sunnuntai 12. elokuuta 2012

REVIEW - Track & Field | NES & Xbox 360 | 1987 & 2007

NES VERSIONS (1987 & 1992)
GENRE(S): Sports
RELEASED: 1983 (Arcade)
AVAILABLE ON: Apple II, ARC, Atari 2600, Atari 8-bit, C64, MSX, NES, Xbox 360, ZX Spectrum
DEVELOPER(S): Konami, Atarisoft (Apple II), General Computer Corporation (Atari 2600), Digital Eclipse Software (Xbox 360)
PUBLISHER(S): Konami, Atarisoft (Apple II, C64), Atari (Atari 2600, Atari 8-bit), Ocean Software (ZX Spectrum), Kemco (Track & Field in Barcelona)

As the 2012 Summer Olympics are coming to a close, I think the time is more than ripe to look into the mother, father, aunt and uncle of all track and field-themed video games, aptly entitled Track & Field. Track & Field is one of Konami's most loved arcade franchises, as well as one of their breakthrough non-shooter titles, but also one that has divided opinions with a consistently stronger iron hand as time has rolled by, due to its simplicity - or as some would call it, tiresome one-button gameplay. Well, back in 1983, Konami knew how to make it work.

Harder, faster!

The original home version of Track & Field was never very well known outside North America; as a matter of fact, it was called Hyper Olympic outside the U.S., which means the name Track & Field did very little to ring a bell before Track & Field II came out internationally near the end of the decade. That game was actually the fourth game in the series, as the actual second game - called Hyper Sports - was released in the arcades and on choice home computers in 1984, and the third game, commonly known as Konami '88, was released in Japanese arcades in 1988. To add to the confusion just a little bit more, the NES version of the first game was re-released by Kemco as Track & Field in Barcelona in 1992, four years AFTER the release of Track & Field II. To add to the confusion EVEN more, the international NES version of Track & Field - released in 1987 - differs from the Japanese Famicom version, which was released in 1985. Eyes = crossed.

I rule at Triple Jump. I need not be humble.
I was one of those kids who played Track & Field II and wondered whatever happened to the first game, or if the "II" was some kind of a clever marketing ploy no one really understood. Track & Field in Barcelona looked like an older game, but it was released in 1992. To add to my personal confusion, a friend of mine had the original game called Track & Field on his Commodore 64. All of this resulted in the false conclusion that the original game was never available on the NES. It was only five or six years ago that I learned the truth, that an NES game called Hyper Olympic was actually the original Track & Field game. It was around that same time I realized that Konami's Track & Field and Kemco's Track & Field in Barcelona are one and the same, with no essential changes made to any other element besides the title screen. The re-release is also just a bit more colourful, but that's it for the differences - although I know the game better than the original one, it would make no sense to review it separately.

It comes as no surprise that this guy looks quite
like Mario.
There are eight different "designs" to accommodate eight different events: the 100 Meter Dash, Long Jump, Javelin Throw, 110 Meter Hurdles, Skeet Shooting, Triple Jump, Archery and High Jump. Six events are played from a side-scrolling 2D perspective, while Archery has an overhead view, and some sort of 3D effect was used for Skeet Shooting. Another point is that Archery and Skeet Shooting are exclusive to the NES version alongside Triple Jump, while Hammer Throw from the original arcade version is fortunately ousted - it sucked. The international NES version, especially the re-release, could therefore be seen as the most technically advanced version of the game, although it might not look like much - especially if you were one of those people who got to try Track & Field II first. There's no music besides an 8-bit version of Vangelis' "Chariots of Fire" and a couple of olympic fanfares that play before and after each event, with the tone of the tune changing depending on your performance. Track & Field might not look or sound that sweet, but it plays out like the classic it is, and that's all that matters.

