By: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief
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As the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio hit the home stretch, it seemed like a good time to count down the best Olympic-based video games of all time (also known as the games most worth getting blistered fingers over).
#5 – DecAthlete / Athlete Kings – 1994, Arcade/Saturn
DecAthlete featured a more cartoony look than many of its Olympic game peers of the 90s, and being one of the first Olympic games to go 3D made it feel more innovative than it probably actually was (it was largely a button mash fest like Olympic games had always been). But like all of the best Sega arcade sports games like Virtua Tennis and Beach Spikers, it was super simple to pick up and play yet had enough depth to keep you coming back again and again. Check out its 1997 winter Olympics counterpart, Winter Heat, if that’s more your thing–but DecAthlete is the superior of the two. An updated version of the game with much crisper visuals was released via the Sega Ages line for the PS2, but sadly only in Japan.
#4 – The Activision Decathlon (also known as just “Decathlon“) – 1983, Atari 2600/Atari 5200/C64/ColecoVision/et al
Olympic video games are infamous for causing blistered fingers and sore hands, but Decathlon‘s wrath was also often spread to actual controllers as well. If you put a lot of time into this game and your controllers and joysticks came out unscathed, consider yourself lucky. Of course, nobody would play a game until their joysticks were busted unless the game was a lot of fun, and David Crane’s take on the Summer Olympics was a blast to play. Like many games of the era, it could be incredibly difficult to learn to play it, but mastering the game and nailing an event was satisfying in a way few games have been even to this day.
#3 – Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games – 2009, Wii/Nintendo DS
People were kind of hard on the original Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, mostly because the long-awaited crossover between Mario and Sonic was just within a measly sports game. But beyond that, the game didn’t quite reach its potential as a good Olympic video game either, an issue which was rectified with the far more polished Olympic Winter Games. Swinging the remote to emulate the hammer throw or tilting the remote and nunchuk during the archery event were a nice change of pace from the mashing and timed button presses that most Olympic games rely on, and overlaying it all with classic Nintendo charm (and Sega characters thrown in) make for a fun party game that anyone can enjoy.
#2 – Track & Field – 1983, Arcade/NES/Atari 2600/ZX Spectrum/Game Boy/et al
Gamers of a certain age will tell you that you always knew when an arcade had Track & Field, because you could hear the furious jamming of the buttons over all of the other machines and even whatever bad 80s music was blasting in from the ceiling. If there is a better way to replicate the skill and challenge of being an Olympic athlete than pounding on buttons as quickly as possible, nobody has come up with it (beyond motion control), as Olympic video games have been playing basically the same way ever since. The last 33 years have seen dozens upon dozens of games that are essentially remakes of–and sometimes actual sequels to–Track & Field only with better visuals, but somehow the original still remains more fun than pretty much all of them.
#1 – Summer Games II – 1985, Commodore 64/Apple II/IBM PC/Sinclair Spectrum/Amiga/et al
Epyx had a pretty solid run during its 15 years of operation, but what mainly made it a household name in the 80s was its trio of excellent Olympics games. The best of the bunch was Summer Games II, which took everything that was great about the original and added an absolutely top-notch (for its time) visual and audio presentation, including what may be the all-time most iconic video game versions of both the torch-lighting and the closing ceremony celebration. Beyond just the extra flash, Summer Games II also added more skill-based events like fencing that had a depth and sense of skill beyond just button mashing and carefully timed button presses. As it never came to the NES, many American kids would’ve missed this wonderful game completely if it weren’t for the fact that it also came to Apple II, the default computer for public schools across the country in the 80s.
So do you give this list a gold, silver, or bronze medal? What favorites of yours should be on the podium instead? Tell us in the comments!