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Games: Google Doodle game Champion Island offers hours of retro-gaming fun

Champion Island is a love letter to the history of videogames that could give some of this year's 'proper' releases an athletic run for their money
Neil McGreevy

Champion Island (web browser)

By: Google

SET TO an orchestral flourish of classic videogame soundtracks, last week's Olympic Opening Ceremony paid tribute to Japan's love affair with the form – but if watching athletic hopefuls march out to the strains of Sonic the Hedgehog isn't enough, Google's got you covered.

In the past, the search engine giant's Doodles have celebrated everything from the birth of hip-hop to the first Dutchman in space (who could forget Ubbo Ockels?), even going interactive with solvable Rubik's Cubes and a full-blown version of Pac-Man.

The latest, however, is easily their best – so good, in fact, that it deserves recognition as a full-blown game. Despite living inside a search bar, Champion Island is a love letter to the history of videogames that could give some of this year's 'proper' releases an athletic run for their money.

Landing on Champion Island as Lucky the Ninja Cat, players align with one of four teams to take part in a quadrennial celebration of athletic competition against the island's animal inhabitants, logging their scores in a global leaderboard.

The seven shindigs on offer include marathon running, rugby, table tennis, skateboarding, synchronised swimming, archery and climbing, each taking place in a themed area of Champion Island's top-down map.

For a humble Doodle, there's a surprising amount of content to enjoy here, with nods to Japanese folklore, legendary opponents, side quests, additional challenges, running gags and even a plot twist for those who complete the whole shebang.

The entire enterprise is beautifully designed, with games based around the golden age of 8 and 16-bit gaming and sandwiched between eye-popping anime cutscenes. Controlled with just your arrow keys and space bar, its gameplay mechanics hark back to the halcyon, joystick-waggling days of Track and Field or, for gamers of a certain vintage, Daley Thompson's Decathlon.

It can also be played on your phone, if you can cope with the rather finicky mobile controls. Developed by award-winning Tokyo animators Studio 4°C, whose previous credits include 2015's Batman: Arkham Knight and 2011's Thundercats reboot (there was a Thundercats reboot?), the team alluded to "various stories from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south in the Doodle".

"Besides drawing inspiration from stories known across Japan, we also hoped to convey the rich and diverse natural beauty of the country, including underwater, sandy tropical beaches, forests, and snowy mountains."

Despite relatively simple gameplay, Champion Island is shockingly deep for a humble Doodle, and guaranteed to tank office productivity as work-shy employees climb the leaderboards (though autosaves mean your progress is safe when the man is around).

At time of writing, Champion Island remains Google's active Doodle, but even when the Olympic flame is extinguished, you'll be able to find it here: Google.com/doodles/doodle-champion-island-games-july-24.

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