Track & Field: is it back?

The joystick waggler is coming back! Veterans of Track & Field, Hyper Sports, Daley Thompson's Decathlon etc, please stand to attention...!

Track & Field. It hurts just to look at it

My first encounter with Track & Field? It was in an arcade positioned next door to the hotel my family were staying at on holiday one year. As an impressionable ten or eleven year old, I stood in awe of the machine that was doing far more damage to the hands and wrists of kids of a generation than, er, other ‘teenage pursuits’. It didn’t make your palms hairy, either.

Truthfully, the concept had been introduced to me in the form of the peerless Daley Thompson’s Decathlon on the ZX Spectrum. People joke now about the damage that games like this did your keyboard and joystick. But back then it was no laughing matter when my third QuickShot went potty half way through the pole vault. They weren’t cheap, y’know.

Daley pioneered the joystick wagglers, where kids such as myself who had long since passed over the notion of sporting prowess instead had to physically exert themselves to try and beat their dad’s time at the 100m. On the 8-bit home computers, Decathlon was as good as it got, really, and limbs still wince at the mere sight of the box art. The forgettable – nay, shit – Daley Thompson’s Super Test we’ll pass over.

But back to that Track & Field machine. As I stood looking at it, the assembled other kids started murmuring as someone walked up to the machine. It was clear that this was the local Track & Field celebrity – and didn’t every arcade have one?

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As he approached the three buttons in front of him, his technique soon became clear, as he opened his mouth and proceeded to liberally gob all over them.

This, he argued, was his required lubrication, and instead of diligently tapping the two buttons required to run, he slid his hand back and forth across them in a manner than both broke the ten second barrier at the 100m, and garnered him some, ahem, ‘transferable skills’ for later life. It also became clear that the reason he held all the records on the machine was that nobody was keen to touch those buttons once they’d been greased with his flob.

Track & Field last appeared on a home console back at the launch of the Playstation 2, and what was the joystick-waggler, which in the era of the gamepad became the button masher, has been virtually non-existent since (save for an Olympic tie in here and there). It’s a tragedy that a generation of kids won’t get the kind of Track & Field injuries that we all used to wear as a badge of honour. And there’s also a whole generation of dads who won’t have had the chance of insisting it’s loaded up, knowing it’s the one game they can beat their sodding kids at.

But perhaps they will get that chance. Because, through the Xbox Live Arcade service, it appears that Track & Field may be making a return appearance. Details aren’t fully known yet, but this has to be good news. What’d ice the cake is if it were one of the later, more advanced iterations of the game, rather than that arcade original. I don’t want to have to spit on my gamepad after all. But there’s also the point that the multi-player mode on International Track & Field was simply sublime.

This is the beauty of Xbox Live Arcade, the Wii Virtual Console and the Playstation Store, and it’s great to see them being so successful. While we have some problems with the pricing structure for the crap old games, it does mean publishers can take more risks, and punt out titles that’d struggle to make their money back on through the retail channels, but will easily justify their costs via download.

I, for one, will gladly hand over however many shekels Microsoft will be demanding for the game. And I, for one, am likely to find myself in the company of a specialist in the next five years as a result. But if I manage to finally – finally! – beat my record at the long jump, heck it would have been worth it.

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If and when the game appears on Live Arcade, you’ll know for two reasons. Firstly, we’ll have a review here. And secondly, I’ll be moaning about how much pain I’m in.

Something to look forward to, I’m sure you’ll agree…