09/05/2018

WORLD GAMES (NES)

While the UK swelters in the kind of unseasonably hot weather than makes you worry about the survival of humanity, let’s take our minds off ecological disaster with some sports. Not physical sports, of course. It’s far too hot for that. Instead, it’s another compilation of sports minigames in Epyx and Rare’s 1989 NES version of World Games!

Here’s the world now, in all its glory. Yep, that’s a globe. All kinds of continents and what-have-you. Look, it’s a really boring title screen, okay?
As you might have surmised, World Games is part of Epyx’s famous “Games” series of multi-event sports titles, a series mostly known for its home computer iterations that began with 1984’s Summer Games and continued with such well-known releases as Winter Games and California Games. As far as I’m aware, World Games is expansive as the series’ premise ever got, which is a shame. We missed out on Universe Games, featuring such events as Algolian Laser Swords or The Death-Dance of Crenulex-7 – but World Games is what we got, so get ready to jump off things and throw logs around!


World Games features the usual choices between practising a single event or running through them all in sequence, with multiplayer madness being the obvious selling point. However, I’ll be playing alone, because most of the events in World Games are about one competitor taking on a challenge rather than a “versus” situation. Also because friends don’t make friends play thirty-year-old NES sports games. So, with my name and nationality entered – complete with a blast of your chosen country’s national anthem – it’s on to the sporting action.


But wait! First there’s some background information about the sport you’re about to attempt. It’s quite interesting the first time you play World Games but utterly redundant after that, so it’s nice that you can turn these screens off before you start playing.
As you can see, event number one is weightlifting, the second-most basic of all sports (after running, of course). We’re told that weightlifting is more than just a test of strength, and I can believe that. You need balance, and willpower, and a very strong girdle. Where it loses me is the assertion that weightlifting is a sport of strategy. Does it mean the strategy behind picking the weight of the barbell you’re going to attempt to lift? If that’s the case then the strategy aspect really doesn’t apply to me, as we shall see.


Naturally the goal here is to lift the heaviest set of weights that you can manage, and you begin by selecting the weight you want to attempt. Then you begin your lift by hang on, what the hell is that?


“VITA MINS” says the terrible creature, a balding golem of boiled ham, a muscular Phil Collins formed from Billy Bear meat and raw, unflinching terror. The blue pinpricks of distant starlight sunk deep into what must be considered his “face” see nothing but the sin of those who don’t supplement their nutritional intake with a variety of easy-to-swallow vitamin pills. His favourite vitamin is P – vitamin Pain, which the body needs in order to survive that which is coming. And it is coming.


That’s enough about the VITA MIN Man. More than enough, in fact. Back to the weightlifting, and get this – you don’t lift the weights by hammering the buttons as fast as possible to build your strength! I know, I was surprised too, and World Games actually requires no button mashing. Plenty of joystick (or joypad, in the case of the NES version) waggling, mind you. I know this because I’ve played enough multi-event sports games to learn that you should always read the manual beforehand. There’s bound to be some bizarre, unfathomable control schemes at work, and while World Games isn’t too bad on that front I’m definitely glad I looked up the manual. It would have taken me a long time to work out the weightlifting otherwise.
How it works is you press down on the d-pad to grab the bar, then up to start lifting, then down to “snatch” the weights, up again to hold the bar over your head and finally, once the judge’s lights have lit up, down again to put the weights down.


That’s the control scheme for the first three lifts – the “snatch” portion – anyway. Then you move on to the clean and jerk, which adds in a couple of extra ups and downs to the mix. Two things to discuss here: the first is that all this up and down means I’ve now got this song stuck in my head. The other is that the challenge here is all about the timing of your button presses, which was a surprise for a weightlifting challenge. The more weight on your, erm, weights, the tighter the timing required for a successful input. It’s also really bloody difficult, and I didn’t manage a successful lift of anything more than the second-lightest bar. The manual claims this event is all down to practise, but I tried it about fifty goddamn times and could never get a handle on the right timings. There’s a lack of feedback about what you’re doing wrong, I think that’s the issue, but at least it’s all very nicely animated, with smooth sprites that really look like they’re struggling even when I was cack-handedly trying to lift the empty bar just to get any kind of score.


