Outstanding in the Field
The meat of New International Track & Field, though, lies in its multiplayer component, which is fair enough; Track & Field is a multiplayer game (a competitive, blistered-thumbs, throbbing-wrists kind of multiplayer game), and its implementation of this goes further than anything else we've seen on the DS. As you'd expect, it supports four players in single-cart multiplayer, using Wi-Fi game sharing. However, it's the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection online play that's most impressive. Again, four players are supported, and broadly the same range of options are available - the really clever stuff is the way that New International Track & Field handles things like friends, notifications and tournaments.
When you start up, you're given the option to connect to WFC on the main menu. Unlike every other DS game we can think of, you actually stay connected even when playing single-player events - and, in a manner rather similar to Xbox Live, you get on-screen notifications of events that happen online while you're playing. Friends logging in, your high scores being broken by your friends, world records being set - all of them appear in a news ticker along the bottom of the screen, which should make setting up a game with your friends remarkably easy.
Another interesting idea is the game's implementation of a "Rivals" list to go alongside your friends list. Friends, of course, are people who have given you their friend code either online or in real life - but Rivals don't have to do any such thing, and you can simply add them after playing a game with them online. You can't send messages or anything like that to Rivals, but you can challenge them to games when they log on, and check out their high scores as they progress.
It all links up to a community website which will play host to an array of challenges and events. The site also carries live statistics on global rankings, forums and all the other stuff you'd expect from a community site, with Sumo hoping that it'll become a regular haunt for the hyper-competitive types who seem most entranced by Track & Field's simple but infuriatingly addictive charms.
The Sumo chaps themselves are adamant that Track & Field is a tongue-in-cheek experience - a game which, unlike many of the console titles that have subsequently borne its name, doesn't take itself too seriously. That spirit is evident here in the fantastically over-the-top bonus costumes you unlock, in the cheerfully ridiculous character designs, and even in the special Easter Eggs hidden in the levels. The ability to spear a Martian by throwing the javelin straight upwards with sufficient force remains - and each event has its own special animations that are unlocked by meeting certain strict criteria, just as a special treat to dedicated players.
Our big concern? Well, longevity might be an issue, but mostly we're worried about our DS screens. Can all that frantic scrubbing really be good for them? Sumo Digital claims it's not a problem - showing off one of its own units, which has apparently been used to test the game since the start of development without incurring any harm. We've been ever so gentle with our DS while playing the beta code, all the same. At least, until the blood gets up, the finish line is in sight, and the old Track & Field madness that's claimed so many blistered thumbs kicks in.