Insult your fave athletes, by jingo

The Carl Lewis Challenge logo

PSYGNOSIS * £25.99 * 1/2 meg * Joystick * Out now

Carl Lewis Challenge, eh? Sort of "step outside Carl, I reckon you're crap", perhaps? Or maybe, just maybe, this could be a sports game to cash in on the Olympics?
Not that I'm sick to death of the bloody Olympics or anything. Well, OK, so I am. You see, as I sit writing this, the Olympics have just wheezed to a halt. And they really are pointless.
All bloody day on every channel you could watch Brazil and Poland battling it out for the Gold medal in weightlifting. Well that's just soooo relevant to my life.

I don't care who's the best at Judo in the world? Especially if you have to watch BBC1 until midnight to find out. And who won? Which country got the Olympic prize? Nobody. Because there isn't one. It's pointless. And crap. And I don't like it. So there. So can Carl Lewis Challenge help alleviate my Olympaphobia?
No, it's carp as well. Which is very, very worrying because Psygnosis should know better. SO here's what Carl Lewis Challenge entails, and just why it's so Stilton-like.

There are three ways to play the game. There's a management option where you set the training for the Olympic Squad and then just watch them compete. Boring. There's an arcade option, which we'll come to later. And there's the 'proper' game which is a mix of the two.

The arcade bit them. Well, it's a waggler. Sort of. You can actually choose the control method, so if you can't stand waggling you can use the rhythm method instead (snigger).
This is, to be honest, a very nice idea. It's just a pity that no matter how you control the game, it's still gubbins. The thing is, if you opt for 'rhythm' then you have to concentrate too much on the 'rhythm-o-meter' and miss your cue to jump hurdles and stuff. Thoughtless.

The problem here is size. You get five events, but they're so similar that you feel really cheated. There are two running events, 100m and Hurdles, a throwing event, Javelin, and two jumping events, High and Long Jump.
All of them involve waggling for a bit and pressing Fire at the appropriate time, unless you opt for a different control method in which case it's pressing Fire in time to a moving meter and pressing up every so often. It just conjures up all those Olympic images, doesn't it?

It suffers from exactly the same problem as Aquaventura a few months back. It's a tiny game made to look bigger by repeating everything over and over again. You get to do each event five times, fact fans.

Four qualifying heats and the finals. Lose one of the qualifying rounds and you can't enter the finals. It's really saying something that we were actually glad to fail events so we wouldn't play them again.

The two-player game won't let you race against each other, and at the end of your ordeal you get to see all the scores and a nice Game Over. Well thanks a bunch.
The graphics are digitised, but lacking any character at all (no faces you see) and the animation is at best stilted and at worst (on the high jump) something the kids would do on Rolf's Cartoon Club.

A pathetic attempt, really. Dig out your old Speccy and play Daley Thompson's Decathlon instead, believe me it's the superior game. Five samey and record-breakingly dull events held together by a simplistic, gimmicky 'management' aspect and a bit of old masking tape.

As a budget game this would be crap, as a full price it's abysmal. That's two strikes in a row, Psygnosis. What's going wrong?


The Carl Lewis Challenge logo

Remember the good ol' days of 8-bit computers and those wondrous games like Daley Thompson's Decathlon, or Hypersports where you waggled your joystick so much that you had to buy a new one every weekend? Well those days are back, with a new kid on the block - Carl Lewis - and his very own endorsed Amiga challenge.

The game has two modes of operation: there is your standard waggle-and-play arcade mode, where all you have to do is to take lots of energy tablets to make sure your hand doesn't drop off from err... waggling too much. Then there's the fuller game where you have to train your athlete s to the best of their ability, and then waggle your joystick to reach that ultimate goal of winning Gold.

Sound's like a lot of waggling whichever option you choose, and indeed there is. But thankfully, the programmers have included a couple of other control methods - rhythm and gearing. These are designed to relieve the strain on your joystick and provide you with the option to save your hands from repetitive strain injuries (RSI fact fans).

