Sometimes you just get it right the first time you try. This was the case when Konami released Track & Field in arcades and completely nailed its mechanics right away, then spent decades trying (and arguably failing) to better them. Now that original arcade title has made it over to the Switch as part of Hamster’s ever-growing Arcade Archives library, and while these days it’s an acquired taste, those who acquire it will find a little button-basher that’s just as addictive as ever.
There are six events in total – 100m Dash, Long Jump, Javelin, 110m Hurdles, Hammer Throw and High Jump – and all are controlled with just two buttons: a run button and an action button. Don’t be deceived by the fact that the game actually gives you two run buttons (Y and A): whereas other athletics games that came after Track & Field offered two buttons and made you press them alternately to increase your running speed, this doesn’t work here and pressing just one button is the order of the day.
As ever with the Arcade Archives games, there are three ways of playing Track & Field: Original, High Score and Caravan mode. Original is the untouched arcade ROM, letting you use the L button to insert coins whenever you see fit, whereas High Score mode gives you a single credit and has you trying to build as impressive a score as possible until you fail to qualify for one of the events (the game loops if you win all six events, with the qualifying criteria raised).
Caravan mode, meanwhile, may at first seem a bit like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole: its whole ‘get as high a score as possible in 5 minutes’ concept was originally designed with shoot ‘em up games in mind, and given that Hamster insists on adding it to practically every retro port it releases you end up with games like football title Super Sidekicks where it’s essentially useless. Here, however – presumably down purely to luck – it’s arguably the best way of playing, because 5 minutes is conveniently just enough time to finish all six events.
Both HIgh Score and Caravan modes let you register your score on an online leaderboard to see where you shape up against other players, but the fact that Caravan is just enough to cover a single round of events (as opposed to the game looping in High Score mode) means the scores in its leaderboard feel like purer representations of each player’s score over all six disciplines. As a result, trying to beat your Caravan score becomes a real “okay, one more go” situation.
Track & Field remains as endearingly entertaining as it was when it first appeared 36 years ago. It’s a little on the pricey side considering it only has six events, one of which (the high jump) is a bit of a stinker, and is obviously a one-trick pony given its subject matter. But it still does that one trick better than most games that have succeeded it, so if you’re looking for a quick button-basher this is a good choice.