Monday, May 19, 2014

NES Replay: Track & Field

Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Released: April 1987
The arcade cabinets for Track & Field took a beating.

Track & Field is a collection of small minigames based on the Olympics, and you control several of them is by pounding on the buttons as fast as possible. In the arcades, players tried to come up with various ways of doing faster button presses, so they used stuff like golf balls and metal rulers to get an edge. Even when it was a popular arcade game, it was very hard to find working Track & Field machines in the wild because of all the abuse they took.

The NES port retains this gameplay, and that makes Track & Field a game that you can only play for a short time. My family used to play Track & Field II together, and after a while everyone had cramps in their wrists. It's hard to keep up such a furious attack on the controller.

About a year later, Nintendo released something that made these types of games exponentially easier: The NES Max controller with a turbo button. The turbo buttons made the system think that you were pressing the buttons on the controller rapidly. That made games like Track & Field hilariously easy. It was like pressing a button labeled, "I win." For example, the real world record for the 100 yard dash was a little under 10 seconds when Track & Field was made. With the turbo button, you can complete it in about 7.5 seconds.

However, there are a few games included in Track & Field that won't work with any turbo controls and actually require skill, like skeet shooting and archery. The skeet shooting is especially notable, since they made a really cool design decision.

See, most developers would have had you move a pointer around a screen to shoot down the clay pigeons. However, Konami realized that a pointer controlled by the controller would be too slow or inaccurate. They could have had people use the Zapper, but that would have taken up a controller port that would have stopped people from playing two-player games, so that didn't work either.

Instead, Konami had the game use an auto-aim to some extent while still having the player press the button to fire at the proper time. It's a lot harder than it sounds, as you have to quickly press left or right on the d-pad, then shoot before the clay pigeon moves out of range. I couldn't get the hang of it, despite how absurdly simple it was.

Even with all this, though, Track & Field is still dull. It was certainly done well, but the presentation was sort of lacking. When playing Track & Field, you don't feel like there was any overarching goal, just a bunch of events that you could play individually. After a while, I remembered how great Track & Field II was, and fired that up instead. I ended up playing Track & Field II for an hour.

So, while Track & Field was certainly on the right track (wordplay!), it wasn't exactly where it needed to be. For a first attempt, though, there were some admirable concepts that Konami would later expand and deepen.

Final Rating:

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