This is a nice little though: very considerate, except that these control modes are actually quite crap and, in the end you'll simply find yourself reverting to good ol' waggling like a drug on ecstasy.

The game consists of five events - 100 metres, 110 metre hurdles, javelin, high jump and long jump. Now, I never knew that Carl Lewis competed in all these events, but I guess Psygnosis are allowed a little creative licence.

The 100 metres is just a case of a quick dash from end of the athletics field to the other. World records? Who needs 'em? I managed to do the dash of dashes in only 6.5 seconds! Linford would have been green.
The hurdles are almost exactly the same as 100 metres, except that every so often, as you are waggling you have to press the fire button to initiate a jump over a hurdle. Not difficult, just spot-on timing is all that's needed. And, at 8.64 seconds, another world record just falls into my hands!

Success does not come so easy in the javelin event. To determine the angle of projection, and throw your javelin, you just waggle and press your button. Easy. But the officials were not on my side: all I managed was to get myself disqualified. Whoops!
Aha! Now the high jump. Lovely. And it's quite easy: just waggle to run up to the bar while pressing fire to determine the angle of your jump. Once in the air, just press fire to lift your legs over the bar. I leapt a good 2.5m here. Excellent. Finally it's the long jump... more waggling to determine your take-off angle and that's it. I managed a super human 15.8m here. That's 52 feet!

But, if you're more of a decision maker than an athlete, the tactical side of the game might appeal to you more. Here you have to decide which event each of your athletes will train in, how frequently, intensely and for how long. (See the box on the bottom entitled 'Discipline Yourself').

To sum up, this game is rather on the tedious side. It's far too easy to achieve World Record-


DISCIPLINE YOURSELF
Different events require different combinations of attributes...
The Carl Lewis Challenge: Notebook
This log book is used to determine who needs training in what discipline. Those with red blobs need some special attention.
  • ISOTONICS: Very tough weight training for power, speed and agility.
  • ISOMETRICS: Resistance wieght training for power.
  • ACCELERATION: Stop-start for power, speed and agility.
  • HOLLOW RUNNING: Sprinting, pausing and repeating, for stamina.
  • CIRCUIT TRAINING: Continuous muscle exercises for stamina, power and agility.
  • FARTLEK RUNNING: Informal fast and slow running for stamina and speed.
  • STATIC STRETCHING: Tough stretching exercises for agility.
  • INTERVAL TRAINING: Formal fast, recovery, fast run.
  • REPETITION RUNNING: Fast run, long pause and repeat for.
  • BALLISTIC STRETCHES: Rhythm and momentum stretches.

The Carl Lewis Challenge logo

Grosse Namen haben so ihre Tücken: Plötzlich läuft der US-Vorzeigeathlet seiner Bestform hinterher - und bei der Digi-Olympiade unter seiner Schirmherrschaft setzt sich der Abwärtstrend nahtlos fort...

Die Actionspezialisten von Psygnosis haben sich den Ausflug ins Sportgenre leicht gemacht und einfach das steinalte "Summer Games"-Prinzip um einen dürftigen Strategieteil ergänzt.

Bis zu vier Manager müssen jeweils zehn Athleten mit Kraftübungen, Waldlaufen und Gymnastik auf die Olympiade vorbereiten. Es gibt zwar unzählige Menüs und gelegentlich auch strategische Tips, dennoch herrscht an Entscheidungsmöglichkeiten akuter Mangel. Nach fünf Wochen wird jedem Crack eine Disziplin zugeordnet, den Wettkämpfen selbst braucht man bloß noch zuzuschauen...

Muß man aber nicht, denn im (auch getrennt spielbaren) Action-Part sind fünf Ausscheidungen zu absolvieren. Die wilde Joystickrüttelei beim 100m-Sprint erinnert an selige Epyx-Zeiten, beim anschließenden 110m-Hürdenlauf wird zusätzlich noch der Feuerknopf traktiert. Etwas anspruchsvoller geht es bei Speerwurf sowie Hoch- und Weitsprung zu, hier sind exaktes Timing und ein stabiler Stick Voraussetzung für einen Platz am Treppchen. Aber unbeliebte Sportarten können ja übersprungen werden, außerdem gibt es eine Zeitlupenwiederholung.

