There are few games as eager to please as New International Track & Field. A cursory glance wouldn’t reveal the level of fan service involved, but it would be enough to interest you. Sporting a unique mixture 8-bit crowds and super-deformed characters created by Udon – the company behind the recent Street Fighter, which would also explain some of the similarities – the game is certainly eye-catching. The vicious twisting and scratching on the DS by the possessed player would also guarantee a peak in anyone’s curiosity. But in the end, it is exactly what you would expect from an update of a 1980s game: modern production values and upgraded controls. And that’s not really a bad thing.
Fans of the original will find a lot to like. Aside from being able to use the stylus to control characters, the classic control scheme of buttons only can be used as well. Heck, they can also be used in tandem – the only method I found conducive to actually winning. Newcomers will also find the draw of scratching and button mashing irresistible as well – at least for a while. To DSersize the controls, the stylus is used to rub between two points on a bar, with a steady rhythm and a decent clip resulting in stars shooting out of each end, letting you know that you’re hitting the sweet spot. Once the power meter has been filled, feet will cross finish lines, discus and javelins will be thrown, and bodies will be sent flying into the air. Enacting a release or jump is done by either hitting a face button or pressing an on-screen button with the stylus, holding for arch and letting up for release. From skeet shooting to pole-vaulting to cycling, there is plenty to do.
The original is even included as an unlockable bonus. If you think that’s a nice goodie, then you’ll love what else has been included. There are six difficulty brackets as well as the ability to play each event separately, and for every time an event is complete a number of stars is banked towards a total that figure that unlocks new uniforms. Once you meet certain criteria, then new characters are unlocked. The characters are really the coolest part of the game, because you get a collection that runs the gamut of Konami’s history, from the frog from Frogger to Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2. Aside from the fantastic rewards, there are also the numerous nods to the company’s past sprinkled throughout with billboards for Gyruss, Contra, and Metal Gear Solid lining tracks and Silent Hill hot air balloons flying overhead. Material from the original Track & Field is also dotted liberally throughout, with sound bites tossed in with the aforementioned crowd sprites. It’s really a great mixture of the old and new, creating a surprisingly delightful homage piece.
All of the throwback material and cameos wouldn’t matter if the game weren’t enjoyable, though. Fortunately, for the most part, New International Track & Field delivers. Since the game mainly consists of rubbing the stylist horizontally and in circles, the accuracy of the touchscreen really needs to be on point, but I had several moments when the game simply wasn’t registering the stylus’ movement; not only that, but the game can be really rough on the DS itself. There is also the problem of a horrible manual and inaccurate in-game directions. Before each round a coach will explain the event in a handful of simple steps, but I found that the timing of when to press and how long to hold a button down was far more difficult than the directions given. There were also times when the on-screen cue to press a button would be flat-out wrong, resulting in fouls and disqualifications. And, as great as the graphics and sampled original sound bites are, the newer sound effects can be redundant, especially when failing and having to hear the same ‘Aw no’ ad nauseam.
The rest of the features aren’t nearly as exciting. Scores can be upload and compared with others, and you can also go toe to toe with competitors – even if you only have one cart. Multiplayer would have gone a lot farther with me had I not tired of the game itself by the time I completed the main stages. After I had unlocked Pyramid Head, I was pretty much done. Solid Snake be damned. But for those who crave competition, this will certainly put your arm and hand joints to the test.
Overall: 6.5/10Much like the events themselves, New International Track & Field starts off going full bore and eventually winds itself down to a slow walk. Trying out all of the competitions, unlocking all of the costumes, stages and characters, is great fun, but after a while, horizontal slashes and circular movements lose their luster. This is actually a great step forward for such a niche genre – the sadomasochistic-button-masher-slash-stylus-rubber genre – but it still has a ways to go before it becomes one that I’ll want to return to in the future. It’s a blast while it lasts, though.