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Decathlon (1984)      

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Details (Commodore 64) Supported platforms Artwork and Media
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Activision Inc
Sport / Athletics
David Crane
Russell Lieblich
Audio cassette

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Atari 5200
Commodore 64

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Your Reviews

Sashanan (Unknown)   23rd Mar 2013 09:49
"Suitable for breaking joysticks and causing RSI, but not for entertainment"

Before I get started, it is only fair to mention that I've never really been into sports games. This is why I don't usually review them - being the barbarian in the genre that I am, I wouldn't know what to base my rating on. However, if I do say so myself, I know my Commodore 64. I know what makes an entertaining game and what doesn't, and based on that I can say that Decathlon is a poor title.
The objective of the game is participate in one or all events of the classic decathlon: 100, 400 and 1500 meter races, hurdles, shot put, discus and javelin throwing, and long jump, high jump and pole vault. The main point of the game is to create speed (or in the case of jumping and throwing, power) by quickly moving the joystick left and right. This same thing is called for in each of the ten events, making them exactly equal gameplay-wise, and eliminating most of the variation that the inclusion of ten different events could have brought about.
Overall Decathlon is a rather bland and boring game that offers very little lasting value.

The game allows you to either play a single event of the decathlon over and over again, or do all ten of them in order. Each event works in virtually the same way: you create speed and power by quickly moving the joystick left and right, then press the fire button at the right time to, for instance, make a long jump or hurl a discus. That's all there is to it, and those who are good at one event will be good at them all. Unfortunately this kind of eliminates the purpose of playing a single event. It may still be worthwhile to play all then of them, but the game does nothing more than just present them in a set order and add up all your scores.
Competition against up to three other players is possible. During most of the events, one player will play at a time in a hotseat mode; i.e. the other players watch until he's done, then take their turn at the joystick. In races two players race at once (requiring a second joystick), but they still play pretty much individually.

The major complaint, as I'm sure you've been able to discern by now, is the complete lack of variety between the events. It doesn't matter if you throw a discus, take part in a 1500 meter race, or try to jump over a bar; it is all controlled in the same way. The joystick motion involved is demanding both on your arm and on the joystick itself. Back in the days Decathlon was released, gaming magazines warned against playing it as it might cause serious harm to the joystick. If Decathlon was released today, doctors would likely warn about heightened RSI risk as well. Personally, I warn against only one thing: boredom. As a Decathlon player, you will be bored. Resistance is futile.

All ten events share the same ''power building'' technique, namely moving your joystick left, right, left again, et cetera as quickly as you can. Holding the stick lightly between thumb and index finger and shaking it gently is the best way to do this, but shoulder cramps are bound to result before all ten events are over, and resting in between is definitely recommended. Even so, the longer events (the 400 meter race, and particularly the 1500) are very demanding.
Also, if you fail to get a light enough touch, you can easily damage your joystick by repeating this motion. Jerking it left and right while applying too much pressure to the stick is a great way to break it. I've lost one joystick to this game, and although I was 7 at the time, I'd still like to warn any potential player to go easy on the stick.
Those who play Decathlon on an emulator will find that the game can be easily fooled by holding down the left arrow key and quickly tapping the right arrow with one finger. This generates far more speed than any mere mortal could achieve with a joystick. I almost doubled my original scores through this trick.

Decathlon has taken a minimalist approach on most graphics, but your athlete looks pretty good. His body is drawn out in good detail and moves fairly realistically in most events. It's no Prince of Persia, but considering the age of this game, a commendable effort nonetheless.
The rest of the graphics are nothing to write home about. The javelin that appears in one of the events, for instance, is a long black line. Yes, a line. Like the ones you can draw in MS Paint in a second. That should give you an idea of what to expect here.

Decathlon's recognition tune doesn't sound too bad, but it lasts only a few seconds. The game itself has no background music, and only a few sound effects. Nothing really stands out here, but the game is mercifully free of particularly annoying effects.

Once you've played one game, you'll be used to the different events and the slight (ever so slight) variations between them. From there on the only way you will improve is by getting a better, quicker touch on the joystick. Those who have played plenty of Commodore games before and are used to the particular stick this system uses will soon reach the level where they will not improve at all anymore.
It is safe to say, then, that Decathlon lacks challenge. The game has no true objective other than to score as high as possible. However, once you have reached the level where no amount of practice will cause you to improve anymore, the game has pretty much lost its replayability. With Decathlon this is likely to happen within four or five game sessions.

I have to search, but the following could be considered a good point:

- Good character graphic, acceptable graphics otherwise;

Unfortunately these are a lot easier to find:

- Different events far too similar in approach;
- Control scheme harmful to joystick and gamer's arm alike;
- Complete lack of replayability within hours of first playing.

Decathlon has some fame on the Commodore 64 as the first game that uses the ''stick-shaking'' power building system. In my humble opinion it should have been the last. All things considered I have little choice but to see Decathlon as a good attempt which just didn't come together. Not recommended.

Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 08/09/01, Updated 08/09/01

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This title was first added on 6th January 2007
This title was most recently updated on 13th June 2016

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