Die teils digitalisierten Sportler sind genial animiert, ansonsten sieht die Grafik samt den Zwischenbildern aber etwas öde aus. Musik und FX klingen ein Stück besser als bei "International Sports Challenge", beim sparsamen Optionsangebot sind sich die Konkurrenten jedoch wieder einig. Das Fazit können wir deshalb auch gleich übernehmen: Bei der guten alten "Summer Edition" kommt nach wie vor mehr Stimmung auf... (rl)


The Carl Lewis Challenge logo

Ha, ha, ha, ha! Oh, sorry. But this is a joke, surely? Stuart has obviously accidentally given me an incomplete demo version of the game to review.
No!? This is it? This is what they're actually trying to get people to buy? But it doesn't look finished. I mean, it's fine as far as it does, but it doesn't go far enough. There have been some attempts to bring the athletics sim into the '90s, but they seem so half-hearted. Sure, you can play it, and some of the events are quite fun for the initial couple of plays, but it just doesn't come across as being very substantial.

And why is it so easy? I mean, I'm no joystick genius, but the first time I played it I won four gold medals out of a possible five and broke three world records. Not really much of a challenge, is it?

BE IT EVER SO HUM-DRUM
There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the game from a technical point of view. The graphics and animation are very good, there are no bugs and the control systems are very responsive. And some impressive research seems to have taken place. The game features well over 100 top world class, current, real-life athletes and Fatima Whitbread has acted as athletic advisor. But it's all so hum-drum.

It's like this, you see. It's a game of two halves. The first is a management-type affair where you subject your chosen team to rigorous training so that they're at peak fitness for the events, and decide which athlete should take part in which event. The second is an arcadey bit where you actually get to take part in five events: 100m dash, 110m hurdles, javelin, high jump and long jump.


The events are fun for the initial couple of plays

It's easier to win the events with well-trained athletes - you might be brilliant but if your team isn't fir then your job will be a lot harder. Then again, if your arcade technique is not too hot, a tip top team can give you the advantage you need.

You can actually choose to play just one half (choose the second!), and the other will be handled automatically by the computer. If you only want to play the arcade section the computer supplies you with a standard team - nothing sensational, but no lamers either - with which to attempt the events. Choose must the management section and the arcade section is played out purely according to the fitness standards your athletes have achieved.

You start by choosing your team from a very pretty menu selection screen. This is the first and last piece of extraneous stuff you are going to see - from here on in everything is strictly functional. Each team contains 10 top athletes from that country, so, for example, the British team includes our very own Linford Christie.

Up to four people can take part, but you never play simultaneously. Each player goes in a separate heat, so head to heads are out but at least you can try to beat each other;s scores. As the computer puts up so little effort to beat you, playing against mates is the best way to get optimum entertainment value from the game.

Since you can't compete side by side, though, finals are an odd affair. If all four of you make the final, it has to be run four times with the computer taking control of the other players - not the most satisfactory solution.


The computer puts up so little effort to beat you

If you've chose to play the management section then your team is a bunch old duffers and you have five weeks to train them to peak fitness.
This whole section (explained in glorious colour on the bottom there) is yawnsome in the extreme. The main screen is bland, the graphs that pop up are at best utilitarian, and the actual process of playing it is slow and tiresome. It's a good idea that hasn't been fully developed.

THE RHYTHM METHOD
The actual sporting events are much more fun, for a while at least. There are three methods of control, and the traditional joystick waggling is by far the most energetic and enjoyable. But the other two control methods, gearing and rhythm (no, I'm not going to say a word) are interesting variations, requiring a bit more accuracy and skill as you have to time button presses to various marks or the swing of a pendulum.

