When it comes to video games and superstar athletes, the tradition of releasing a namesake game is almost as old as the industry itself.
Whether it is Joe Montana Football or Mike Tyson’s Punchout, the early era of video games saw a lot of quality sports titles that proudly held the endorsement of some luminary from a particular field of sport. While most of the genre is now dominated by the likes of Madden and FIFA, in the early days of home consoles one of the best ways to advertise your new sports title to consumers was through name recognition.
That’s why Daley Thompson’s Decathlon is not only a fine example of this tradition but also one of the first and foundational games in the namesake sports title. Named for the British decathlete who won a gold medal in both the 1980 and 1984 Olympics, Daley Thompson’s Decathlon debuted at the height of its eponymous athlete’s career.
And for those fans of retro gaming, Daley Thompson’s Decathlon is an awesome title to play.
As the name suggests, the primary gameplay revolves around the exciting events that comprise the decathlon.
A decathlon takes its name from its ten events which span two days and consist of 100 metres, long jump, shot put, high jump, and 400 metres on day 1 and 110 hurdles, pole vault, discus, javelin, and 1500 metres on the second day. One of the most grueling challenges any athlete could face, the decathlon might sound like a strange theme for a video game but it works out pretty darn close to perfect.
You see, Daley Thompson’s Decathlon works on a “lives” system – that is, you lose a life, starting with 3, if you do not achieve in game objectives. While normally seen in platforming games, the appearance of a “lives” dynamic in a sports game is quite unique this early in the genre and emphasizes two things: the somewhat platforming nature of the gameplay and the influence of arcade games.
In fact, the game earned quite a reputation in its day for being a “joystick killer,” in that it was quite hard on a joystick when you played the game, requiring rapid button presses or quick back and forth motions with a joystick to simulate one leg over another. Indeed, this element is probably not emulated well on modern systems but back in the day it was a novel feature of the game, a game that was largely received quite well by critics. Featuring a progressive difficult structure, Daley Thompson’s Decathlon also offers a lot of replay value as players are rewarded for mastering certain tiers only to move on to a higher, more difficult race.
Probably not the most standout title today, Daley Thompson’s Decathlon was nonetheless a defining game in the sports genre for the ZX Spectrum and, to a lesser extent, the Commodore 64. Helping to introduce the trend of athlete-endorsed sports games, Daley Thompson’s Decathlon never forgets the arcade nor the gameplay expectations of its time, making it a true classic among early sports titles.