I wasted a lot of time as a kid because of Track and Field. I'm not old enough to have been playing the original arcade version, but the PlayStation game which moved the series to 3D ruined quite a few controllers. The gameplay was so simple, but the competition was fierce. Hammering buttons was almost caveman-like compared to the complex controls seen in other games, but being able to move your fingers at a speed which seemed super human was, at the time, a bigger achievement than any other game could offer. We even use tools to 'aid' our performance, with everything from coins to golf tees being tested for optimal glide speed across the buttons. Trying to capitalise on us high-score junkies once more is New International Track and Field on the DS, and gaming-inflicted injuries seem guaranteed.
In this brand new game created exclusively for the Nintendo DS by Sumo Digital things aren't quite what they used to be. The biggest change is the introduction of touch screen controls (although not forced, the game was clearly designed to be played this way). Almost every event requires you to move your stylus across or around the screen in combination with button presses and holds at key moments. If you thought hammering buttons was tiring, running the 100m by repeatedly stroking your stylus back and forth across the screen is almost as tough as running in real life.
There are 24 events in total, although you'll need to work through the game's career mode (a series of 4-discipline events) in order to unlock them all. Each event has a qualification time/distance/score that must be met for you to progress or it's game over and you'll have to try all four events again. Qualification is just the beginning, with your overall place on the podium at the end of all four events being determined by the overall score, as in other multi discipline sports such as decathlon.
Something I wasn't really expecting from a Track and Field game is how tricky some of the events are. I'm used to hammering buttons and getting close to or breaking world records right off the bat, but here I was nowhere near. Early on my best efforts to break the speed of sound on the 100m track resulted in fairly disappointing times in the 12-13 second range. Other events such as the triple jump seemed designed for Jonathan Edwards himself, and the timing-based trick events such as diving and vault were just too much for my small brain to handle. I had to work hard for records.
Depth in a game of this type may not be for everyone, but it's made for a sports game on the DS that doesn't feel like a heavily cut down console game. Throughout the game you'll earn gold stars which unlock new costumes for characters. Successfully completing the career mode unlocks new challenge events (such as a swimming challenge for classic Konami character Frogger) and you'll also gain access to bonus characters. When playing alone the game has a lot to offer, but it's really the multiplayer support and online functionality that will give New International Track and Field legs.
You can play locally with other DS users, either using a single game cart or with multiple copies of the game - if you each have your own copy you can place bets on the outcome of races. This is where the true competitive nature of Track and Field comes into play, making it one of the best multiplayer DS titles on the market. The difficulty of certain events will restrict choice somewhat if you're playing with beginners, but almost everyone should be able to play the basic events without too much trouble. What's more, this all works online too. You can be sat on your sofa playing against virtual athletes located miles away. Add in comprehensive online leaderboards, a community site and an in-game news feed and you have one of the most complete sports packages the DS has seen.
On the DS we don't expect much in terms of presentation, but Sumo has created a great set of characters and art style that isn't hampered by the handheld's processing power. It's certainly simple to look at, but that's part of its charm. Menus are all designed well and all the info you need is easy to find. The in-game tutorials could have been better, but it's nothing a few tries at an event don't sort out.
With the Olympic Games just around the corner, New International Track and Field on DS is a perfect companion. Although it's missing the official licence, it's incredibly addictive and packed full with unlockables. The online play is the icing on the cake, making this a game every DS owner would be wise to have in their back pocket this summer.