Tuesday, August 19, 2008

New International Track & Field

I was spurred by the spirit of the Beijing Olympics (not the oppressive, Communist spirit...the meeting of nations, healthy athletic competition spirit) to pick up Konami's latest offering for the Nintendo DS: New International Track & Field. I was also spurred by Best Buy's decision to make the game a bargain at $19.99 for one week only (this week, while supplies last). God bless the marketing power of the Olympics.

This game is not officially licensed, but I guarantee it's better than almost any game bearing the IOC's stamp of approval. If anyone remembers the original Track & Field for the NES, a true button bashing classic, this is the re-imagined sequel on Nintendo's powerhouse handheld.

New International Track & Field features 8 original characters competing in 24 events for that ever-elusive gold medal. The game's sharp presentation is evident from the moment the title appears on screen. The nostalgia really kicks up with the remixed Chariots of Fire theme playing at the title screen.

The game's menus are crisp, clear, and vibrant. A single player has a choice of Career Mode, Challenge Mode, or Single Events. Career Mode is the main draw for solo play. There are three levels of difficulty and 6 programs containing 4 events for each difficulty. The first program of events is relatively easy and the programs get progressively more difficult as you advance through career mode. Likewise, cranking up the difficulty to medium or hard brings an added dose of competition from the AI contenders. For each event in the programs, you must meet a qualifying mark. The higher you place or score, the more points you acquire. These points come into play in deciding who wins the entire program; the contender with the most points through four events wins the gold, second most the silver, and so on and so forth. Meanwhile, you are earning points towards progressing your skill level (you start out as a Novice...I'm currently a Challenger, some three levels up) and also unlocking extra costumes for the original characters, all of which are varying degrees of ridiculous. Unlockables always provide a certain degree of satisfaction though, no matter what they are.

There are plenty of events including 100 Meters, 400 Meters, 100 Meter Hurdles, Long Jump, Breaststroke, Vault, High Bar, Diving, Cycling, Archery, Pole Vault, Javelin Throw, and others. The game play basically consists of scra
tching, circling, and tapping with the stylus, and sometimes it can require some seriously vigorous motion. I've worried about scratching the DS or dropping it, and I've worked up a sweat on more than one occasion, making this the only DS game I've ever played that involved a bit of a workout. It is a very satisfying experience to beat a tough competitor or break a world record though due to the work you put in. If strenuous stylus exercise is not your bag, you can switch to traditional Track & Field controls and show off your button mashing skills. I find the stylus controls to be more immersive though and the controls fit their respective events very well.

Graphically, the game excels, taking a page out of Nintendo's script with its character design. All of the characters
are super deformed and each has his or her own style. The models are bright and detailed and they move well. The athletic environments provided are complimentary to the characters. The world Konami has created is an engaging one.

The sound in the game is well executed with some nice touches, particularly the awesome Chariots re
mix, the NES sound effect signaling the start of competition or some other significant happening, and the announcer screaming "GO!" at the start of each event.

This game has great legs beyond the Career Mode. Challenge Mode consists of 6 unlockable mini games featuring classic Konami characters who also become available for play in the athletic events. So far, I've only unlocked Frogger and Sparkster. Also, Single Event mode allows you to practice each event as many times as you want, encouraging you to try for the gold in each event against super stiff competition. Also, there are special trophies to unlock that require you to complete very specific objectives at multiple difficulty levels, making for a significant challenge to get them all.

Furthermore, the game has local and wireless multiplayer as well as online leaderboards, encouraging players from all over the world to continue to break each other's best records. You can check the leaderboards through your DS or via Konami's website. Local multiplayer supports single and multi-card play. Online play is fairly seamless, and the online leaderboards provide a never-ending challenge. The game also has great stat tracking capability as it keeps tabs on all of your records in every event as well as total playing time and other tidbits.

Overall, New International Track & Field is a great addition to the DS's impressive library as a great single and multiplayer experience. It's fun, it's challenging, and it'll keep you coming back for more. Its release around the time of the start of the games is perfect timing and hopefully this will help the game adopt a large userbase. The more challengers we get on those worldwide leaderboards, the better this title will be in the long run.

8/10 DreadPoints (Highly Recommended)

Thanks to IGN for the pictures.