The Activision Decathlon

The Activision Decathlon
Company: Activision
Model #:
Paul Willson
Year: 1983
Also released on the Atari 2600 and 5200


Often referred to as "Spankathlon", Decathlon is a track & field type game that is very similar to Konami's Track and Field arcade game but with slightly different events (following the real Olympic Decathlon format).  Decathlon was known as "The Joystick Killer" due to the way the gameplay quickly wears out joysticks.  Maybe Activision was getting kickbacks from every Atari Joystick Repair Kit that was sold?  They probably should have included one with each copy of the game!


The control scheme of Decathlon was a stroke of genius.  Not only did allow for great variations in speed, but it made the player (their arms anyway) feel as if they just competed in an actual Decathlon (i.e. extremely tired).  To make your character run players must rapidly move their joystick left and right.  Players quickly learned that by holding the joystick between their legs they could stabilize it better and get faster movement.  After watching people rapidly jerking a joystick between their legs back and forth the game quickly became known as "Spankathlon".  Atari solved the joystick problem by including a special controller with Track and Field that had buttons to simulate left and right (as was done in the arcade game).  Why Activision didn't come up with a similar device is unknown, but it turns out this controller works with Decathlon as well.


During the course of the Decathlon, the player competes in 10 different events: The 100-Meter Dash, Long Jump, Shot Put, High Jump, 400- Meter Race, 110-Meter Hurdles, Discus, Pole Vault, Javelin, and The 1500-Meter Dash.  While most of these events are great fun, the 1500-Meter Dash is a pointless arm killer that really ruins an otherwise fun game.  Activision had to include this event otherwise it wouldn't be a true Decathlon, thankfully they made the fist 1300 Meters of the race easier on your arm by having your athlete run faster with less effort.


Following the events of the Decathlon has its ups and downs.  On the upside players get the feeling of competing in a real Olympic test of skill with ten grueling events.  The downside is that many of the racing events are boring (there's no difference in running 100 or 400 meters), and the player must bear with them to get to the good stuff.  Track and Field solved this problem by having almost the same events minus all the repetitive running events, this made it appeal to a wider audience (especially given that game players aren't known for their long attention spans).


The Atari 8-bit version is very similar to the more common 2600 version, but with the expected updates to the graphics and sounds.  The 8-bit version actually has proper locations for the events (the Shot Put and Discus take place on a circular platform) rather than just having all the events take place on the racing track.  The contenders in this version actually look a bit more human, and have lost the 'Pitfall Harry' look.  There is also a proper HUD, displaying each of the contenders and their score (very similar to Track and Field).


Other enhancements to the 8-bit version include simultaneous two-player action (something sorely missing from the 2600 port), and a computer controlled player.  In the original 2600 port, players competed separately one right after the other.  Being able to compete simultaneously with a friend (or the computer if you have no friends), really adds a lot of replay value to the game especially given the competitive nature of the game.  The computer also appears to adjust to your difficulty level, always putting up a challenge but never becoming too aggressive.


If Decathlon has a fault, it's in the lack of having to calculate the angle during events.  In Track & Field players not only have to run as fast as they can, but they also have to set up the angle at which they want to jump/throw at.  This extra variable adds a lot of fun and uncertainty to the game, consequently making it much more in-depth and satisfying.  In Decathlon one simply has to run and push the button before they cross over the line, which tends to grow a bit dull after a few events.


Version Cart Text Description
?????? Decathlon Final Version


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