Well, the London 2012 Olympic games are officially underway, and the eShop now has its equivalent of those ubiquitous bootlegged t-shirts in the form of Decathlon 2012, a digital souvenir that hopes to coast on the excitement of the Olympics without shelling out for the rights to refer to them by name. Already we're off to a great start, right?
Decathlon 2012 openly attempts to ape the simple controls of bygone sports games you might have played on the Atari. This, however, feels more like an excuse for not fixing the unintuitive, unresponsive and repetitive controls on offer here. Had the developers gone the full retro route and given us Atari-style graphics and sound effects, it might have been able to coast on its nostalgic charm. The fact that they didn't — and the fact that this "retro" mindset seems to apply only to the controls and nothing else in the game — leads us to believe it's an after-the-fact justification of subpar coding rather than a deliberate choice.
As you might expect, the game includes ten events. These are, in order: 100m Sprint, Long Jump, Shot Put, High Jump, 400m Run, 110m Hurdles, Discus Throw, Pole Vault, Javelin Throw, and 1500m Run. Unfortunately there's not nearly as much variety as you might think.
We hope you enjoy dragging your stylus mindlessly back and forth across the touch screen, because that's what most of these events have you doing. In fact, in the case of the four running events that's all you do. The 110m Hurdles event admittedly requires you to lift your stylus in order to clear a hurdle, but it's not enough of a departure to stand out.
The Long Jump and High Jump require you to perform the ever-so-tricky feat of tapping the screen once after sliding your stylus back and forth. The Pole Vault and Javelin Throw are even more complicated, what with having to slide your stylus yet again after sliding it back and forth across the screen. The Shot Put and Discus Throw spice things up a bit by having you tap before sliding your stylus across the screen. You know, just to keep you on your toes.
The controls are awful. Yes, sliding your stylus back and forth across the screen works — at least in the sense that it causes your athlete to move forward or throw whatever he's carrying — but it's not clear what effect you're having on what actually plays out in the event. Sometimes one motion will cause your athlete to stumble in his jump and go almost nowhere, and the next time the same motion has him sailing through the air like a paper plane. There's no clear correlation between what you do and what actually happens, and that does not make for satisfying gaming.
There is a practice mode that allows you to play any of the events in isolation, and it does make the prompts more obvious, but it still doesn't make the gameplay any more fun, or any less confusing.
The graphics don't look particularly bad, but they are certainly about as bland as you can get. Ditto the sound, which is unmemorable, apart from when the crowd chants for you with deliberate unintelligibility, as they have no idea what you've entered for your name.
Decathlon 2012 could have been redeemed somewhat if its multiplayer was handled better, but as it stands you pass the console around to a total of four people, taking turns. Yes, even though in many of these events you are competing against other athletes at the same time, you have to play each of those in isolation from each other.
Player one competes against a group of anonymous computer drones, then passes the console to player two, who also competes against anonymous computer drones as though player one never existed. That's not much fun, especially since all a spectator will see is their friend dragging a stylus back and forth across a screen. The lack of simultaneous play is a real missed opportunity for the camaraderie that drives the enjoyment of most sports games.
Decathlon 2012 hopes you'll buy it on the grounds that it exists at the same time as the London Olympics. We hope that you have better things to do with your money.
It's pretty clear to us that Decathlon 2012 is a rushed cash-in. Despite the fact that there are 10 events you'll be lucky if it takes you a full five minutes to see all the content, and it must be something of an accomplishment for a game so short to feel so unbearably repetitive. If this were a free download we'd still advise you not to waste your time, so charging 500 points for this seems almost criminal. Here's a better Olympic tie-in: sprint 1500m away from this game and don't look back.