With Mario and Sonic at the Olympics Games, Beijing 2008, Summer Athletics and New International Track and Field you might think that the games released to capitalise on this summer's Olympic Games have already saturated the market, but the PSP has been left out. International Athletics from Ghostlight has arrived to put a smile on sad PSP owners' faces, or at least try to, but does this handheld button basher deserve a place on the winner's podium?
To cut to the chase. Not really. While none of this year's Olympic Games inspired titles have been especially brilliant, most have offered some decent fun, especially in multiplayer. International Athletics on the PSP automatically loses out here as its multiplayer is limited to passing the handhled around or hooking up with friends who also own the game. This makes it primarily a single-player experience, and not a very good one.
The first sign that Ghostlight's PSP title faces an uphill struggle is the relatively few number of events. Compared to its competitors which feature well over 20 events, covering track, pool, gymnastics and more, the selection of 14 running, shooting, jumping and throwing events here is a big disappointment. Considering most play similarly to one another you're left with a very basic package.
All the events bar a couple require to you hammer the L and R buttons to build up power/speed, before selecting an angle or similar with the d-pad or X button. Sprinting is the simplest of the bunch while the pole vault requires the use of the d-pad to time your leap from the pole and a press of the X button to arch your back. It sounds complex, but even the trickiest events are very simple to play.
Some of the events require numerous fingers to press a series of buttons at different times, but they're still not very difficult.
Setting world records in games like this is always great fun, but in International Athletics they come so often that they lose their appeal. On my first attempt I ran a new 100m sprint world record time of 9.50. On my first attempt at the 110m hurdles I finished second to an AI athlete, but still managed a new world record by a good half second. Some events proved to be harder, but by the time I'd played through each event once I'd broken seven world records. It's not exactly challenging. When playing through the Decathlon or Tournament game modes you can choose the AI level of your opponents, but when you're comfortably breaking world records and finishing second, the game becomes a joke.
Although the PSP isn't as powerful as the home consoles we expected a lot more from International Athletics' visuals. From the moment you create your incredibly blocky athlete on the game's opening screen you know you're not going to be playing a graphical marvel, and the way the runners glide away from the starting blocks in the 100m instead of moving their legs hammers that point home. It's serviceable but bordering on extremely ugly. Thankfully load times aren't too bad, but you're unlikely to play the game for long enough to care.
A game genre so heavily built around playing with friends it was always going to struggle on the PSP, and poor visuals and presentation don't help International Athletics one bit. We simply can't recommend International Athletics, even if it's your only option for some Olympic-like gaming.