New International Track & Field never strays all that far from the old International Track & Field. It's a game where you hammer the buttons (or flick the stylus) as fast as possible to win, occasionally breaking up the action with events that call for timed button presses to jump hurdles or take breaths. Launching to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Track & Field, the new version is a DS-only title that's been put together by the chaps at Sumo Digital - the Sheffield studio responsible for OutRun and Virtua Tennis arcade conversions in recent years - so there's another reason to take an interest, as we did when Konami asked us to jog to Yorkshire for a look.
Right on track
It is remarkably faithful to the original Track & Field. From the title music - the iconic Vangelis piece from Chariots of Fire, which featured in all its 8-bit glory in the arcade game - through to the gameplay, Sumo has been careful to replicate the things people liked about International Track & Field. The developers happily admit that a key goal was to create a DS title intense enough that you'd feel physically sore and exhausted after playing - and we can report, with spasming forearms, that it is a success in this regard.
Basic gameplay is deceptively simple. For most events, it's a matter of scrubbing the stylus across the screen frantically to build up speed, with a button press (either on the face buttons or on-screen) to do things like jumping hurdles or breathing in the swimming events. Other events are more complex - marginally. Jumping events see you pressing the button to choose an angle for take-off, while the clay-pigeon shoot has you scrolling the stylus around to lock on to targets as they pop up.
Nothing terribly challenging, then, but as with the original Track & Field the events seem to be finely balanced enough to let players develop their own style of play (you can use the buttons rather than the stylus if you like, for instance) and to compete against other people's times effectively. The addition of a special boost, triggered once in a race by blowing or shouting into the microphone, is another twist on the formula, and the point at which you choose to use it can be an important tactical decision.
The game also offers a variety of single-player modes - there's a Career Mode, as well as the ability to run through various of the 24 available single events and so on. Eight original characters, designed by the wonderful artists at Udon (best known for their superb art based on Capcom beat-'em-ups like Street Fighter and DarkStalkers), can be selected from the outset, and in keeping with the beat-'em-up look and feel, they're all "voiced" by Japanese actors who have done the voices for things like King of Fighters.
Additionally, there are a host of unlockable Konami characters - from venerable types like Frogger and Rocket Knight Adventures' Sparkster, through to a worryingly cute super-deformed version of Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2. Each of the characters does have their own strengths and weaknesses, but the developers are adamant that only players who are really good at the game will notice them - and that they will balance out nicely over the course of a multi-event series.