The screen displays in this section are very impressive, each containing a main section showing the event in crisps, clear, detail, including realistic digitised animation of athletes and a schematic scanner which shows where you are in a race, or the run-up area for the jumps. Various other bits of info (times, heights etc) are also displayed, so it's always pretty easy to work out what's going on.

There are five heats to each event, the last being the final. In the first four all you have to do is beat the qualifying time, but in the final you have to compete against the other athletes.
The problem is, all the events are so easy - a bit of waggling or well-timed pressing, a jab at the fire button and that's it. As I said before, the first time I played I had a team supplied by the computer and got three world records and four golds. So, what's the point in all that training when you can do so well with a team that's not up to scratch?

The lack of presentation gloss is obvious again when you've completed the finals. You'd expect some kind of little medal-giving animation. But no. All you get is a dead boring results screen with a gold, silver and bronze blobs next to the winners then a game over message. You don't even get any indication as to how your team has done overall in the challenge compared with other, computer-controlled teams, just other human ones.

The problem is that none of the five sports included here is particularly dynamic in its computer form, and the authors seem to have done little to live things up. Taking the Carl Lewis Challenge is ultimately a rather pointless exercise.


BUT CAN YOU MANAGE?
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to train a team of 10 athletes so that they are ready to compete at an international level. There are five events which need to be won to maintain the honour of the country. You have five weeks in which to achieve this.
The Carl Lewis Challenge: Notebook
You enter all the training instructions using this notebook. On the left are all the athletes names and their current physical status. On the right hand side is a list of the different exercises you can make each athlete do.
The Carl Lewis Challenge: Bar chart
Click on an athlete's name to see a bar chart of his current physical state. Each event requires a different combination of these attributes. A diary of exercises is the key to altering these attributes to the optimum levels.
The Carl Lewis Challenge: Week's training
When you've set the exercises for all the athletes, click on 'done'. That will be one week's training. Repeat this process five times, and then you get the team selection screen. Simply click under the event next to the name of the athlete you want to compete in that event.

The Carl Lewis Challenge logo

Psygnosis/A, ST (£25.99), PC (£34.99)
DAVID MCCANDLESS hates Carl Lewis, gets 'annoyed' when some spacker tells him Britain are good at rowing, thinks Ben Johnson probably took drugs to escape having to listen to Carl Lewis going on and on about God and detests everything the Olympics stands for (which, lets face it, is money). The perfect person to appraise all the tie-in games (The Carl Lewis Challenge, Espana '92 & International Sports Challenge), we thought.

Come on. Hands up who wants to be Carl Lewis? Hmm... just as I thought. Not a sod. And let's face it, who does want to be an annoying lanky, six foot too much, moralising American shoe advert? And who wants to play a game based on him? (Er, we do. About A Thousand Readers.) Okay. So if you wanted a game called Carl Lewis™ Challenge, it would probably feature Carl's favourite hobbies: 100m, 110m hurdles, javelin, long jump and, er... high jump (one of his least well-known past times).

It would feature the usual joystick-waggling tradition, but for those crap at waggles (i.e. nonces), there would be two other methods - Gearing (pounding the fire button) and Rhythm (swaying the joystick back and forth in a nonce-based ballet fashion). None of them would make the events any easier.

The five events would need a combination of speed, timing and blind luck. For added depth you'd have a management sub-game. It would have you exercising and building up the stamina of your squad with all sorts of isotonic and isometric options, but not a TAKE ILLEGAL DRUGS button. The managerial bit would also enable you to build up a superhuman squad of Carl Lewis™ lookalikes.

Once your squad was ninjafied, you'd be able to take them into the Games. And as this is Psygnosis, the graphics would be a beautiful affair. There'd be hundreds of frames of animation for running, realistically digitised from Carl's lankier moments - lovely track-side backgrounds, with athletes warming up and all sorts of frills complemented by sampled crowd sheers and gunshots.

But ultimately, the five events wouldn't be enough and, although you could have four players, none could race against each other. And the management side would not really add much to the game. And once the graphics and the presentation wore off, you'd be left very bored (and very sick of Carl Lewis™).