WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Beijing Olympics are about to get under way. And thanks to NBC and its assorted networks and Web sites, you'll be able to spend the next two weeks pondering the intricacies of sports you never cared about before.
Table tennis? Water polo? Badminton? I'm far more interested in watching obscure athletes take their shot at glory than in watching Kobe Bryant and the Redeem Team try to break the U.S. basketball jinx.
And when video games become an Olympic sport, I'll be ready. My prime "Quake" deathmatch days will probably be long past, but maybe NBC will invite me to provide expert commentary. Until then, I can participate in Olympic competition the same way I've come to enjoy football, baseball and auto racing: with a joystick in my hands.
-"Beijing 2008" (Sega, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $49.99): Sega has the official Olympics license this year, and this is the publisher's second crack at simulating the summer games. The lighthearted "Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games" was a diverting collection of Wii minigames, but "Beijing" takes a more serious approach that may turn off casual sports fans.
There are 38 events in this package, including track and field, aquatics and gymnastics. The racing events all require similar technique, requiring you to rapidly push two buttons to simulate running or swimming. (Fans of Konami's '80s-era "Track & Field" games will feel right at home.) Gymnastic events ask you to duplicate onscreen patterns, like "Dance Dance Revolution" without a floor mat. And events like discus or pole vault each have their own control schemes.
All the action is beautifully presented, which almost distracts from the game's biggest flaw: It's very difficult. "Beijing" starts you off with ridiculously weak characters (considering they're supposed to be Olympic-caliber athletes), and it takes a long time to build them up to a competitive level. That's OK if you're playing with friends and everyone's sluggish, but the single-player mode is bound to frustrate all but the most dedicated Olympics followers. One-and-a-half stars out of four.
-"Big Beach Sports" (THQ, for the Wii, $29.99): You don't have to be a world-class athlete to participate in "summer games"; when school's out and the days are long, anything you play in the backyard or at the beach fits the definition. "Big Beach Sports" brings six outdoor challenges - volleyball, disc golf, cricket, bocce, soccer and football - to the Wii.
As with every other "Wii Sports" wannabe that's come out over the last two years, the games here are a mixed bag. Disc golf is pretty good, requiring you to develop a decent sidearm throw, and volleyball duplicates the set-and-spike action of the real thing. Even if you're not familiar with bocce, it makes for a fun head-to-head competition.
However, soccer and football (even two-on-two) aren't well-suited to the Wii remote, and the inclusion of cricket in an American game is just weird. And even the sports that work aren't likely to hold your interest for long. "Big Beach Sports" is a passable party game, but doesn't have the substance to satisfy a solo player. One star.
-"Summer Sports: Paradise Island" (Destineer, for the Wii, $29.99): The games featured in this anthology - badminton, volleyball, miniature golf, horseshoes, lawn darts, basketball and croquet - are the ones you're more likely to see Americans playing during their summer vacations.
Unfortunately, only a few of them are well-executed enough to make you want to stay inside and play on a hot day. Paradise Island looks like an inviting place, but beneath the lush tropical scenery lurks some dreadful programming. In lawn darts and horseshoes, for example, you're supposed to mime throwing with the Wii remote, but the game doesn't seem to register how hard you're throwing. Likewise, there's no connection between the way you swing the remote and the animations in volleyball and basketball.
Mini-golf and croquet are more accurate, and almost fun to play. But when you can play all these games (except for lawn darts) for less money in real life, why bother with the virtual versions? No stars.
On the Net:
"Beijing 2008": http://www.olympicvideogames.com/
"Big Beach Sports": http://www.bigbeachsports.com/
"Summer Sports: Paradise Island": http://www.summersportsgame.com/