Tuesday 2 February 2016

Olympic Skier (Atari 8-bit review)

Developer: Mr. Chip Software
Publisher: Americana
Released: 1986

Olympic Skier is a sports game that was also released on the Commodore 64 (1984).

There's three events and the objective is to gain the highest possible score in each. In Slalom you must navigate through all the gates as quickly as possible while avoiding trees and using Up and Down to alter your momentum. Missing a gate deducts points from your score whereas crashing results in immediate disqualification; the latter has a humorous animation where you're air-lifted but it gets old after a while. The controls are perfect and tight turns and slight movements are easy to pull off. The course is always the same so once you know the best route it's easy to make it to the end; however, performing well while travelling at high speed is addictive and keeps you pushing for a better score. Next up is Ski-Jump where you waggle the joystick before pressing Up to jump off the ramp; once you're about to descend you then have to line up your skis with the angle of the ground to land safely. It's the easiest event to master but it's still fun (and exhausting!) in a similar way to Track and Field (1983, Arcades). Downhill is last and it's brutally hard compared to the previous events. It's akin to Slalom except there's numerous dead ends and you can now jump over hazards like logs. Learning the correct path through the course requires memorisation that can only be acquired by trial and error making it the most frustrating event in the game. Overall, the focus on points over rankings is an interesting concept and it gives the game a combative edge that's great for multiplayer sessions and bragging rights! The random switching of colour palettes is annoying though; while some schemes look like a cool day/night cycle, others are garish and make the trees hard to see.
Olympic Skier isn't the best looking game but the gameplay is so good that it's easy to overlook the simplistic visuals. Each event is great fun (especially if you're with a group of friends) and the tight controls and addictive high score chases will have you playing for longer than you might expect.
Random trivia: The game's programmer was Amin Hoque who also worked on other Atari 8-bit titles called Fidget (1986) and Trailblazer (1986).

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