Track & Field stands as one of my favorite arcade games of all time. I played it a ton as a kid, back in the mid-1980s. When I make visits to FunSpot in Weirs Beach, New Hampshire, I play it at least five or six times… and I’m still ranked in the Top 10 in scoring for it on the Twin Galaxies Scoreboard.
Track & Field and I have history… more than 30 years of history. But let’s back up for a bit and break down the game, before talking about that personal history.
The main idea of Track & Field is to complete a series of six events, similar to what you’d see during the Olympic Games, and earn points based on the results from each event. The events are:
- 100-Meter Dash
- Long Jump
- Javelin Throw
- 110-Meter Hurdles
- Hammer Throw
- High Jump
The first four events rely heavily on building speed, which is done either by rapidly tapping the Run buttons or rapidly spinning the track-ball, depending on which variant of the coin-op that you’re playing. The 100-Meter Dash is the easiest of the events, as it solely relies on rapid button-tapping to succeed. Crucial fractions of a second can be shaved off by timing the start of the button-tapping routine with the sound of the starting gun. Any time under 10 seconds is very good, and anything under 9.5 seconds is excellent.
The Long Jump adds the use of the Jump/Throw button to the mix. Players rapidly tap the Run buttons, as they did for the 100-Meter Dash. As the runner approaches the white Jump Line, players press and hold the Jump/Throw button to launch the runner into the air and set the angle at which the runner will launch. (Hint: 42 degrees!) The event gives the player three attempts to qualify. If the runner takes off after passing the white Jump Line, it’s a foul and no result is recorded; this can happen even with skilled players, as waiting until the last possible moment to take off demands split-second timing. The Long Jump qualification distance gets tough by the third or fourth round, when jumps must clear 9 meters… but earlier rounds are more forgiving.
The Javelin Throw is next, and it’s very similar to the Long Jump. Players rapidly tap the Run buttons to gain speed, and then press and hold down the Jump/Throw button to begin the throw and set the angle of the throw. This event also has three attempts to qualify and to best previous efforts. Any throw that begins after the runner crosses the line is a foul, so timing is critical once again. This event is also well-known for an Easter Egg that can grant the player bonus points by throwing the javelin at an exceptionally high angle.
Next comes the 110-Meter Hurdles, which is the last of the intensive button-tapping events. This event is similar to the 100-Meter Dash, but hurdles are erected every 10 meters that must be cleared by tapping the Jump/Throw button before reaching them. Success in this event requires rhythm and pacing, as players must learn to gauge when to press the Jump/Throw button so that the runner clears the hurdle instead of tripping over it or colliding with it. Personally, I’ve head success by rapidly tapping only one of the Run buttons and using my other hand to press the Jump/Throw button at the right time… but individual results may vary.
The Hammer Throw has always been my nemesis. It doesn’t require any button-tapping, but rather precision timing. Once the on-screen athlete begins to spin around and his power and speed build, there are windows of time when players will hear a WHOOSH and see the hammer light up briefly. Pressing and holding the Jump/Throw button will initiate the throw and set the trajectory of the throw. As the on-screen athlete spins faster and as the power meter builds, the windows of time to press the Jump/Throw button shrink considerably. Poor timing will send the hammer careening against the throwing cage or into the crowd for a foul, while attempting a throw without enough power will result in not meeting the set qualification distance. This is a tough event that requires a TON of practice– even with three attempts– to get the best results; even after 30 years and hundreds of games, I still haven’t been able to consistently do well.
Finally, there’s the High Jump. This is a much different event, in terms of mechanics, than any of the previous five. A tap of the Run button sends the on-screen athlete running toward the crossbar. Before the runner reaches the crossbar, the Jump/Throw button must be tapped– and not held down– in order to launch into the air. Once the runner reaches the apex of his jump, players can tap or hold down the Jump/Throw button to decrease the angle and send the runner over the bar. I’ve personally tended to rapidly tap a Run button once the jump has started to see if I can add a bit of height to the jump, but I can’t really verify that this works.
Once the qualification height for the High Jump is cleared and three misses have been logged, one of two things will happen, depending on the setting of the coin-op. If the game is set to One Round, the game ends after the High Jump and the score displayed is the final score. Otherwise, the game continues as the events begin again with the 100-Meter Dash and the qualifying times/distances/heights are made a bit tougher.
Those are the basics of Track & Field. It’s a very simple game at its core, but it demands stamina, energy, and timing to play well. It’s a game that I have been fortunate to be pretty good at over the last 30+ years, dating back to first playing it in the Just Fun arcade at the Holyoke Mall at Ingleside in Holyoke, Massachusetts back in late 1983. I can’t explain why, but I’ve always had a decent amount of ability when it comes to rapid button taps or joystick wiggles. It didn’t take long before I was routinely spending at least 15-30 minutes on Track & Field per credit, and this came in handy when I was running short on tokens and wanted to make my arcade time last.
I’m still ranked in the Top 10 on the Twin Galaxies Scoreboard for Track & Field. I set that score while at FunSpot in 2002, competing in the International Classic Video Game Tournament. Twin Galaxies rules are that Track & Field is set to One Round play, so players must score well in every event while finding ways to earn extra points. The record score is 95,350 points, which was set in 2009. Amassing that score in only six events is an amazing feat. I’d prefer to set the game to Marathon settings and let players go as long as they are physically and mentally able to, but that’s just me.
For the console Track & Field experience, the Xbox 360 digital release of the arcade game ($4.99 USD from the Xbox Marketplace) is the best bet. It’s a near carbon-copy of the coin-op original, with only a few minor quibbles (such as input lag that makes the Hammer Throw a bit harder) that ding the experience slightly. The NES version of Track & Field (about $7 for a loose cartridge, or $26 complete in box) is a decent port of the arcade game, though it drops the Hammer Throw and adds three events from Hyper Sports (Konami’s coin-op sequel to Track & Field) in its place. Finally, International Track & Field for the PlayStation (about $4 for a loose disc, or about $19 complete in box) is an enjoyable and challenging experience that has events from both arcade games and from Track & Field II for the NES.
Whether it’s in the arcade or if it’s taking up a controller at home, Track & Field is a fun game to play any time– not just during the Olympics. Put your dexterity and reflexes to the test, and go for the Gold! (Just don’t use Turbo controllers.)