New International Track & Field

Hurts so good.

You probably have one overriding memory of the original Track & Field arcade game: pain.

Chances are that it was your first encounter with agonising finger blisters and the dull, rasping throb of repetitive strain injury, a condition that didn't even get a name other than "stop moaning, you pansy" until many years later. International Track & Field asked you to do one simple thing: hammer buttons very fast to win. It did this with a torturer's grin. "I'm just going to drip this water on your head, okay?"

For the perhaps-inevitable pre-Olympics rebirth of the franchise, developer Sumo Digital has changed things. The game is on a handheld, it doesn't involve pressing buttons any more (unless you really want to), and it isn't quite as simple as it used to be. One thing, however, remains consistent down through the years: pain.

Transported to the Nintendo DS, it's no surprise that control now rests with the stylus. There's an option there to use buttons if you're a purist, but the basic control system involves scrubbing the stylus through a variety of motions - occasionally hitting or holding a button to perform a special function such as jumping or setting the angle of a launch.

In the process, Sumo has - thankfully - eliminated the blisters of yesteryear, but it's also created a game that's even more tiring and painful, albeit in the different way. Running a few 100-metre sprints by scrubbing the stylus on the screen will probably leave your arm aching and hanging limply by your side in protest.

This may, you think, be a comment on the physical fitness of Eurogamer's intrepid writers - but if there's one exercise our vigorous one-handed appreciation of imported Japanese art films should have prepared us for, surely it's this one? Well, it didn't. We surmise that it'll hurt you too.

Sprinting - about as basic as these events can get, and also about as physically painful as your forearm can get.

This isn't a bad thing though. If anything, it's Track & Field demonstrating a real adherence to tradition - and when it comes to the multiplayer, the fact there's genuine physical ability going into your victories makes them all the more accomplished. Even confronted with the fact that it's physically painful to type for ages after playing the game (writing this review is an interesting process), this isn't something we'd change about Track & Field for the world.

So while the controls are consistent with the old-days game, they're also the most obvious change, and it's good to note that the new stylus-based system is intuitive and enjoyable. Perhaps a little more variation wouldn't have gone amiss, but some events like the cycling, where you have to keep up with the accelerating pace of the pedals rather than just scrubbing in a circle wildly, add a level of depth to the race-style events, while the straightforward left and right movement in the clay pigeon shooting event turns out to be addictive despite being simple on the surface.

It's in the presentation of these simple game modes that New International Track & Field really starts to shine. Eschewing the simple 2D graphics of its originator (although many nods remain in the soundtrack and sound effects) and the attempts at realism of more recent franchise resurrections on the PlayStation consoles, New International Track & Field opts for a colourful, 3D, cartoony style, with beautiful "super-deformed" characters which are reminiscent of the artwork in Capcom's better Street Fighter spin offs, such as Pocket Fighter and Super Puzzle Fighter.

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Rob Fahey

Rob Fahey



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