In a field of whimsical takes on Olympic eventing, The Game Factory’s World Championship Games: A Track and Field Event stands out as a downright serious take on the likes of hurdling, javelin and archery. The game is intense, and very focused on a rather particular control scheme that ranges from pleasant and addictive to downright maddening over the fourteen different events.
There are three single-player game play modes: Quick Play, Tournament and Decathlon. Quick play allows you to choose from all of the available events, select a difficulty, and hone your skills. This mode seems to be most helpful for events you just can’t figure out, though I could see playing this way if you are particularly attached to one event above others. Decathlon is like career mode and has you facing off in ten events. You will be going after gold medals, though you can always just work to get a new personal best or beat the world record. Tournaments follow the same pattern as Decathlons, but the events you play are determined by which of the five countries you choose to compete in. Trophies earned can be viewed in your game’s trophy case and all your stats are recorded.
The easily navigable menu will walk you through what at first glance seems like a world of options. Among them are three difficulty modes: Rookie, Pro or Advanced. Players will likely feel more open to experimenting with difficulties in Quick Play. For the extremely – and diversely – talented, the challenge may be welcome, but I found some of the events too near-impossible to venture past Pro in Tournament and Decathlon.
100m and 400m sprints as well as the 1500m and 110m hurdles make up the track events. The shorter sprints are some of the more simply controlled events, as you just have to tap footprints as they cross a horizontal bar on the lower screen much like a running rhythm game. The top screen shows your progress within the rest of the field. Tapping the footprints with greater precision will boost your speed, and holding either trigger as you cross the finish line will allow you to lean forward to victory. The 1500m adds a dash of strategy as you have to monitor your stamina, progress and speed in order to win. This is an event for the patient, or those who revel in repetition and monotony.
It’s critical that you master the basic running technique as it is repeated in other events like the long jump and hurdles. If, however, you haven’t grown a third eye or trained the left to operate separately from the right you are pretty much screwed on hurdles. While the top screen monitors your progress towards a hurdle the footstep tapping – which requires a reasonable amount of attention for accuracy – is all on the lower screen. Isn’t it bad enough I’ll never be a hurdler in real life?
Long jump takes the basic running method and adds the trigger so that you can time the jumping and adjust the landing. In high jump your character speeds toward the bar by rubbing the stylus back and forth on the lower screen, then you tap a trigger to jump which pulls up a progress meter and a meter that shows your bend as you fight to clear the bar. Sounds a bit tricky right? It can be, and frustrating too, especially as a rotten bend in what is the last stage of the event’s game play almost always means a knocked pole.
The throwing events include shot-put, hammer, javelin and discus. Shot-put, discus and hammer have you rubbing the stylus on the lower screen as you monitor your momentum in a progress bar. Once your power reaches the desired level you tap a trigger to prompt a meter for your throwing angle and release. Javelin begins in the same way but adds the ability to adjust your throwing angle and keep the javelin balanced. Supporting a javelin while running at a steady pace is no easy task. Archery, running target and rapid pistol fire are far more straightforward events. You aim with the stylus and use a trigger for firing. You are able to steady your aim in the shooting events which drains your “accuracy stamina”, and in archery you have to factor in adjustments for wind.
With a total of four multi-player options Track and Field has versatility for the social DS owner. Single card play does limit the players to four of the events, but WFC and multi-card are also available – though I was unable to bump into anyone out in the ether that was also playing the game. Multi-player still takes the players’ understanding of the events for granted. In what seems to be an effort to streamline the “watch and wait” nature of letting someone else compete in an event before it’s your turn, the controls are not reviewed before each event. Given their relative complexity – and that they change for each sport – this makes it hard to lure friends inexperienced with the game into a face-off, and once you do they may feel a bit cheated.
The game’s presentation strives for realism, and comes up a bit shy; while the clean menus are professional and the camera angles used reflect those of real-life coverage of sporting events, the sights and sounds just don’t add up to a win. The audio is just too limited with audience murmurs during events, some cheering, and the occasional victory sounds – and I still heard the same audience voice say “Can I help you?” over and over. Track and Field certainly bring a note of seriousness to a cartoony gaming genre – except for the character models’ spatula hands and droopy drawers. Players begin the game by customizing their character. With the ability to alter the sex, skin tone, hair color, body build, and country it is a bit remarkable how similar all the competitors will look.
At its core a collection of sporty mini-games, World Championship Games: A Track and Field Event is a bit atypical. A little behind the times as far as Summer Olympics go, a little gawky in its presentation, and with game play that is downright frustrating at times the fun events are often interrupt by the feeling of sterility. That said, a number of the events are fun little time killers, and others have just the right amount of challenge to be compelling. The overall package, however, will likely only appeal to real track and field devotees and those still struck with Olympic fever.