We have covered some ZX Spectrum shooters and ZX Spectrum beat em ups, and now it is time to pay homage to the ultimate retro Joystick waggler, Daley Thompsons Decathlon.
This title for the ZX Spectrum has achieved cult classic status not only for it's gameplay, but also for it's ability to completely destroy joysticks and keyboards.
This game was probably the first good sports simulation released on the Spectrum, and it raised the bar forcing other companies to release good quality sports games such as Hypersports and Match Day.
Inspired by the arcade classic Track and Field by Konami, Daley Thompsons Decathlon was released in 1984 by Ocean Software.
This game established Ocean as a fine gaming company who went on torelease other well recieved titles such as Rambo, Match Day II, Cobra and Head Over Heels. Ocean still exist to this day, and are now known as Atari Games UK. Anyway, Daley Thompsons Decathlon was a big hit and sold well on release.
The aim of the game is unsurprisingly to compete in the Decathlon (over a two day period) and to qualify for each event. As Daley, you must participate in each event of the gruelling decathlon.
You had three atempts at each event, and in at least one attempt you had to achieve the minimum qualifying criteria - such as completing the 100 metres in 13.5 seconds or less. Failure to qualify in an event would mean the loss of one life - you began the game with three. As long as you met the criteria you would move to the next event.
There were five events on day one, and five on day two.
The events were as follows:
Day one: 100 metres, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400 metres
Day two: 110 metre hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, 1500 metres
The basic premise of the gameplay was similar on each 'event'. Using either the keyboard or joystick - hit the left and right keys in quick succession or waggle your joystick from left to right as quickly as possible to build up speed.
In most events you would also need to press the fire button to trigger an action, such as jumping over a hurdle or throwing a javelin. For events such as the hurldes it was all about speed and timing, and for events suich as the javelin it was about holding the fire button for the optimum time to hit the desired angle of 45 degrees.
Getting more speed and better angles would result in longer throws, longer jumps and so on. The 100 metre sprint was simply a case of getting to the finish line as quickly as possible.
The one event that required less brawn and more strategy was the 1500 metres. In this event you would set Daley's speed and watch him go. It was down to you to balance between speed and stamina to finish the race in the best possible time. If you ran too fast poor Daley would be cream crackered and would struggle to make the finish. Too slow and of course Daley would finish the race but you would not have a good enough time to qualify.
In any event, if you qualified then Daley would wave his arms and the crowd would give you a nice polite round of applause. If you did not qualify then poor Daley was left scratching his head. Both were nice touches that added a bit of humour to the game.
In the end if you achieved a certain amount of points then you would be standing atop the winners podium as a nice rendition (for the single channel beeper of the ZX Spectrum) of chariots of fire played.
It would now be back to the start of day 1 again, except the minimum qualifying criteria would now be more difficult to achieve.
Some of the events were more tricky than others - the high jump springs to mind here! Once you had been round all of the events three times then the qualifying criteria did become tough. These factors did add a certain amount of longevity to the game.
This game was well thought of when it was released. It did not quite achieve a Crash Smash award from the great magazine, but it did score highly (88% overall I think). One issue that the game became known for was ruining your joystick or keyboard. The furious action employed by many to squeeze the last ounce of speed on a sprint could break the leaf switches or micro switches in your trusty controller. I found myself that the 'm' and 'n' keys on my trusty rubber keyed 48K packed in after many hours of playing this game. One good technique to gather ultimate speed could be employed if you had a Quickshot 2 joystick. Players found that they could hold the base of the controller and 'vibrate' it which caused the stick to waggle back rapid style. You could achieve 100 metre times using this method that Usain Bolt would be proud of!
Still - despite it's destructive properties the game was very popular and went on to spawn two sequels which were Daley Thompson Supertest and Daley Thompsons Olympic Challenge. Both games were decent but failed to capture the magic of the original.
The test of time:
Well we here in the land of Spectrum Games reckon this game has a certain amount of retro appeal. The playabilty is still there some of the events are still challenging. It is also the only game that my Dad could ever beat me at - a fact that still niggles me to this day!
Go on, put on a pair of running shoes, drink some lucozade and give it a go. Just keep yourself a spare keyboard and joystick handy!
This fine classic sports game for the ZX Spectrum is definately worth another look after all these years.
We recommend getting hold of the real hardware - but if not then download a ZX Spectrum emulator and download Daley Thompsons Decathlon for the ZX Spectrum. Alternatively you could try and play it online.
GENRE: Sports arcade game
RELEASE DATE: 1984
RELEASED BY: Ocean Software
DEVELOPER(S): Paul Owens and Christian F. Urquhart
PRICE: £6.90 - UK
Daley Thompson shows his class and ploughs through the first two events of day one.... Classic Arcade Action:
Arcade Games and Classic Games