This is how I think you can categorise sports video games:
For: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Three and a half stars (out of five)
THE MEGA BRANDS
Examples would include the Fifa series, the
Madden series, the Tiger Woods golf series, the
NHL series, the NBA 2K series and (for US fans
and a handful of others) the MLB 2K and MLB The
Show baseball series.
These are all well-established titles. They come out every
year, have millions of dollars poured into their development,
and are virtually guaranteed to sell well.
THE SECOND COUSINS
Other sports that are regularly (though not annually) and
relatively successfully (though never perfectly) made the
subject of games.
Cricket is a fair example here.
From the Cricket Captain series to Shane Warne
Cricket, developers have done a reasonable job of
recreating our summer game.
Rugby is another example.
Jonah Lomu Rugby remains one of the greatest sports
games of all, and last year's New Zealand-developed Rugby
Challenge was outstanding.
THE ULTRA NICHE
The riskiest and most difficult games to develop, because
they target sports with smaller markets or lower profiles.
Think rugby league, Australian rules football and the like.
This tier of games can throw up the odd gem - Rockstar's
Table Tennis ring a bell?- but has also produced any
number of stinkers.
So where do you fit Olympic Games, er, games into my sports
It's the Olympics, for goodness sake. The biggest sporting
event in the world. You would think there would be an obvious
opening there for a quality accompanying video game.
The problems, of course, include but are not limited to:
1. The Olympics only roll around every four years
(every two, if you include the Winter Olympics);
2. With so many athletes from so many countries,
licensing is virtually impossible, so you never get to
compete in the 100m as Usain Bolt, for example;
3. Some of the core Olympic sports (running, swimming,
cycling etc) are quite repetitive, therefore don't always
lend themselves naturally to video simulation.
Gamers of a certain age will remember the original Track
& Field arcade game, and the first encounter with the
frenzied "button-mashing" concept.
Official Olympic games have been around since Barcelona
1992 and, let's face it, most have been pretty awful.
They have either had too few sports or the wrong ones,
gameplay has invariably been a matter of slamming two buttons
as quickly as possible, and everything has screamed "rushed
out as soon as possible".
Well, things are looking up. If the game to accompany the
2012 Olympics is anything to go by, London is going to host a
Sega kept development in-house, and its Australian studio has
produced easily the best Olympic game yet.
Event selection is generally the No 1 topic in the debate
over Olympic games, so we'll start there.
There are only 11 sports represented, though combined there
are 31 events. These range from the classics (100m, 200m,
400m, all the throwing events, the 100m swimming strokes and
archery) to the not-so-classics (canoe slalom, trampoline,
synchronised diving, table tennis and beach volleyball).
It's a fair range, certainly better than many previous games.
But it would have been nice to have had more than one event
in rowing (only men's single sculls made the cut) and cycling
(only men's keirin). And this Jack Lovelock fan pines for the
There is, too, a strange gender imbalance. No fewer than 14
events are "men-only", and (you guessed it) beach volleyball
is the sole "women-only" code. Odd and disappointing, really.
Pleasingly, much attention has been lavished on the gameplay.
Button-mashing has not completely disappeared but in its
place is what you might call Button-Mashing 2.0. Many of the
events require a power gauge to be kept in a certain zone,
and if you simply thrash that button, you will cook yourself.
An example is the javelin. You tap a button as your thrower
runs in, aiming to keep the power gauge in the zone. At a
certain point, your power "locks in" and you use the left
control stick to quickly try to throw the javelin at the
Swimming utilises the control sticks as your arms, requiring
precision timing rather than sheer button-pressing ability.
Rowing does the same with its oars.
Skeet shooting, archery, beach volleyball and canoe slalom
are among the most fun of the events to play. Diving and
hurdles are on the frustrating side.
You can play Olympic campaigns, with the number of events
increasing as you boost the difficulty level. You can create
your own "playlist". And there are party and challenge modes
Visually, London 2012 is on another planet to all
previous Olympic games. The athletes and, in particular, the
venues just look lovely.
Obviously, no real Olympians appear in the game, but you can
edit the names and likenesses of two competitors per country
(there are 36, including New Zealand) per sport. That's how
Chris Donaldson can beat Usain Bolt, see.
Some unlockables are tossed in, but they seem to be cosmetic
more than anything.
They say it can't be done but I would love to see an Olympic
game come packaged with a career mode, now a requirement for
any major sports title. Imagine creating a character from
scratch, levelling up your abilities, and competing at
various minor events as you strive to qualify for the big
Like the actual event, which is all over after an intense
two-week period, London 2012 is probably a game with
more short-term appeal than long life.
But it's the best of its kind, by a long way.