The Game: It’s time for the 1984 Olympics! Qualify and compete in such events as the 100-meter dash, the long jump, javelin throw, and the shot-put. (Atari, 1984)
Memories: In many cases, Atari faced a major obstacle in licensing major arcade games: the time and money required to secure the license (if it wasn’t already part of an overall deal), and the fact that by skipping the licensing process, Activision or Imagic would virtually always get there first with a more visually pleasing and playable product. But this time, Activision’s sheer speed helped Atari out: The Activision Decathlon practically did some of the R&D for Atari.
Both are Olympic-themed, multi-event games, and both require unconventional control mechanisms. Decathlon, released a year before Atari’s home version of Track & Field, required players to whip their joysticks back and forth so violently that many perfectly good, sturdy controllers had to be retired after their Olympic careers.
The trick is, Atari uses essentially the same control mechanism for Track & Field – the arcade game’s vigorous button-pounding is replicated by rapid-fire left-right motion… but Atari manufactured a special Track & Field controller with heavy-duty arcade quality buttons, both replicating the arcade experience and saving many a joystick.
And the controller isn’t the only improvement. Track & Field is a rare instance of Atari turning out the superior version of the same game concept. Decathlon is a prettier game to look out, but on many levels, Track & Field is simply more fun.
There’s no reason not to enjoy both, though: try Decathlon with Atari’s Track & Field controller sometime. But if you’re going to play only one Olympic game on the 2600, Track & Field takes home the gold.