Summer Games II: the other half of the fake Olympics

Well, after enjoying Summer Games so much the other day, I thought it only good and proper to follow up that experience with a look at its sequel from a year later. Only this time around, I sadly don’t have the pleasure of an Atari 8-bit version to enjoy — by this point, Epyx had moved on to favour other platforms for the most part, so we’ll be looking at the Commodore 64 version today.

Summer Games II, like its predecessor, does not have an official Olympic license, but given that it features the same flame-lighting opening ceremony complete with the Olympic Fanfare, plus the release of a flock of doves, its inspirations are readily apparent. It does, however, feature cross-compatibility with the original Summer Games, so if you’re in the mood for a lengthy virtual sports session, have the disks for both games on hand and you can compete in all of the events one after another for the complete definitely-not-Olympic experience.

Like the first Summer Games, Summer Games II eschews the usual track and field events seen in multisports games of this era in favour of a more diverse selection of challenges. In fact, this time around there are only three field events and no track events at all — we have the triple jump, high jump and javelin, and these are complemented by the rowing, equestrian, fencing, kayaking and cycling.

Triple jump is first up, and this is a simple affair: tap the fire button to start, then press right on the joystick to “hop”, a second time to “skip” and left to “jump”. You can also supposedly push up on the joystick after starting your jump to improve your distance, but this is quite tricky to get working, as the timing is already rather challenging.

The triple jump event sets the general vibe for Summer Games II: everything in this game is easy to learn in theory, but tricky to execute in practice. In this instance, it’s all about timing — it’ll likely take you a good few goes before you figure out the best times to start your hop, skip and jump and a few more to master a smooth transition between them.

But that’s good, really; if the game was too simple and you could immediately master it, there would be little to no replay value. By providing an “easy to learn, difficult to master” sort of approach, Summer Games II remains much more interesting for longer — particularly when played with friends.

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Summer Games rowing

Triple jump is followed up with rowing, which is one of the more “physical” events in Summer Games II — though it’s still not a joystick waggler. Instead, your job here is to rhythmically alternate between pushing left and right on the joystick to simulate a rowing stroke; the better your timing, the more you’ll be able to “push” with each stroke.

Triple jump demonstrates this to a certain extent, but it’s especially apparent in the rowing event: Summer Games II is very good at creating a sense of physical involvement with your athlete. The animation, the smooth scrolling and the general pace of gameplay feels like it matches your use of the controller perfectly, and it’s immensely satisfying once you nail that timing.

Once again, though, you won’t get it right immediately; expect the Computer Pacer to beat you a few times in single-player before you really figure out the best approach to the race.

Summer Games II javelin

Next up comes the javelin, which is the closest to a “button masher” in the entire game. Here, though, instead of waggling the joystick, you instead hammer the fire button to build up speed, then hold left on the joystick to pull back the javelin, then release it to throw.

Again, there’s a great sense of physicality here, particularly due to the fact that breaking your stride to throw isn’t an immediate process. There’s a sense of “weight” to your athlete that really works well — and once again, nailing the timing and execution is immensely satisfying.

This is probably one of the easier events to get the hang of, so if you want to introduce yourself to Summer Games II as gently as possible, this is a good one to start with!

Summer Games II Equestrian

Equestrian, meanwhile, is probably the most difficult of all the events, so be ready for a certain amount of frustration here — though once again, the actual mechanics aren’t all that complicated. Tap up on the joystick to speed up your horse, tap right to make the horse jump, tap left as it lands to make sure it doesn’t fall over.

Timing is, once again, critical here — attempt to jump too early or late and the horse will refuse the jump, requiring you to pull back on the stick to turn around and try again; meanwhile, falling over after landing from a jump requires a couple of taps of the fire button to get up and running again. Too many faults and you’ll end up disqualified!

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Interestingly, the criteria for success in this one is based on points from faults rather than your time; in this way, multiplayer competition becomes more of a test of accuracy than one of speed.

Summer Games II high jump

Next up comes the high jump, which is very straightforward in theory, extremely difficult in practice. Push right on the joystick to speed up, push up to approach the bar or down for a wider approach, then press fire to jump and up to swing your legs over the bar. Despite repeated attempts, I didn’t manage to achieve this even once at the lowest possible height.

I was good at high jump for one year in secondary school, and everything. Growth spurts for the win. I doubt I could get off the ground these days, however. Age comes to us all. But I digress.

High jump is followed by fencing, which always struck me as a rather ambitious inclusion in such an early multi-sports game — but the execution here is actually rather elegant.

Parrying is simulated by moving the joystick up and down to choose the height at which you hold your foil, then sweeping from left to right to simulate knocking your opponent’s blade away. Conversely, going on the offensive requires holding the fire button and pushing up to thrust, or down to thrust with a step forward.

Once again, timing is critical, as is a thorough understanding of your foil’s reach. In many ways, the fencing event feels somewhat like the early fighting games of the mid ’80s such as International Karate — it has the same emphasis on controlling space and making single, decisive strikes rather than the relentless barrages found in more modern fighters.

Summer Games II cycling

The strategic gameplay of fencing is followed by the straightforwardly physical challenge of cycling. In keeping with Summer Games II’s aversion to conventional joystick waggling, however, what you have to do here is rotate your joystick in a clockwise direction to simulate “pedalling”.

Timing is, once again, quite tricky here as you need to keep in sync with an on-screen directional meter for maximum effectiveness, and it can sometimes feel like you lose your “footing” without any real reason, especially when you’re trying to pick up speed. However, as with anything else in the game, a bit of practice will see you master this one in no time.

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Summer Games II kayaking

The final event in Summer Games II is one of the more challenging and technical ones: kayaking tasks you with negotiating a white-water course while successfully traversing gates in the indicated direction: forwards through blue and red gates, backwards through yellow and red gates, always ensuring the red part of the gate is on your left. This sometimes means you need to paddle upstream!

And yes, you do have to paddle in this one; every movement requires you to repeatedly and rhythmically tap the joystick to simulate using your kayak’s paddles. Again, this isn’t about button-bashing; it’s about understanding what the controls are expecting of you and successfully executing it — this time around complicated somewhat by the influence the water’s current has on your movements!

After it’s all over, there’s a closing ceremony — notably lacking from the original Summer Games — and everyone enjoys some fireworks to the stirring sounds of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries.

On the whole, Summer Games II feels like a bit of an improvement from its predecessor. The events are a little more intuitive and less “blink and you miss them” — Gymnastics says hello — but they still have enough challenge about them to ensure that you won’t master them immediately. And the feeling of physicality to all the events is really impressive — quite unlike any other sports games of the era, except other offerings from Epyx.

The addition of musical themes to each event adds a nice bit of polish to the experience, and the Commodore 64 version of Summer Games II is certainly much less prone to the inordinate number of disk flips required in the Atari 8-bit version of the original — the events are rather sensibly stored “in order” on the disk, so you’ll only need to flip the disk over once you get to the later events in the lineup.

Summer Games II

Add to that the fact that you can choose to add Summer Games’ events to Summer Games II’s lineup, and you absolutely have one of the best, most slickly executed multi-sports games of the mid-’80s — and not a broken joystick in sight.

Just a shame it never came to Atari 8-bit; my family and I would have enjoyed this one back in the day!

Screenshots from the Commodore 64 version.

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