Archery. Used to hate it 'cause I just didn't get it,
now it's one of my favourites.
Although each event is different, Track & Field is one of the easiest games to learn. Each side-scrolling event has you repeatedly tapping the A button as fast as you possibly can, and occasionally pressing a directional button to jump, adjust, or determine an angle, depending on the event. Skeet Shooting is based on well-timed, consecutive single presses of the A button. Archery, which is arguably the most challenging event in the game but one that the player is perfectly able to master with some practice, is also based on good timing, even moreso. Your goal is to shoot an arrow at the exact right time and perfect angle, which is determined by wind direction, which on the other hand is determined at random in the beginning of each session. There are no crappy events in the NES version of Track & Field, no event that I absolutely loathe. Closest to crossing the border of hate comes High Jump, and it's mostly because it's the final event - botching it equals to Game Over, and it's quite easy to botch it with a 0.0001% fraction of your moustached avatar's pixelated ass being so in love with the horizontal bar. Passing the final event takes luck - but luckily it's not nearly as bad as Hammer Throw in other versions of the game. This one is pretty much endless fun...

...Or is it? Well, no. If you're looking for something deep, you won't find it here. Unlike the tense desire to accomplish in Track & Field II, there's no true olympic feeling to this game. After passing the eight events for the first time, especially the more challenging Game B, there's no goal besides constantly going for a higher score and breaking records - which is at its most fun when you're going against a friend. But, what you have to remember is that Track & Field is a simple arcade game, and it was never meant to be anything else. As such, Track & Field is one of the best, and most enduring games there is. It's still an amazing way to pass some otherwise dead 15 minutes every now and then.

+ Simple gameplay (which is ALL that really matters); so simple that it might annoy the hell out of some people, but it's classic and works much better in practice than the three-button version

- No lasting feeling of accomplishment

< 8.7 >


XBOX 360 VERSION (2007)
The Xbox LIVE Arcade version of Track & Field came out in the summer of 2007 as a part of Digital Eclipse Entertainment and Konami's arcade classics program, and it was a direct conversion of the very original arcade game, that offered up the option of "enhanced graphics". The enhanced graphics look like ass. The original graphics are uglier and way more rough-edged than the NES version's (!), but by far, the only way to go. Wait. IS there a way to go when it comes to this version of the game? No.

Of course I bought this game when I spotted it on LIVE - Track & Field is one of my favourite arcade games of all time, and this one came with Achievements! However, as it turned out, the original arcade game released four years before what I perceive as the "true version" sucked ass from here to Barcelona, and out of the 12 Achievements, only four are obtainable before you start to hate this game.

The fifth event out of six - which is the Hammer Throw - is the final dealbreaker, but there are problems scattered all over this stinker. As I see it, it's impossible to actually win in any event. This is all about simply qualifying. No matter how hard and fast I "run" in the 100 Meter Dash, the opponent - yeah, the annoying black guy - ALWAYS wins. To top it off, the 100 Meter Dash Achievement (there's at least one tied to every event) requires you to finish under 10 seconds. If you've got normal hands, you can't do this in under 10:01. Can't help being annoyed by that number.

The records are just crazy. The world record for the Hurdles stands at 0:02. That crazy - frankly, batshit insane, way beyond impossible. I don't know where the hell that comes from. Every crazy thing about this version of a good game comes to an anticlimax of the ages with the Hammer Throw. It's not impossible to qualify - after all, I've managed to do it ONCE - but it depends on pure luck. Your goal is to tap the dash button (or alternatively, rotate the left analog stick) until you hit the quarter of a second window to throw that damn hammer so that it actually goes in the direction of the field. If you manage to do that, all that is left is hope that you actually qualify - it's still perfectly possible to fuck up by half a meter and get a very unceremonial Game Over. You can't practice, and you can't choose the order of the events. If you fuck up in Hammer Throw, it's back to the beginning with you. If you somehow manage to qualify, you've still got High Jump and its very own luck-based problem to deal with. If you simply can't beat this game or get anything done in it for your own personal good or for the good of your Gamerscore, don't beat yourself up about it. It's not your fault. This game just sucks.

I strongly advise you to put your 400 Points to good use - it's not Track & Field. If you want a Konami classic from the program that actually works and provides some real challenge, and have a friend to play with, try Contra instead. When I first played this version of the game, the words "blank fart" were the first to pop to mind, and they still ring very true.

+ Well, I guess it's kinda cheap - kinda, maybe, perhaps

- It looks and sounds horrible, even moreso with enhanced graphics!
- If there was no feeling of accomplishment in the previously reviewed game, this one has even less due to records you simply cannot break - it's hard enough to qualify
- Hammer Throw ruins everything - it's simply a loathsome event, and I'm missing some of my favourite NES-exclusive events that originally replaced Hammer Throw in the NES version

< 4.5 >

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