Athletics isn’t really a sport that transfers well to the videogame sphere. Unless you’re using Kinect’s full body sensor, the inputs you’re making are never going to accurately reflect the action on screen. That’s why the button mashing of Konami’s Track & Field has been the basis of the genre since it first came out in the eighties.
London 2012, the official game of this summer’s Olympics, adds a few twists to the time honoured rapid taps, creating a control system with a little more finesse, and throws in a variety of sports that require dexterity over the ability to hammer the A button as quickly as humanly possible. The end result is an enjoyable but ultimately forgettable sporting experience.
Perhaps the biggest alteration to the ancient athletics blueprint that London 2012 makes is the way button mashing too quickly just as likely spells disaster as not button mashing quickly enough. Running events have a power bar, and you need to tap rapidly enough to keep that meter in the sweet spot towards the top.
Go too slow, and you’ll potter around the track with no hope of winning a medal, but go to fast and you’ll lose your rhythm, and suffer the same fate. It makes for a more intriguing, slightly less tiring style of play, and it’s a system that Sega rolls out to the other events as well.
Long Jump and High Jump both need you to run at the right speed, before inputting a combination of stick and button presses to throw your athlete over or across whatever they’re trying to clear. It’s certainly not the most complex of approaches, but each event has its own feel, thanks to different angle and speed requirements.
Oddly, the jewel in the crown isn’t any of the showcase running events, it’s the Table Tennis. You use the right stick to fire shots, and the left to move your ping-pong player around the table. Quick twists of the right stick add spin to the ball, and even on the lower difficulty settings, the matches are frenetic and addictive.
The cycling events fail to capture the excitement of the real thing, and the ladies beach volleyball is pretty dull as well. Swimming plays like an intriguing rhythm game, where you drag down on the right and left sticks in time with the movements of your swimmer. Weightlifting is all about power and angles, mashing buttons and making sure you position your sticks correctly when you go for a lift.
There are a variety of shooting and archery events too, from quick-fire pistol and bow shooting, to a pretty exciting clay pigeon shooting game called Skeet. Multiplayer modes let you duke it out with friends online or off, creating your own mini-Olympiad and taking part in a variety of challenges.
In small doses, London 2012 is a perfectly enjoyable party game. It’s unlikely you’ll get too involved with the single player, apart from the excellent Table Tennis, but there are enough multiplayer options to make sure you stay interested at least until the real Olympics start at the end of July.