Next it’s off to Germany for that famous(?) traditional(??) German activity of Barrel Jumping. You control an ice skater who gets their tracksuits at the same place that Little Mac buys his training gear, and you have to jump over some barrels. How many barrels? That’s up to you! How many do you dare face? After the weightlifting debacle, I thought it best to start with as few barrels as possible.


This event is thankfully much, much easier than the weightlifting, possibly because it feels much more like a “traditional” computer games sports event. You rhythmically waggle the joypad back and forth to build up speed, and then press a button to jump. It’s… well, it’s pretty much every computerised version of the long jump ever, except you’re wearing a romper suit and failure means a meeting with the unforgiving ice rather than the gentle embrace of a sandpit.


Headline: man’s coccyx shoots up body, replaces left lung.
The barrel jumping does exactly what it says on the tin, it controls smoothly, it’s not obnoxiously difficult and even if you do fail there’s much comedic potential in seeing your character spreadeagled across the barrels like they’re participating in a Donkey Kong-themed photoshoot. Thumbs up on the barrel jumping, then.


Now we’re off to sunny Mexico for the madman’s gamble that is Cliff Jumping, a “sport” for people whose mothers said “if all your friends were jumping off a cliff would you to that too?” one too many times. You select the height from which you’d like to hurl yourself off a cliff, although there seems little point in not jumping right from the top, and then you jump.


As you soar majestically through the azure sky, you have to nudge your character away from the cliff face – although not too far, because you get more points the closer you are to the cliff – and press down on the d-pad to position yourself in a diving stance rather than the belly-flop that’s going on in the screenshot above.


My first attempt did not go well. “Fault,” says the game, which is a hilariously euphemistic way of saying “you’ve just turned your spine into dry porridge, whoops.”
I did get the hang of the cliff diving quite quickly, and the risk-reward gameplay of skimming the cliff edge is pretty enjoyable once you get into it… but it’s not like there’s much here to hold your interest once you’ve gotten good at it. Not if you’re playing alone, at least


Next up: slalom skiing, which surprisingly didn’t feature in Epyx’s previous Winter Games. Ski between the flags as you travel down the hill, with a time penalty for missing a gate and the ever-present threat of slamming face-first into the trees or the barriers and thus ending your run prematurely.


Yeah, like that.
Another relatively uncomplicated event, this one, but yet again the controls are sharp and your characters movements are smooth. The manual says that holding the A button “increases your turning sensitivity,” but I couldn’t really see (or “feel”, I suppose) much difference. It’s all about predicting where you’re going next and making small movement to preserve your forward momentum, because turning too hard will slow you right down. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. Slowing down and making sure you don’t miss any gates seemed to be a better strategy that prioritising speed. The hearts of the judges are as cold as the snow that is their dominion, and they will not be impressed by your devil-may-care attitude to proper gate navigation.


Canada’s contribution to this cavalcade of sporting excitement is the lumberjack log rolling event. Thanks, Canada. Watching a lot of cartoons as a kid made me think that flailing your legs to keep your balance on a floating log was going to be a bigger feature of adult life, but this is one of the few times it’s come up. The general idea is simple enough – don’t fall off the log or you’ll die – but sadly this is one of the least well-executed of World Game’s events. Supposedly it’s all about changing the direction of the log’s rotation and trying to second-guess the other lumberjack’s movements, but that never seemed to factor into it and all I could do to win was just keep moving the d-pad left and right until the opposing lumberjack fell off the log out of sheer boredom. And then, as I mentioned, presumably died.


The log rolling takes in shark-infested water, which makes you wonder how they got an insurer to sign off on it. This article would have been out a bit quicker if I hadn’t gotten distracted by reading about Canada’s native shark species. Maybe this one is a salmon shark.
Oh, and if you were expecting a joke about Monty Python’s Lumberjack Song I’m afraid that’s not possible… because the soundtrack for this event is a chiptune version of The Lumberjack Song. Unlicensed, I assume.


