It is always a bad sign when the text on the back of the box doesn’t describe the actual game within.
Taking its description at face value, Stadium Games sounds modestly interesting at best, and might have been a contender before 80s classics like Epyx’s California Games or Konami’s Track & Field. It promises eight Olympic-style events for up to four players. Each player will then have to match or better a minimum score in the event to advance to the next. Once all events are complete, the cycle restarts only with higher minimum event scores. None of those features appear that difficult to implement, which makes it surprising that all of the described features turn out to be false in some respect.
Actually, there is one thing the box text got partly right: the majority of the events in Stadium Games do indeed resemble activities one might expect to find at the Olympics. On the other hand, there are merely six such events in the game. The two non-Olympian events are a clay pigeon shooting game and a football kicking game. The clay pigeon shooting consists of an afternoon sky background upon which the player maneuvers a set of rifle crosshairs. At certain intervals a non-descript gray disk masquerading as a pigeon zips across the screen, begging to be shot down. The idea is very basic but the designers liven things up a bit by sending the clay pigeons out in relative pairs, the second quickly after the first, making the sense of timing feel more involved. The football game consists of the player hitting the right button at the right spots on strength and accuracy meters to kick the ball over the goalposts.
These timing meters make up the basis for the rest of the events: archery, javelin, pole vault and hammer toss. There is a certain amount of skill required in matching one’s reflexes to the timing meters but no depth at all to this style of gameplay, which makes any initial interest fade away within minutes. The trick in all of the timing events is to figure out the right spots on the meters to hit in combination, which is usually immediately obvious and becomes a redundant matter of timing practice. The best comparison to Stadium Games would be the kicking game of the Madden NFL series, which is enjoyable in the context of the larger game but holds little play value by itself.
The lack of gameplay depth in Stadium Games might be salvaged somewhat were there some interesting options for the player, but this is not the case. Rather than the promised four-player mode, the game supports up to two players alternating turns on the same GBA. Each player earns a certain number of points after each event and there is a high score table to record overall scores, but no battery backup to save these new scores once the handheld is turned off. Obtaining the top high score doesn’t seem to produce any unlockable rewards either.
The whole scoring system makes little sense, in any case. The purpose is to get the most points possible over all six events, but the distribution of points among the events is screwed up. In the football event, for example, the player can reach up to three thousand points, while in the javelin event it’s common to get at least five times that many. As a result, the overall point total is hardly representative of a player’s performance, since a high score can just as easily mean a strong showing in a couple of high point total events rather than a well-rounded performance. The game doesn’t chart the specific event results either; any other styles of ranking will have to be measured manually.
The visuals in Stadium Games are uninspired, but mostly serviceable. The quality is reminiscent of the late NES and early Super NES era of gaming, and most of the time the graphics are clear and adequate. The timing meters are always obvious and the sky background in the shooting event is almost pretty. In the same event, the graphics do take a bit of a hit with the clay pigeon; the sprite is often too small to comfortably view. The animation is perhaps the most impressive thing about Stadium Games; the fluid movement of the human figures is respectable, and it looks like the development team spent a fair bit of time in this area.
Stadium Games features a small sampling of background songs, and that was probably a wise decision considering the carnival-like songs add nothing to the experience. The sound effects are a bit more helpful, at least. The crowd effect sounds muffled, but it’s used in all the right spots. The best use of sound is in the shooting event, where the initial whooshing sound of the clay pigeon is an invaluable clue to its launching. Sometimes the developers did go overboard, though, as in the case of the javelin event where the pounding noises as the player runs makes it sound like a wooden plank is underfoot.
Some games are unsuccessful because of development problems, such as a lack of time to fix bugs or to complete features, while some have problems stemming from underlying design issues. Stadium Games is a blatant case of the latter and to a lesser degree it belongs to the former as well; the game is stable, but all of the intended features mentioned on the packaging were inexplicably scaled back. The design problems are far more egregious, since even the promised features were meager to begin with. The lack of depth in the individual events kills any interest one may have in them as minigames after a few plays. Nintendo’s WarioWare, Inc. got around this problem by including two hundred such games and keeping them to a few seconds each, but Stadium Games includes a small fraction of that number and drags them out.
The most baffling thing about Stadium Games is how someone would think a game like this is a good idea in the modern age. Even a port of the twenty year old California Games would have been better idea, as it still remains more engaging that this mess. Perhaps those involved with the making of Stadium Games can consider it a lesson learned.