After publishing an array of excellent track and field titles for Sony's PlayStation console, Konami is back this year with International Track & Field for the Dreamcast. Sporting the ESPN brand, International Track & Field isn't simply a PlayStation game with improved visuals - it features smooth 60fps visuals, carpal tunnel-inducing gameplay, support for four players, and 12 Olympic-class events. It's not the ultimate track and field game by any means, but if you read on, you'll find out just how close Konami's latest effort comes.
International Track & Field features eight initial events: 100-meter dash, long jump, horizontal bar, pole vault, hammer throw, 110-meter hurdles, javelin throw, and clean and jerk weight lifting. Success in these events unlocks four additional events: the pommel horse vault, triple jump, trap shooting, and championship race. Although the game is teeming with events, additional mode selections and character options are nowhere to be found. There's a trial mode for practicing and a championship mode for competition, but that's the end of it. If you desire create-a-player or custom-team options, you won't find them here. Thus, International Track & Field opts to live or die by its event selection and gameplay.
Speaking of gameplay, International Track & Field rocks. Adhering to the double-tap control mechanics that Konami pioneered in the 1980s, International Track & Field is easy to pick up, hard to master, and physically tiring. Every event, whether it involves running or strength building, uses repeated tapping of the X and B buttons to increase onscreen speed or stamina meters. When the meters reach a certain level, the L trigger serves as an all-purpose jump, throw, lift, and swing button. Response is quick and precise, but most of all, the use of alternating button presses isn't frantic enough to make one consider using turbo-fire controllers. Under this scheme, International Track & Field's renditions of the 100-meter dash, long jump, pole vault, and hammer throw are better and more realistic than those found in any other modern track and field game. Of special mention is the game's horizontal bar event, which requires you to do Beatmania-style button presses at the peak of your spin in order to perform gymnastic movements. On the negative end of things, weight lifting requires five times more button-mashing than other events, and the javelin throw and triple jump rely too much on the Dreamcast's imprecise L trigger. When you get right down to it, though, the game excels at nine of its 12 events, and only one of those (weight lifting) is downright poor.
Although not as visually refined as Agetec's Virtua Athlete 2000, International Track & Field delivers its own unique blend of polygon-based graphics with a simplified, broadcast-style look. Camera angles sit just behind or to the side of participants, with the focus squarely upon the competitors as opposed to the stadiums they're in. International Track & Field doesn't pack much in the way of detail or polygons when it comes to crowd or background visuals, opting instead to make large, realistically fluid athletes. The game doesn't skimp where it counts, though, as actual on-field visuals are crisp when they need to be, such as during the long jump or hammer throw. If anything, you'll be too preoccupied by mashing buttons and watching "fake" humans run for their lives to notice that the crowd's not moving too much or that the flags aren't swaying. The game's sound - rife with varying degrees of footsteps, grunts, and landing effects - isn't bad either. A bit more background music would have been nice, but hearing the athletes groan, grunt, and strain is nevertheless pleasing.
Similar to Virtua Athlete 2000, International Track & Field is an excellent title. If you prefer character-oriented gameplay and career tracking features, Agetec's Virtua Athlete 2000 may be a better choice, but one can't deny that International Track & Field is the better game in terms of event variety and actual gameplay. Since the two games can't merge their high points, the nod this year goes to International Track & Field by a hair.