Event #6 is fencing.


Once again, this one was just too complicated for the one-button controls, which are at least adequately explained by the manual, but fencing technique isn't and we pretty much got by on practice flailing our foils around.

When the button isn't pressed, you are in a defensive posture - up and down angle your foil up and down, and a parry is performed by matching your opponent's angle and sweeping left to right as they strike.

When the button is pressed, you are in an attack posture - up and down execute strikes, left and right move you across the piste.

None of us really got a grasp on how to fence properly. Parrying, in particular, seems way too complicated to be worth the risk; mistime it, or guess wrong about whether your opponent is going to strike high or low, and you take a hit. I don't think any of us managed to do this successfully once.

I did some solo practice afterward, and beat the computer on its highest difficulty doing nothing but repeating lunge strikes. Most of the time this resulted in a score-nullifying mutual hit, but a few of them landed, and the computer opponent didn't land a single point on me. So eventually I won.

Competition mode has you face other players instead of the computer, but we didn't bother. "B" thought this had the potential to be one of the better games with enough practice, but the learning curve still seems too steep to be worth it.

Event #7 is cycling.


Rotate the joystick clockwise to pedal. I very quickly had traumatic flashbacks to Mario Party.

This one is pure finger pain on a d-pad, which is the only option on D's preferred controller. Note, though, that you aren't trying to spin as fast as possible, but are trying to match the pace shown on-screen by a rotating arrow. With an analog stick, it's easy to spin too fast, which brings your pace to a screeching halt.

The analog stick definitely feels better overall, but it isn't great. So we skipped this in competition too.

The final event, kayaking, is easily my personal favorite, but "B" and "D" both found it frustrating.

It's a downstream slalom event with 15 buoy pairs, two of which must be paddled through in reverse, and one upstream.

Keeping control over the kayak is already a challenge, even before you have to fight the currents and the rocks, but it doesn't feel obtuse or unresponsive. Granted, having the kayak shift into random directions when you inevitably bump into things can be pretty annoying, but I took it as a challenge to do better.


Overall, I rank the events like so:

  1. Kayaking. One of the more substantial games, with a good balance between responsive and challenging controls.
  2. Javelin. Simple, but polished and satisfying.
  3. Rowing. Shallower than the javelin event.
  4. Equestrian. Doable with practice, but pretty confusing.
  5. Triple jump. A bit lame, to be honest.
  6. Cycling. Please don't make me spin the joystick in circles. Ever.
  7. Fencing. I don't get it.
  8. High jump. I really don't get it.

GAB rating: Below average. Summer Games II is more of the same, and the variety of events is better, but the ratio of good events to bad is worse. The javelin event was the only one enjoyed by all, and it's not even my favorite version of it.


  1. I assume most of the other Epyx "Games" games are whales as well, so I look forward to your take on them. These were the original massive multiplayer offline experiences.

  2. Your impressions of the various events matches mine. Never could get the equestrian event to work right, and a lot of the other controls were just wonky.

    It was a shame. The original summer games was a great time with friends or family or both of them together. None of the other Games series titles captured the same magic.

    1. I remember replaying California Games a year or so ago and spending over an hour trying to figure out what the timing on the midair flip in skateboarding was supposed to be, with absolutely no luck. It was just a complete gamble with 90% failure rate for me. Tried looking for some proper documentation explaining the timing without finding any either.

    2. Well, that's disappointing. I like the Summer Games format, but I was hoping the events would get better, not worse!

  3. I am impressed by the quality of the graphics for 1985. The attention to details is over-the-top, for instance the TV replaying your jump in the first gif.

    I always have fuzzy feelings when I see the flag of USSR or Communist Romania, not as an opposing force in a wargame, but as real states that existed when I was younger - of course I was not old at all when they disappeared.

    "In the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia, even the guillotine"

    1. The graphics are certainly an improvement from Summer Games, which itself was C64 demo-worthy. "B" was specifically impressed by the fireworks during the closing ceremony (seen during the last few seconds of my video) - compare that with the simplistic fireworks sprites of Super Mario Bros. the same year!


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