Sunday, May 5, 2013

Track & Field (NES) Review

Written: May 4th-5th, 2013
Alternative Title: Track & Field in Barcelona   O  
Year: 1987 | Developed and Published by: Konami

Olympic events sure are fun to watch whenever they're shown on TV (or when you're in the stadium's audience).  Video game companies must think so too, since these Olympic sports have been the subject of video games as "Olympic simulators" for many decades now.  One of these companies is Konami, who has crafted a series of Olympics-related games for roughly three decades now.  Their first in this many series was Hyper Olympic (or Track & Field depending on the region), which debuted in arcades in 1983 featuring several fun events (and there was an actual voice sample used for the announcer at certain points).  It was so successful that they decided to make an arcade follow-up to it the subsequent year called Hyper Sports (or Hyper Olympic '84 as it was known in Japan), which featured about as many fun events but were different.  Both these games were so well-received that they were individually ported to the Famicom in 1985.  So where am I going with this?  After noticing that the NES was getting popular (in America, at least; Europe was more into the Sega Master System back then), Konami decided to merge both their Famicom ports of Hyper Olympic and Hyper Sports into one game simply called Track & Field; and since there are technically two games in one cartridge, you know what that means!  =D

Welcome everyone, to another installment of 2-for-1 Special!  =)

Hyper Olympic (1983, 1985)
100 Meter Dash
In the arcade version there were six events to play, whilst this 8-bit rendition of Hyper Olympic only retained four.  It's not a bad amount, to be honest, and said events are done really well.  In each event you have three tries to qualify for the next one, but should you qualify at least once out of three possible times you'll be all set.  If not, then it's game over.  Just like I'll be discussing the 2-for-1 Special games in their chronological order I'll be going over the events in the order that they are played.  They are the 100 Meter Dash, the Long Jump, the 110 Meter Hurdles, and finally the Javelin Throw.  The two events excised from the arcade were the Hammer Throw and the High Jump (which got converted to the 8-bit Hyper Sports port instead, but I'll get to that one later).  As it stands, I'll only cover the events that are available here.

Long Jump
The controls are pretty solid and good, and they only require the Control Pad and the A button; although a lot of the time you'll be required to continually tap the A button for these events (so use your trigger finger and your thumb simultaneously).  The rules for the 100 Meter Dash is pretty straightforward: just run all the way to the finish line.  To run all you have to do is tap the A button, so try to get to the end as fast as you can.  This is also the first of a couple events where you see your opponent on the same screen as you, racing against him.  Oh, by the way, do not attempt start until you're signaled to go otherwise you'll get a foul.  Our next event is the Long Jump where the goal is to jump as far as you can.  In most games you'll have to liberally tap the A button to run fast, but for some events you'll be enabled to use the Control Pad for certain actions.  In the Long Jump event you use the Control Pad to jump, and depending on how long you hold it down or how soon or late you let go, your athlete will either jump closer or jump much farther (I recommend you shoot for the latter).  Careful trajectory is key.  Rules state that you must jump before crossing the white line otherwise you'll get a foul regardless of how far or close you jumped.

110 Meter Hurdles
After qualifying for that event it's time for the 110 Meter Hurdles.  The last of the two racing events, it's like the 100 Meter Dash only it's 10 meters longer and there are hurdles serving as obstacles.  Only start running after being signaled to go otherwise you'll get a foul and have two more tries left.  For this event you'll be alternating between tapping the A button quickly and pressing the Control Pad to jump over any of these obstacles.  Make sure you time the jumps right otherwise you'll be docked by a few seconds.  The last event in the first half is the Javelin Throw; in this event you have to launch your javelin and ensure that it lands past the qualifying point.  The first part will require a lot of running but before you touch the white line press any button on the Control Pad to throw it.  Like the Long Jump, proper trajectory will come into play and will determine whether you succeed or fail.  Hold the Control Pad down just enough and let go at the opportune time to make a highly distanced throw.

