Track & Field (NES) – A Retrospective Review

Author’s Note: Having spent most of the month following the Olympics, I thought the following review would be somewhat relevant.

First released by Konami in 1983 for the arcades and subsequently ported to a myriad of different platforms, Track & Field, as the name suggests, is a sports game revolving around track & field athletics events. One of the most notable ports of the game was the NES version, released in 1987 in America and re-released in Europe in 1992 under the title Track & Field in Barcelona, which included five of the six events from the arcade game and three events from the arcade sequel, Hyper Sports.

The gameplay of Track & Field is generally very simple, being played with three buttons: The A and B buttons usually representing one leg each and a third button representing the “action” button on the original arcade machine. Using these buttons, the player is tasked with at least matching a qualifying time or score in order to proceed to the next event, for instance by repeatedly pushing the run buttons in sequence in the running events, using the action button to jump over hurdles, or by using the run buttons to build up speed for the jumping and throwing events and using the action button to set the angle for the jump or throw.

As mentioned above, there were eight events included in the game: 100 metre dash and 110 metre hurdles for running events, long jump, triple jump and high jump for jumping events, javelin throw, skeet shooting and archery. Of the events originally in the arcade version, only hammer throw is missing, although personally, I would have preferred this over the awkward skeet shooting and archery events which are not only dissimilar in several respects to the other events in the game, but also not actually track and field events. There is also nothing in the way of longer-distance running events, which makes sense given the game’s arcade roots, but which would, with something like a stamina bar, have represented an interesting complement to the sprinting events. The other events are done very well, though, even with the running events representing button-bashing affairs which will wear out your fingers – and controllers.

The game can be played by one player versus the computer or two players, with two difficulty settings differing in the thresholds that players must reach in order to proceed. The game also gives you a choice of which event you want to start at. In the two-player mode, the players play head-to-head in the races and one after the other in the other events; if one player does not make the qualifying threshold, that player will be eliminated from the game and the other player will continue against the computer.

Graphically, the game is not the most impressive on the NES, but makes a good show of replicating the arcade game. The game also lacks the synthesised voices of the arcade version, but this shouldn’t be surprising given the sound hardware of the NES and the bleeps that the game does include are adequate for the purposes of the game.

Perhaps the most notable thing about the arcade version of Track & Field is that it set in stone the way in which following titles in the same category of games were played, with its simple button-bashing controls. As a consequence, the game is still very playable and represents rather simple fun as long as you can get your fingers or thumbs to cooperate with the speed at which you need to press the controls in order to succeed in most of the events. Strangely enough, I find it is the events that don’t require quick fingers that are the most troublesome; the skeet shooting and archery events feel out of place even if the game series soon expanded after its first title to cover other Olympic sports outside of the track and field events and can be particularly difficult to pass if you can’t get your timing just right. Given that there were events in both Track & Field and Hyper Sports in the arcade that would have fit better, I can’t see why they decided that those two events made a good fit into the structure of the game.

Aside from the criticisms I have regarding those events, the one downfall of the title is that the same simplicity that makes the game very easy to pick up and good fun also lends it very little depth. There’s always going to be the challenge of getting a higher score – and even setting world records if you’re good enough, but once you have the formula down, there’s not much else to learn about the game. There are a few Easter eggs scattered around the game in various places, but ultimately, the game sticks to its formula throughout. This is both a blessing and a curse and as a consequence, the game is more suited to two-player gameplay where you have another person to beat.

Bottom Line: Aside from a few stumbling blocks, Track & Field is simple, very easy to grasp and good fun – if your fingers are up to the button-bashing gameplay. However, it is also very formulaic and lacks depth, making it better in two-player mode.

Recommendation: This isn’t a title that is worth going out and spending a huge amount on a cartridge for, despite its fun factor, but if you can find it in a bargain bin somewhere or are willing to go down the emulation route, it’s a fun title which would be particularly good for short bursts of multiplayer gameplay.