Saturday, October 16, 2010

NES Month: Track & Field II

Track & Field II
  • Publisher: Konami
  • Developer: Konami
  • Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
  • Genre: Sports
  • Players: 1-2
  • Save: Password
  • Rarity/Cost: Common (US$1-10)
The 1980s were a tumultuous decade for the Summer Olympic Games. In 1980, the XXII Olympiad in Moscow, Soviet Union, suffered a boycott of nations led by the United States, due to the USSR invading Afghanistan the year before. Among the American allies who joined in the boycott were Canada, West Germany, Japan, and South Korea (and China too, but for other reasons). Other NATO allies including Great Britain, France, and Italy, competed under a generic Olympic flag, but the medal count was dominated by Eastern Bloc athletes. As a result of the first boycott, the following Summer Olympics, held in Los Angeles, USA, were in turn boycotted by the Soviet Union and its allies. It wasn't until 1992 that a Summer Olympics was held without any countries boycotting it.

The reason I'm bringing up the Olympics is because the Japanese version of this game, Konamic Sports in Seoul, was an unofficial tie in to the XXIV Olympiad in Seoul, South Korea, hence the title. Konami released it in Japan in September 1988, the day before the Olympics started, but didn't release it in America until 1989. As such, the game was renamed Track & Field II, tying it instead to the popular arcade and home game they released before.

There are 12 events in this game, plus three extra exhibition events. Three of them (Triple jump, clay pigeon shooting, and hurdles) are recycled from the NES version of Track & Field, but overall there is plenty of variety. Each event has a different control scheme, and only six of those involve mashing buttons. But for those that do, this game can be HARD. The speed/power meter that you build up by mashing A drains pretty quickly; if you're just casually tapping it with a thumb or finger alone, you'd have to be skilled at that just to keep it half-filled. This type of gameplay has led people to develop their own methods of hitting the button as rapidly as possible. For example, I like to put a sock over my hand and use the layer of cloth to rub across the button.
Championship IS harder than Training.1
The three modes available in this game are Training, Championship, and Versus. In Training mode, you can start on any of the 12 main events and keep going until you fail to meet the qualifying score or time. Championship Mode is a joke -- and I ain't laughing. It lets you pick a country to represent (the 10 choices include the United States, Soviet Union, and South Korea), and do all of the events in order. The problem is that the qualifying targets are higher here than in Training Mode. Just the second event, Triple Jump, used to be a real wall of difficulty for me. The funny thing about Championship mode is if you fail an event, you don't get a game over immediately. See, the events are presented in four groups of three at a time. If you fail an event, you keep going until the end of that day, and then you get a game over. That's really stupid and artificial; If I wanted to try the later events after failing, I'd just go into Training Mode, thank you very much. Oh, and guess what -- after you clear all the events once, you have to do them again, and the qualifying targets are even higher. Uhh, I DON'T THINK SO.

The payoff for slogging it through a day of events and winning is a password to save with, and two exclusive sports you can't play anywhere else in the game. Hang Gliding can get boring when you're flying for 15-second stretches of doing nothing, and Gun Firing is a dull shooting game, but at least you can use the Zapper for the latter. If nothing else, they're nice cool-down minigames, and you can play them as much as you want before moving on or skip them entirely. There's also the multiplayer-exclusive Arm Wrestling, which is a button-mashing contest in its purest form.
Just look at those graphics!1
I will admit, these are some of the best graphics on the NES. Both the athletes and the backgrounds are well-detailed, although I do wish their uniforms were color-coded by nation. The music is pretty good, too, but the crowd cheering noise can get annoying, given how long it is. Demanding button-mashing aside, most of the events control well, but High Dive, Taekwondo, and Horizontal Bar might disagree with that statement unless you really know what you're doing.

Track & Field II is pretty much the Ghosts & Goblins of sports games. It's unfairly tough -- and that's just on the first run-through! Don't even think of buying this game if you don't have some sort of turbo controller, although beware that some won't even be fast enough to handle the more demanding events. If you are equipped to take this game on, then don't worry about breaking out the turbo. It's not so much cheating as it is justice. This game does not deserve to be played fairly. But if you really want to do so, it would be a great excuse not to throw away your holey socks.

Control: 2 medals out of 5
Design: 2 medals out of 5
Graphics: 5 medals out of 5
Audio: 5 medals out of 5
Value: 3 medals out of 5
The Call: 60% (C-)
[1] "Track & Field II - NES Screenshots". MobyGames.

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