The formula that most track-and-field games follow was established in the early '80s with Track and Field. The majority of events demanded that players slam alternately on two buttons as fast as they possibly could, a controller-breaking maneuver that has carried over to just about every virtual sprint competition since then. Konami's latest spin on the series, New International Track and Field, adds in online play, a wide array of events, and big-headed characters from Konami's far-reaching past. However, the controls are largely unchanged. Although it's still utterly frantic and exhausting to try to keep up with your competitors, the tight controls and wealth of unlockables make this a solid game.
There are two different control options this time: standard button-tapping and new touch-screen scribbling. Though Konami has taken advantage of the Nintendo DS's touch screen for this version, the new controls require just as much stamina from you as the original version. Both methods are extremely responsive, but the touch screen serves as a better entry point for participants who are new to the field. It's easier to get your speed up to a respectable level, but your peak performance will be compromised. Experts should stick with the standard controls. Although it requires more energy from you, tapping buttons provides a potentially higher top speed. Either technique will get you through the main challenges without too much trouble, but if you want to flaunt your talents online, you had better learn to love the button-tapping.
For those who demand more nimble-fingered skill than hard-headed determination in their athletic competitions, the majority of the events in NITF require good timing in addition to frantic tapping. The best button masher in the world won't even be able to jump over the foul line or throw a discus straight ahead without mastering the ultraprecise timing that these events demand. The initial learning curve is surprisingly high before you figure out optimal throwing angles and when you need to stop running to avoid getting faults. The tutorial doesn't provide too much help with easing you into these events, either. The controls are spelled out, but you'll have to discover on your own, through trial and error, exactly how to excel. It can be quite rewarding to finally pass an event that has plagued you for attempt after failed attempt, but getting through that initial frustration is an athletic feat on its own.
Some events won’t result in such physical exhaustion. The shooting competitions are really well done. In skeet shooting, you quickly slide your aim to the clay pigeons flying out in front of you, stringing together consecutive hits for massive points. Double trap is even better; here you'll have targets flying from either side, and you choose to shoot either left or right. The concentration required in these two events is quite demanding. You have 15 seconds to hit as many targets as you can, so one mistake could cost you the gold. Other events, such as gymnastics and diving, are not quite as exciting. The score is determined more by how many flips you can pull off rather than how well you land, so it's possible to qualify after doing a massive belly flop. All of the events require their own technique and, given that the controls never get in the way, they all have their own charm.
The career mode sets you off in six different sets of four events across three difficulty levels. The difficulty is sometimes erratic, though, which can make some of the easy rounds far more difficult than they should be. For instance, while flipping off of the vault, you can land on your back and still move on to the next event, but swimming requires a near-perfect start and finger-crippling determination to place. Nevertheless, the requirements are kind enough in the early goings that you can learn the events before you take on the harder tasks.
There is plenty of reason to keep playing long after you've tried your hand at all 24 events. NITF is loaded with unlockable goodies. New outfits for your characters may not sound too enticing, but there is a much cooler treat if you stick with the game long enough. There are eight classic Konami characters that you can earn that add a lot more personality than the generic-looking stereotypes that you start the game with. Little-known Sparkster makes his first appearance since 1994, but if that doesn’t get you dancing, old standbys like Solid Snake and Simon Belmont can try their hand at the steeplechase.
New International Track and Field doesn't reinvent the genre, but it does throw in some much-needed diversity to the standard mashing action. The online, single-, and multicard four-player competitions add a lot of life for people eager to show off their skills. For those who would rather play the computer, the bevy of unlockables should take hours to earn. At its core, this is the same basic game from the early '80s, but the cute visuals, different control options, and classic characters make it feel like it belongs alongside modern games. If you're anxious for more track-and-field action and don't mind putting your Nintendo DS through some extended wear and tear, New International Track and Field will satiate your need for button-mashing chaos.