With the London 2012 Summer Olympics just starting, now is as good as any time to go back in time to 1983, to go back to the time of Stars Wars: Return of the Jedi, Flashdance and the start of a video game genre that has caused millions of stubbed fingers, strong curse words and broken (track)balls across the land. Although nowadays athletics games are tied to the specific sporting event (Beijing 2008, Vancouver 2010 etc), way back before commercialism and tie-in’s came in to practice, there was Track and Field. Originally an arcade game, this was ported to the home consoles and has more sequels than American Pie, so how does the original button-masher stack up today?
Track and Field is as close to a text-book definition of “button-masher” as you’ll ever get. There are 8 events in which to compete in which is done sequentially, The events are:
100-meter dash, Long Jump, 110-meter hurdles, Javelin Throw, Skeet Shooting, Triple Jump, Archery, High Jump
It’s a nice variety of athletic events, rather than the weird and wonderful Taekwando and Water Polo that seems to grace the Olympics these days. With each event you compete in, there is a qualifying time or score that you need to beat before you progress to the next event, and in a number of the events, you get 3 chances to exceed the qualifying score. The only events where if you lose its game over is the 100 meters and 110-meter hurdles. The idea of the game, if ever there was an idea, is to beat the qualifying times/scores, and carry on until the end where you don’t get a lovely congratulations screen but the chance to do the events all over again! Such lucky gamers we are, but this time the scores are higher/quicker, so you need to bring your A game to this. If you don’t want to put the hard graft in, you can also access this second mode, a la Zelda by choosing game mode B from the main menu.
In terms of controls, you don’t get much easier than what you get with Track and Field. The A button is your power which is represented by a meter, and this is where individual technique comes into play. You could rapidly press the button like a woodpecker on speed, or rub a coin/pen lid over the button, or just cheat and use a turbo controller. But what good is a button-mashing game if your holding down the button on a turbo controller? It’s a badge of honour to get a stubbed finger, to get shouted at for using a strong curse word or to get splints. The up button is the action button, and is used in the hurdles to jump them, the long jump/trimple jump to set the angle at which you jump and the angle used to throw your Javelin. The only time the B button is used is in the Skeet event to shoot the clay pigeons and to fire your bow in archery. If you get confused with the controls, maybe you need something like Golf to start with on the NES.
The graphics are typical 8-bit with nice clear graphics and bold colours, with your athlete in his nice purple outfit and porn-star moustache. The crowd do look somewhat bland and indistinct, but this isn’t a game to admire the view, its all about the gameplay. What’s good about the game is that your not constrained by how fast you can tap a button. with certain games (namely Atlanta 1996 on the Mega Drive) it seemed as though it doesn’t matter how quickly you smash the buttons, you could only reach a certain time or level and never exceed this no matter how quick you are; it doesn’t reward those with ninja wrists. In this game, your only as good as your wrists, and for those that can fill up the speed meter without a turbo-controller, I salute you, to get over 1500cm/sec takes some effort.
For those who read these reviews would start to know certain things I like in games, and for me what makes them great, and what makes this game even better is the 2 player aspect. You and your buddy against each other trying to throw the javelin further than the other, is there a better sight than 2 grown men hunched over their own controllers trying to put each other off the intense concentration of the 100-meter dash? Erm, maybe there is, however the ability to make your friend cry when your tapping with one hand and they put so much sweat and effort is a sight to behold, and as easy as the computer is to beat on the first game mode its not a patch on competing against your friend. Or your sworn enemy after.
So all in all, if you don’t like button-mashing sports games, then obviously this isn’t the game for you. However, for those of you like me who do enjoy testing the strength of your controller with intense gameplay, for a retro game this is definately one for the collection. The game was re-released in 1992 in Europe in time for the Barcelona Olympics, called “Track & Field in Barcelona” which is the same game as this. There are a number of easter eggs in the game that is worth checking out, for a full list of these then check Wikipedia but to give a teaser of this try launching the javelin off the screen, or if both players finish the 100/110 meters in the exact same time. However on a Saturday night, if your looking for a decent retro atheltics game having watched the London 2012 Olympics for its 5000th continuous hour, it’s well worth a look at, just keep the emergency services number on standby – or ibuprofen at least.
Rating – 5 out of 5