Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Olympians spend a good part of their lives training for one shot at the gold. Beijing 2008 reduces these make-or-break moments to a series of airless mini-games. On the Wii, with the requisite motion-sensing waggle, such lightweight contests might gain a sense of novelty, but on more traditional consoles, they feel rote. Particularly dreary are the many race events that rely on human locomotion. Running or swimming is accomplished the old-fashioned way—by hammering on alternating buttons until fingertips bleed. It makes sense that the scheme popularized by Konami's 1983 arcade hit Track & Field should endure this long, but those races rarely lasted longer than 30 seconds. Asking players to endure all 1,500 meters on the stamina of two digits is inhumane.

Beijing 2008's offbeat events are slightly more interesting. Gymnastics, weightlifting, judo, and diving are worth playing just to see how the game designers pulled them off. And various target-shooting events such as archery and skeet work because they're so familiar to gamers. Give us a gun and something to level the sights on, and we're good to go. Even the table-tennis event has some appeal, thanks more to the inherently dramatic back-and-forth of a good rally than to nuanced play. Javelin, shot put, discus, and the hammer throw may be the most immediately satisfying, though. Who doesn't like chucking stuff?

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Beyond the game: Beijing 2008's multiplayer is a huge missed opportunity. Players can compete head-to-head in one-off events or organize tournaments. Why not stage a massive Olympic competition online with gamers representing different countries vying for the same medals?

Worth playing for: Boring races are justified by a clever mechanic for getting out of the blocks. Players squeeze the trigger as they wait for the starting gun. Pull too hard, and your runner or swimmer will jump, disqualifying themselves or forcing a restart.

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Frustration sets in when: Just getting into the games is a hassle. Players can practice all they want, but to compete for medals, they're forced to slog through rigorous, unforgiving qualifying matches.

Final judgment: Bronze would be generous.

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