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Track & Field II Review Rewind


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On 07/24/2020 at 10:00 AM by Jamie Alston

Bigger, but not better.
RECOMMENDATION:

Though sporting beautifully detailed visuals, the grueling gameplay mechanics feel like a stumble on the way to the finish line.

In 1988, the Summer Olympics took place in Seoul, South Korea. Capitalizing on this event, Konami released the latest game in their Hyper Sports series, Konamic Sports in Seoul on the Famicom. The game was released a year later in the US as Track & Field II. If the original Track & Field were a person, it would be the humble, modest friend quietly entering the room. Track & Field II, on the other hand, is more like the gregarious guy that wants to be the life of the party. Instead of the meager eight sporting events of the first game, this one features 15 athletic events (11 of which were new to the NES series).

Returning were familiar favorites like the triple jump, hurdles, clay pigeon shooting, and archery, among others. New events included:

High Diving
Fencing
Hammer Throw
Taekwondo
Horizontal Bar (Gymnastics)
Freestyle Swimming
Hang Gliding
Canoeing
Pistol Firing
Arm Wrestling (2-player only)

Track & Field II received a major graphical update from its predecessor. Simply put, it looks gorgeous. Athlete character sprites are appropriately scaled for each event, and in some cases, very well detailed. It gives the game more of a realistic look than in the previous one. When starting the Olympic mode, you are treated to a scene of an airplane landing on a runway, followed by the parade of nations opening ceremony.

The backgrounds are well-detailed with spectators, scoreboards, luscious greenery, and a hint of parallax scrolling in some events. The animations of the athletes are equally impressive. This is perhaps best exemplified during the horizontal bar routine. When performed correctly, the athlete moves fluidly. There’s no question that Konami put their best foot forward with visual presentation.

As impressive as the graphics are, the game, unfortunately, suffers from a few significant issues that hold it back from winning the gold. For starters, the controls aren’t as intuitive as they should be. On the one hand, events like the triple jump, pole vault, and hurdles work well enough because you only need to focus mainly on rapidly pressing one button until you need to jump at the proper time. However, other events introduce the use of additional button inputs that can sometimes make it exceedingly difficult to meet the success criteria.

Freestyle swimming, for example, tries to simulate the swimmer’s need to take breaths while keeping pace in the pool, so you’re expected to alternate between tapping A for speed and B for oxygen. While it’s a simple-sounding task on paper, it’s a bear to attempt in practice. The same is true for the hammer throw event where you have to press the d-pad in a circular motion to build the power meter before releasing and adjusting the angle of the ball. Trying to maintain the momentum necessary to keep the power meter full feels arduous and uncomfortable on your thumb.

Another problem is that the rules for specific events are needlessly complicated. In the canoeing course, you’re supposed to pass through each gate in numerical order. The caveat is that some gates are either out of sequence or must be entered while facing the opposite direction. As if that weren’t enough, a few gates require you to loop around and enter from downstream before continuing upstream to the next gate. Since you have to tap the desired direction on the d-pad while moving repeatedly, it doesn’t make for the smoothest experience.

While the game does give you the option to use the Zapper light gun, it isn’t for the clay pigeon shooting challenge. Instead, you have to use the controller to line up the target box and shoot the flying discs. Meanwhile, the Zapper only functions with the optional shooting gallery mini-game that can be played between sets of events in the Olympic mode.

Although the mini-game plays just fine with the Zapper and the clay shooting event works well enough with the standard controller, it’s maddening that I can’t use the Zapper for clay shooting. It’s arguably the most obvious reason to include functionally of the peripheral in the first place, and it’s a real missed opportunity. Such a strange omission suggests that perhaps the programmers just wanted to tease players a bit.

Archery was my favorite event in the original Track & Field. But here in the sequel, not so much. This is due in large part to the fact that not only do you have to mash the A button to pull your bow, but you also have to press the B button to release the shot. Additionally, the game wants you to calculate the correct angle to compensate for wind resistance in various directions.

The problem is that it’s difficult to determine just how far in either direction you need to angle your shot before releasing the arrow. Compared to the other events that only require you to mash one button and be done with it, the archery game practically requires a degree in mathematics to succeed (or at least a useful FAQ guide). Not a fun time for the average player.

The last gripe I’ll mention is that the qualification criteria in the Olympic mode are a bit high for a game that already demands much in terms of adjusting to multiple controller configurations depending on the sporting event. For instance, trying to fill the power bar so you can make the 50-meter mark for the hammer throw or the 58 second time limit for the swimming event just isn’t pleasant to attempt. While I suppose one could argue that the idea is to simulate the rigors of each sport, it shouldn’t come at the expense of overall enjoyment.

With as many complaints as I’ve mentioned in this review, I know it appears as if I’m down on this game. The truth is that I enjoy playing Track & Field II, even with its flaws. Some of the problems with the controls can be easily overcome with a turbo-enabled controller like an NES Max pad or Advantage joystick. But objectively, the issues with the controls, convoluted rules, and arduous qualification requirements in the Olympic mode make this game hard to recommend- especially to newcomers. The graphics are prettier, and the athletic offerings are more varied, but bigger isn’t always better.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

SanAndreas

07/24/2020 at 04:18 PM

I had the original T&F and Activision Olympic Decathlon on Atari computer. Both of them simulated running by wiggling the Atari stick back and forth. I cheesed my way through those games with a Trak-Ball with a turbo switch. I also had a decathlon game on our old TRS-80 computer which worked the same way and gave you funny messages and animations. The company that made it was none other than a very early Microsoft, just a few years after Bill got arrested for hot-rodding in the Albuquerque desert. 

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

07/25/2020 at 02:45 AM

I remember reading about the Decathlon games and having to move the joystick back and forth to simulate movement. Honestly, it doesn't sound like much fun, but maybe it's one of those situations where I had to have ”been there” to understand how good it was.

SanAndreas

07/25/2020 at 03:26 AM

Well, you just had to have been... No, wiggling the joystick back and forth sucked even then. That Trak-Ball sure helped me blow through the events though in both the Activision and Konami games.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

07/25/2020 at 08:01 AM

I have to admit, I played this game A LOT. I can't explain why. For some reason me and my brothers enjoyed it. My older brother, who didn't play a lot of video games, really enjoyed the kayaking event. The funny thing is how trying to figure out how to play the events is a game in itself. 

Yes, it isn't very good. And yes, you need an Advantage joystick to do some of the events. For some reason though, this game captured my imagination when I was a kid. 

KnightDriver

07/25/2020 at 08:01 AM

This does look great for a NES game, and so many events. 

Cary Woodham

07/25/2020 at 08:45 AM

I THINK my friend rented this game once, but I don't remember playing it much.  What I remember most about it was it got a front page feature in one of the first Nintendo Power magazines, and I remember the graphics looking pretty good for the time.  

I never got into Track & Field games very much, except at a summer band camp we all stayed in college dorms that were empty for the summer, and the dorm lobby had arcade games and Track & Field was one of them.  That's where I learned all the secrets in the game!

I did get International Track & Field on the DS, because there was a bunch of playable Konami characters in it.  Like Frogger and even one of the ladies from Rumble Roses!  But the game wasn't very good and I don't recommend getting it unless you want to tear up your DS.  The game was brutal on the touch screen!

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