Even though there have been many, many attempts at putting multi-event sporting action into the next generation, only a few attempts have even come close to emulating the quality shown in the likes of Konami’s 1983 arcade hit Track and Field, Sega’s own DecAthlete (Athlete Kings) for the Saturn, or even Olympic Gold for the Megadrive. But in every Olympic year, someone has a crack at it.
Sega has picked up the ball for London 2012, after its Winter Olympic title — Vancouver 2010 — received some positively mixed reviews. Kinect owners obviously get a look in too, although not necessarily in the way we would have hoped.
The core game of London 2012: The Official Video Game of the Olympic Games is actually pretty solid. Rather than focusing on relentless amounts of button mashing, Sega has put its own twist on things by providing a system that requires a modicum of skill. The ‘A’ button is usually used to run faster or build power, with each press filling a power bar. Once the power bar is in the marked target zone, you need to keep your button-pressing rhythm going in order to keep it there and for your athlete to perform optimally. Press too fast, and your athlete burns out and slows down. Press too slowly, and he or she just trudges along at a cruising pace. Other racing events take variations on the theme with the only real change being in the pool, where rhythm and timing is of the essence as you control the swimmer’s arms with the two analog sticks.
In a first for a recent multi-event title, every single sport is playable, and most of them are a good deal of fun, too. None of the events task you with memorizing forty different stages of play, so most players will be able to grab a controller and join in after a few seconds of orientation. And that’s a good thing, given that the only real single player action on offer is the Olympics Mode - which sees you playing through a qualifying round and final round of two events per day, until you’ve done them all.
Kinect control is featured in London 2012’s “Party Play” mode, which allows up to four players to compete in a number of one-off events. The 100 and 200 meter running events are featured, alongside 110m Hurdles, Archery, Beach Volleyball, Table Tennis, Javelin, Kayaking, and Keirin (cycling.) A few bonus events are thrown in too, such as Archery Blitz — which is great fun and which has you firing as many arrows as you can at the target in a specified timeframe, in order to score as highly as you can. We wish we could say that the fun persisted throughout the other available events, though. In the 100 metre sprint, we played the tutorial without any problem and stepped out onto the track. Lining up at the starting line, we braced ourselves. On your marks...get set...nothing. 10 seconds later and with the race already over, our athlete is still bent double at the start, waiting for a command. Subsequent plays reveal that this seems to happen at least once in every four attempts at the track events.
Beach volleyball, table tennis and javelin are all solid and responsive enough, without really setting the world on fire, entertainment-wise. But as you’re playing through the list, you stumble across the kayak slalom event, which sounds like it would be tiring, but fun. It only takes about ten seconds for you to realise that you can throw any idea of fun out of the window here, as your kayaker steers himself away from every gate you’re supposed to pass through, and into every solid object he can find, completely ignoring your actual inputs. Rather than try and get through without penalties, we tried to get down to the end of the course without the game resetting the craft for being stationary for too long. We couldn’t do it.
In the end, London 2012’s Kinect support is lightweight at best, and is incredibly picky about where you’re situated in the room, to boot. The game will be working perfectly well, but messages will fly up on the screen every few seconds telling you to move back into the playing area. Sure, you’ve got a whole stack of events to play here, but even if you discount kayaking and focus on the ones that — generally — work, there’s nothing that you’d call compelling about the whole experience. Archery is absolute genius with Kinect and is by far the strongest of the bunch, but that just makes you long to be able to play it in anything other than a party contest that doesn’t keep track of personal bests or world records.
With the controller and a few mates (either online or off), London 2012 is great fun and even though there really isn’t enough here in terms of game modes, you’ll come back again and again to try and beat your best in your favourite events. If you’re expecting to fire up your Olympic party with some motion-controlled sporting action, though, Kinect Sports and Kinect Sports: Season 2 are still the only games in town.