Javelin Throw
What's pretty good about these events are how tight and solid the controls are even though most of it will have you tap the A button over and over again.  What's also great is how in certain events you have to carefully strategize and determine the trajectory in order to ensure your qualification, for it's a nice touch.  The game is colorful, the animations are very good, and I like how there is line scrolling in these events to incorporate depth.  The sound is good (even if there are no voice samples here) and there is a good amount of challenge, for in the further difficulty modes the requirement to qualification will increase, which will gradually give the events a bit more challenge.  I like Hyper Olympic's events, for they're fun to play and enjoy.  But now it's time to discuss the second half of the package.

Hyper Sports (1984, 1985)
Skeet Shooting
After Hyper Olympic did well in the arcades Konami followed up with Hyper Sports, which especially was successful since its release.  The arcade game had seven events whilst the 8-bit Famicom conversion carried three of its events, even lifting one event from Hyper Olympic (High Jump).  The same rules apply here: you've got up to three chances to qualify for the next event, otherwise you'll be dropped out entirely.  In the order that you do these events, you'll be partaking in Skeet Shooting, Triple Jump, Archery, and High Jump.  In the arcade original there were four other events: Swimming, Long Horse, Weight Lifting, and Pole Vault; but since those events didn't make it to the transition, I won't be talking about them.

Triple Jump
The first event in Hyper Sports is Skeet Shooting, one of the two games in the entire package that don't require liberal button tapping at all, which is actually refreshing for a change.  =)  You have fifteen seconds to shoot as many skeets as you need to qualify to the next event.  You have two crosshairs floating in front of you, one on your right and the other to the left.  Once the skeets get inside the crosshair, shoot it with the A button, and if it pops up from the left press anywhere in the Control Pad.  At first it will start off slow but then the momentum will pick up gradually so you'll have to find the perfect rhythm to get as many as you can.  Afterwards is the Triple Jump event where the goal is to land past the qualified point after having made the third jump.  The first thing you do is tap the running button until you make the first jump behind the white line, and then after you land you do another jump, and finally you do the ultimate jump.  Proper trajectory will have to taken into account if you wish to jump higher, closer, or farther.  A good way of doing so is to tap the A button as you press any of the directions in the Control Pad.  Faiure to jump before crossing the white line or not landing anywhere in the sand will result in a foul.

Archery
Once the Triple Jump is over you'll be partaking in the Archery event.  The objective here is to score as many points as you can by trying to shoot at the bullseye that moves from the top to the bottom (or vice versa in subsequent difficulty modes). You only have eight arrows at your disposal, so you must attempt to score just enough to qualify to the next event.  The first thing to be done is decide how much wind will be facing up or down (just roll with it), and you must hold down the A button until you feel you've got the proper angle trajectory.  What I recommend is not going above 6 degrees otherwise the arrow will fly off-course and possibly miss the target as a result.  The last event is the High Jump, leftover from Hyper Olympic.  It's one of the hardest in the game, but it is manageable with enough practice.  You must run all the way to the end until you reach the two poles with the bar on top of it, and then you must jump over said bar trying your best not to tip it otherwise it's a foul.  Like the Triple Jump you can tap the A button as you jump in the air with the Control Pad in order to gain more height, however you'll have to plan your trajectory angles very well in order to succeed.

High Jump
All the events are solid and tightly controlled, and the incorporation of strategizing your trajectory in certain events is great, too.  Once again, the game looks very colorful, albeit a little darker in certain spots and lacking line scrolling, and the animations are once again really good (even if the character design and the animations themselves are different).  This time there's a red border surrounding the score's HUD, the sound is good, and this time there's a short bit of music playing anytime you don't succeed.  The Skeet Shooting segment looks similar to the skeet shooting event from Duck Hunt, only you can see the shooter and you don't shoot a light gun at the TV screen (at least before flatscreen TVs became the norm).   The amount of challenge found here is good, and what's cool is how the subsequent loops add some gradual challenge throughout.  Hyper Sports is fun, and the events here are really good.

