Summer Challenge. (sports simulation) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May
The spirit of competition shines brightly in this dynamic sports simulation, the latest from Jeff Sember and Mike Benna, designers of Hardball Ill and Joe Montana Football. A perfect party game, up to ten players compete in eight Olympic-style events. Although each sport has seen action in previous titles, rarely have they been presented with such style and vivacity.
Key to the game's success is an outstanding blend of bitmapped animation and ultrafast 3-D polygon backgrounds rendered in brilliantly shaded 256-color VGA. Onscreen characters move with lifelike agility, complemented by a full range of digitized sound effects. Another major asset is the streamlined control system, making each event instantly accessible to all players, regardless of experience. A short-throw joystick, such as the Gravis PC GamePad, is highly recommended.
The game offers both practice and tournament play, complete with opening and closing ceremonies. Players choose their alter egos from male or female athletes representing 16 countries. Computer competition is culled from the same stable, divided into three skill levels: amateur, professional, and world class, These computerized opponents are merely benchmarks, however, providing formidable records for you to break. Instant replays of particularly valiant efforts can also be saved to disk for later review. Use this feature's incremental forward and rewind to pinpoint performance strengths and weaknesses.
The designers score their first bull's eye in the Archery event, a surprisingly accurate simulation of strength, controlled tension, and precision aiming. Equestrian competition offers the best depiction yet of this challenging sport. Viewed from behind horse and rider, the event requires a flawless combination of speed, position, and meticulous timing to survive the 16-obstacle course.
Kayaking makes a big splash in its breakneck run down a one-kilometer flume, through a series of 25 gates and hairpin turns. The illusion of speed and buoyancy is magnificent, created by rapidly changing sections of shaded polygons. Similar effects are used in the 400-meter Hurdles and Cycling, two events that showcase the game's smooth animation. Both contests require constant button action to maintain top running and pedaling speed. Use an autofire joystick to limit fatigue and get an edge on the competition.
Pole Vaulting is by far the game's toughest event--an arduous blend of speed, agility, and timing, with little margin for error. Players are given three chances to clear the bar, which can be adjusted from 4 to 6.2 meters in height. High Jumping requires comparable strengths and is only slightly less demanding. Once again, bar height can be changed from 1.7 to 2.5 meters. Jump too soon and your onscreen athlete will perform a painful back flop in the cinders, yelling, "Agh! That hurt!"
An event many will consider a favorite, javelin competition, rounds out the series. Superb animation and simple play mechanics compel players to try "just one more time" to top their longest throw.
Flawlessly presented, Summer Challenge is as exciting to watch as it is fun to play.