Yeehaw, cowpokes – the USA event is the rootin’, tootin’, potentially animal crueltyin’ rodeo! Pick a bull from the selection of five that have been conveniently sorted by how ornery they are and then try to stay atop the bull for eight seconds. The available bulls are called Bob, Ferdinand, Elmer, Tornado and Earthquake. I’m not sure about Bob, but I’m guessing that Ferdinand was named for the children’s story and Elmer because Elmer’s Glue has a bull on its logo. I was going to say Earthquake and Tornado were named after the famous WWF tag-team the Natural Disasters, but that was Typhoon, not Tornado. I hope you accept my shame-faced apology for this mistake.


I was surprised by how easy the bull riding turned out to be, and I managed to conquer the strongest bull on my second attempt. There are only three commands to deal with, which helps: hold down when the bull is spinning, hold the pad in the direction of movement when then the bull is kicking and hold the opposite direction when the bull comes to a sudden stop. It’s very straightforward, with the only complication being that it can be a little difficult to tell if the bull has started spinning or not. Still, it’s not difficult after even a very small amount of practise.


Moving a bit closer to my neck of the woods for the next event with the Scottish caber toss. Your goal? To throw a very large stick so that it travels end-over-end, although in World Games you also have to throw the caber as far as possible by waggling the d-pad to build up your running (okay, walking, it's a really big stick) speed before tossing the caber. Now, the problem with this is that in real caber tossing distance thrown is not important. It’s all about how straight you can make the caber travel, with the best result being that it lands on its top end and then falls away from the thrower in a straight line. This titbit of knowledge was stored somewhere in my brain, but naturally I went to check that I was right. That’s when I learned that people who throw cabers are called “tossers,” which made the Wikipedia page on the subject unintentionally and immaturely entertaining:


Not my proudest chuckle, but chuckle I most certainly did.
The trick with the caber toss is that you have to hold the A button to throw and release it when the caber is at the optimum angle, making this feel a lot like most javelin / discus / etc. events in other sports games, but I do appreciate the relative obscurity of the caber toss.


Plus, if you really mess up the caber will fall back and hammer your competitor into the ground like something out of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, which is great. If you nail a really good score on your first attempt, you might as well get some extra value out of World Games by making this happen on purpose.


The final event is Sumo Wrestling, and much like the log rolling I never managed to get a handle on it. I pressed various buttons on the joypad and things happened on screen, but how those two events were related never seemed to make much sense, even after I’d read the manual. It seems like the sumo follows the structure of most home computer fighting games of the time, in that each “joystick” direction performs a certain move, and like most home computer fighting games of the time it all feels terribly random.


Holding the A button seems to make your wrestler grab their opponent’s belt, thus theoretically opening up a whole new set of moves, but in my experience just tapping right and slapping the other wrestler across the ring yielded the best result in what is the weakest of all World Games’ events.


The most interesting thing about the sumo event is this sprite of a fallen wrestler that was seemingly traced from a photo of a plastic baby doll that’d been left on top of a hot radiator.


And that’s your lot. No ending or medal ceremony or anything like that, although perhaps that’s because I was playing on my own. Still, some kind of recognition would have been nice rather than being dumped straight back to the title screen. Oh well, at least I got to see that guy get buried by a caber.


It’s difficult to sum up World Games without saying “yeah, it’s okay” about fifty times. It’s just okay, you see. Better than a lot of multi-event sports games – easier to play, certainly – but I don’t think it’ll keep you hooked for long unless you’ve got an unhealthily competitive relationship with someone who really likes NES sports games. It suffers from the events being uneven in quality and I wish they’d leaned harder into the “weird” events, but it controls well and it’s nicely animated. World Games is definitely a game, in the world. That’s a cast-iron VGJunk guarantee.

3 comments:

  1. Anytime I see any mention of log rolling in videogames, I remember that terrible boss in Asterix and The Great Rescue. I have completed all levels of it several times (hey, it's not like I had a gazillion games back in the 90s), but never got past it.

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    Replies
    1. Oh hey, I've played Asterix and the Great Rescue for the site and I'd completely forgotten about those logs! Man, they were rubbish.

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  2. I had this on the Commodore 64 and the cliff diving was the 1st event. I didn't have instructions so I just remember the poor diver either smashing into the cliff or ending up stuck in the bottom of the ocean.

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