Track & Field is a great collection of events, in my opinion, and for Konami to assimilate two games in one cartridge was a really excellent decision.  The 8-bit rendition of the famous "Chariots of Fire" sounds very decent, and I like how the simple, swift two-frame blinking audience for whenever you succeed gives the illusion that the audience is applauding (accompanied by the applause sound effect that would be re-used in the Famicom adapation of the arcade title Circus Charlie).  There's a big amount of replay value to be found, and the longer you stay in the game the more gradually challenging it will become.  What's neat is how you don't have to necessarily play these events in order if you don't want to, but you can play these events in any order you wish via Select button.
Each of the two games (halves) look and feel different, and it's pretty easy to tell thanks to specific details.  Even the characters slightly look inconsistent, where the first player is pink-skinned with light brown hair wearing a magenta top in Hyper Olympic while in Hyper Sports the hair is darker brown, the skin tone is tan and the top is dark pink; in the first half the second player is black wearing blue shirts and a white top, while in the second half he's the same as the first player only the top is cyan.  Though that's just a minor nitpick of mine; in hindsight, I find it pretty amusing that two mustachioed athletes are competing against each other.  When you lose three times your character cries with his head down, and each win/loss animation is fairly interesting.
The winning animation from the first half is good, and so is the one from the latter half, but is it just me or does the way the second athlete raise his arms look weird?  0_O
The latter half has a decent loss animation as he scratches his head, and in the first half *laughs*  What the hell is that animation?!  Is it me or does he look like he's wearing a diaper standing like that?  XD  And what the hell is he doing?  Is he combing his hair as he's rubbing his chest up and down?  That is just as mind boggling as it it funny!!  XD

What's really great about Track & Field is how depending on what actions you've done there will be an easter egg that will pop up.  For example, if you and the adversary finish at the same time a character will sidewalk up from the right offscreen for extra points, and if you score equally thrice on the High Jump event a small astronaut will glide down to the ground.  It adds so much to the replay value, and it's always fun to see these brief easter eggs appear.

I first played Track & Field on a plug-and-play over at one of my cousins' house in Italy when I was little (in it they showed the American title screen and not the green one they used for the PAL version), and I always had a blast playing it (I think it was one of my most oft-played games on the plug-and-play); it's one of those NES games that's just as fun to play by yourself as it is to play with others.  Incidentally, it was one of the first games where I began to truly understand the difference between 50 MHz (PAL) and 60 MHz (NTSC), after I caught up with it on the NES back in '05-'06.  In Europe, classic 8-bit games would run approximately 16.7% slower than if they were being played in America (even the music would be slowed down), and while the latter had the games fill up the screen the former had the screen a little compressed with a black border above and below it.  It's often fascinating to learn these things as you grow up, though I do feel bad that European gamers had to put up with that for a long time before HDTVs would be the norm (I did hear that the speed issue was remedied midway in the SNES lifespan in Europe, but the borders were still there).  =(

Even though much of Track & Field will have you tap the A button many times, it's a very enjoyable game, and it's always fun to revisit every once in awhile.  Whether or not you're a fan of Olympic sports I recommend that you play this game, especially with two people, for it's very charming and enjoyable despite its simplicity and in my book it's fantastic.  So fantastic in fact that I wish its NES sequel Track & Field II wasn't such a letdown (to me, that is).  It may have more detailed visuals, looked realistic, have (muffled) voice samples, and offered more events than before, but I honestly felt that it lacked the overall charm and enjoyment that this game (two games, technically) offered, and in the end I thought it was a disappointing follow-up (I may divulge more about it one day, but not right now).  =(  The original is a fun game, and one of my favorites on the NES; and what do you expect from the company that gave us Castlevania, TwinBee, Antarctic Adventure, Parodius, Blades of Steel, Sparkster, Life Force, and Contra among other games and series?  =)

Hyper Olympic: 9.0/10
Hyper Sports: 8.5/10
Overall Package Score:
8.5/10
Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment and I hope you have a great day!  Take care!  =)
P.S.: I recall that on the plug-and-play when you were in the screen where you could choose which events you play, the Konami logo was gone (as expected when it comes to these systems) but the screen was just reduced to black (no greens-like border around them) save for the white words.
P.S. 2: My 2-for-1 Special reviews will not just be two games in one package, I will also review two games that are played individually.
P.S. 3: I learned from last time in my Mickey Mouse: Magic Wands! review, and put in a black border below each frame so that ugly watermark wouldn't go over the image on the bottom corner when I converted them to .gif animations.  I've also perfected a few seamless .gifs, which I'm actually proud of (save for the watermark, but otherwise not bad).  =)
P.S. 4: By the way, I just love how in the Archery event the athlete can magically shoot an arrow without a bow in his hand!

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