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The Activision Decathlon - The Atari Times

The Activision Decathlon

Track & Field gets cloned by none other than Mr. Pitfall! himself!
by Rob Adair

March 10, 2014
When Track & Field was released by Konami, it became a big hit due to the unique game control scheme where you repeatedly pressed buttons to gain speed or power, and then pressed a third button for a certain period of time to set the angle of your jump/throw/etc.  It was difficult but addicting all the same, and while the Atari 2600 did get a port (albeit in limited quantities) of the original game, there would be a similar game released by Activision, designed none other by David Crane himself.

While it is true that it does seem like a clone of Track & Field, David Crane has stated before that before he made Pitfall!, he wanted to make a game of that nature for a while, but couldn't get it to work within the limitations of the Atari 2600.  In fact, he originally intended to use his 'running man' for what would become Decathlon, but instead ended up using it for his best known game instead.  As games became more advanced and increased in size, David Crane was finally able to create Decathlon, which led to a lot of sweaty palms and broken joysticks as players attempted to set their own records!

Graphics: 70%

Yes, I know that the athlete looks a lot like Pitfall Harry, albeit wearing shorts instead of those long khaki pants he wore during his jungle trek.  That was most likely an intentional thing on Crane's part since he was working with something he was already familiar with.  When you turn on the game, you're greeted with your athlete running down the track with a burning torch in his hands, which is a rather nice touch.  When your athlete sets a record, he raises both arms which is a small but nice touch.  You'll also see a lot of the stadium lights up atop the stadium itself, which is a bit repetitive, but also a nice touch.  The spectators are a bunch of pinkish rectangles with black stripes on the top, which is understandable given the Atari 2600's limitations.  In addition, when your character completes the long jump, he lands on both feet instead of crouching, which is also understandable.  The only thing that I question is why the track is blue.  It looks more like a long gymnastics mat than an actual track.

Sounds: 30%

OK, so why such a low score? Because in terms of sounds, there's really little to speak of.  There's only a simple noise heard when your character is running.  There are no other noises to speak of, even when you're throwing an object or something like that.  The only real sounds to speak of are the fanfare when you set a new record, as well as the Olympics theme that plays at the beginning of the game and when the game is over.  It's not much, but they are nice, which is why the score could've been lower, but it isn't.

Gameplay: 90%

OK, if you know the game Track & Field, you'll have a general idea of what this game is about.  The difference is that there are ten events instead of the six found in Konami's game, all part of the standard Decathlon event:
Most of these events are fairly straightforward with what you have to do.  Another difference here is that you're not trying to achieve or surpass a certain distance or time in order to qualify for the next event.  Instead, your goal is to put your best effort into each event and see how well you do.  Depending on how well you do, you are given a score after each attempt.  If you score over 1,000 points, you have broken a record.  It seems easy enough, but trust me, it's very challenging.

Control: 65%

Want a video game that will really get your heart racing and your adrenaline flowing? Forget Wii Sports, Decathlon will do a lot better than that! The general method of game play is very similar to Track & Field, except instead of banging on buttons, you're wiggling the joystick back and forth.  While Crane himself stated in the manual that you don't have to fully move the joystick from side to side, most people did.  As a result, they got tired arms, and a lot of them probably broke their joysticks too! For such a simple game,
it really puts a lot of pressure on you!

Overall Score: 85%

In spite of the controls requiring a lot of effort and strength, as well as the lack of sounds, The Activision Decathlon is a very fun and enjoyable game.  It's truly an Olympic quality game.

The Activision Decathlon

(c) Activision

Had to be difficult and make a long title, didn't they?
Yes, I always jump over the finish line!
The backflip, er, high jump event.
This is more fun when they trip over the hurdles.
Pole vault. Who thinks up these events?!
The Activision Decathlon
System: 2600
Publisher: Activision
Genre: Sports
Graphics Score: 70%
Sound & Music Score: 30%
Gameplay Score: 90%
Control Score: 65%

Final Score: 85%

Reader Comments for The Activision Decathlon

by BloodR on 2014-03-12 15:19:04
I have really fond memories of this game. I used to play it so much. The marathon was a marathon.
trackball by Rod Lauder on 2014-05-14 19:32:53
If I recall, this is one game where the trackball controller could ease the physical effort enormously and avoid breaking a joystick or two!
trackball by Darryl Brundage on 2014-05-15 14:08:11
"breaking a joystick or two!"

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