30 Reviews in 30 Days, Day 15 – Epyx Sports Games (C64)

We have hit the half way point in my 30 Reviews in 30 days. So far, I have covered AAA titles, indie gems, niche games, retro games and even a DVD. Today, I am stepping back once again to take a look at the system where I got my start gaming, the Commodore 64.

Back in the time period the C64 was popular, Epyx was known as one of the top game developers. From Jumpman to Impossible Mission, the company was known for taking full advantage of the system’s capabilities. It even made one of the most commonly owned joysticks for the C64, the Epyx 500XJ.

While Epyx made many great games for the system, they will probably be most remembered for thier sports games. Epyx made several, many of them based around the Olympics, and other than Aliens which I reviewed earlier, there was no games I spent more time playing than Summer Games, Summer Games II, Winter Games and World Games.

Making You Feel Like a Part of the Games

Ski Jump was about my favorite event in Winter Games.

The Epyx Games were not just about playing the various sports involved. They were about making you feel like a part of the experience itself. You started out by naming your player and chosing your country. Then you competed in the various games, each one being complete with its own medal ceremony. For those of us who will never be good ebough to qualify for an the Olympics, this gave us a very brief glance at what it must be like, and it was rewarding.

The games included in each variation covered a wide variety of sports. In Summer Games, you competed in events ranging from Pole Vault to Platform Diving. Summer Games II added the likes of Javelin and Fencing to the mix. Winter Games added several of the Winter Olympic sports, including Ski Jump and Luge. The games were generally fun to play, with Epyx managing to strike a balance between you making movements on joystick that made sense for the sport and not having to try and do too much.

Olympic sports were not all Epyx did, however. World Games was something unique when it came out in 1986. It consited of eight games each representing a different country. From Russia, you had Weighlifting, Slalolm Skiing for France, Log Rolling for Canada, Cliff Diving for Mexico, Caber Toss for Scotland, Bull Riding for the United States, Barrel Jumping for Germany and Sumo Wrestling for Japan. These games were truly unique, and they gave the players a little insight into the various countries they represented, if only a little.

Playing The Games

Anyone who has played the recent Olymipic video games knows that sometimes trying to translate those kind of sports to game just does not work. Overall, Epyx did a good job with that. Some of the sports were very well controlled. I remember loving the Ski Jump, Pole Vault was a blast and nothing beat Caber Toss for World Games. Learning  when to make the proper moves to gain the highest scores took time. Fortunately, you could choose to practice any event or just focus on a few specific ones you liked.

Caber Toss was the best game hands down, especially when you failed.

That abilityto play only specific games really came in handy, as not all of the games were as well done. Biathalon and Figure Skating in Winter Games were examples of sports not handled correctly. Biathalon was monotonous, forcing you to time a back and forth motion with the joystick to handle the cross counrty skiing and then make sure your shots were timed correctly on the target sessions. Figure Skating was difficult to master because you had to time your moves correctly and vary them enough to get the higher score. Platform Diving had some of the same issues, but that one gave you a little more feedback with items like degree of difficulty. Slalom Skiing was by far the worst part of World Games, though Bull Riding was actually a close second just because it was something I did not really understand as a kid.

If the games could be this frustrating, why did I keep coming back? Mainly because the good outweighted the bad. The games Epyx translated well were a true joy to play, and there was also that “I can do better” addicting feeling to many of the games. Besides, you could play with up to 8 players, giving you a chance to compete with friends and family.

World Games added another element that kept players coming back: humor. There were few things funnier than watching your diver take a header if you misjudges a Cliff Dive or watching the caber flip backwards and pound your player into the ground. Things like that helped take a little of the sting out of blowing an event.

Better Than the Current Games

Despite their flaws, the Epyx sports games were influencial in helping bring sports other than the majors to gaming systems. Though there have been many Olympic style sports games to come out since then, none were quite as good in my opinion, and nothing has ever truly recaptured the wonder of World Games. For helping set a standard that even games now have a hard time meeting, the Epyx sports games get an 8 out of 10.

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