Track & Field’s seminal and physically-challenging gameplay is a shock to the system when placed before contemporary console gamers. The Nintendo Wii notwithstanding, the latest generation of gaming (and the former) typically focuses on nuanced actions, precision handling, and sometimes barely perceptible button-encoded combinations. Today’s gamer has well-worn WASD keys or genetically superior thumb musculature, whereas the early ‘80s Track & Field player engaged in session after session of erk-and-jerk button-mashing exercises. It may not have gotten your balance to attain Wii Fit standards, but is certainly took wack-a-mole gaming to hyperactive new heights.
The Olympic events in Track & Field bring to Xbox Live Arcade what essentially began in 8th century B.C. Greece, by way of Reaganomics-era arcades. The original arcade boasted two “run” buttons and one “action” button. This layout is mirrored on the controller with X, Y, and A, respectively (the in-game instructions are wrong). It’s an admirable hat tip to the original, but proves itself completely impractical on a standard gamepad. Rocking the left thumbstick or d-pad left and right is far more suitable, and mirrors the motions that busted many a Commodore 64 Boss joystick back in the day.
The recent XBLA version boasts audio nips and tucks (a vaguely more discernable announcer’s voice), as well as a Botox injection or two (sharper lines here, tufts of sand there). Track & Field presents six stages of events in unvarying order: 100 Meter Dash, Long Jump, Javelin Throw, 110 Meter Hurdles, Hammer Throw, and High Jump. Gameplay is self-explanatory except in the case of the last event, High Jump, which requires a unique set of instructions you’ll probably have to look up if you want to stand a chance of completing the event, and thereby continuing by looping back to the first event in the series, the 100 Meter Dash.
The smartly-added XBLA Leaderboard throws a few more quarters down the slot as far as replay value is concerned; but the 110 Meter Hurdles board is bugged or hacked, since I’m not even sure Jesse Owens could’ve blasted through them in 0.10 seconds. A solid set of achievements -- to include spearing a bird (!) in the Javelin Throw -- further springboards replayability, possibly racking up an even 200 Gamer Points.
In theory, Track & Field plays best in Live competition, but lag (even when you have “full green bars” under your ping status) throws off the do-or-die timing required for precisely-timed button presses. Notably, the 110 Meter Hurdle event had me stumbling all over the track, I fouled every 2 out of 3 hammer throws, and I couldn’t land a High Jump to save my life. But, to be fair, I can’t even land a High Jump in the solo game with its disproportionately complex requirements.
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Track & Field was the notable forebear of many similarly-themed arcades that mimicked its button-mashing tactics. Today, it carries with it that seminal notoriety, plus it admirably steps up its graphical presentation and small audio ticks on XBLA. But connectivity issues and its inherently throw-your-controller-out-the-window gameplay mechanics, sadly, keep this 100 meter dash through nostalgia settling for the bronze.
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