New International Track and Field

Pulled hamstrings, blisters and sprained ankles are all ailments commonly associated with rigorous sporting endeavour and come as standard if you happen to consider yourself to be a true sportsperson. Bearing this in mind, it's quite possible that Konami wished to establish some kind of apathy between athletic types and video game players when it produced the seminal arcade smash hit Track & Field way back in 1983.

You see, this arcade machine is responsible for countless instances of player injury, largely due to the fact that the participant was called upon to hammer the buttons as quickly as possible to replicate the superhuman effort required to excel at these sporting events.

With the Olympics just around the corner, Konami has cruelly decided it's time for gamers to suffer once again and has released a new instalment of this legendary series (coded by talented UK studio Sumo Digital), entitled New International Track & Field.

Naturally, this updated edition has undergone a subtle evolution in terms of controls. Button-mashing isn't on the menu anymore – instead we have some rapid stylus-work that succeeds in making things a little more varied, yet still manages to make your arm hurt after repeated play. It could be argued that in this regard at least the spirit of the original arcade game is alive and well.

Taking place over 24 different events, progress in New International Track & Field is ultimately dependent on you passing a series of four-event challenges. You have a set record to beat, which is usually fairly modest and shouldn't cause too much of problem. However, should you fail to achieve the correct time/distance/target in one of these events, you're promptly disqualified and must begin the four-event challenge anew.

Shunning the realistic graphics witnessed in more recent entries in the series (such as the excellent PlayStation version and its relatively likeable PS2 successor, for those familiar with them), New Track & Field instead showcases a cute and colourful appearance with dumpy characters and deliberately retro styling.

It's in this respect that the title truly shines. The presentation is wonderful, with some fantastic character design and bags of charm. Even the menu and option screens are a joy to navigate, packed as they are with vibrant colour and plenty of movement.

Add to this some particularly inspired sonic accompaniment, which includes a catchy remix of the theme from Chariots of Fire as well as several spot effect samples from the original 1983 arcade release, and New International Track & Field effortlessly strides past rival titles in terms of production, including Sega's well-received Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games.

Unfortunately, one area in which New Track & Field comes second to Sega's approach is in the variety of events. Mario and Sonic's sporting activities managed to at least distance themselves from each other when it came to controls (although not always successfully, it should be noted), but in Konami's effort too many of the events share a similar control interface.

It's not all bad, though – events like skeet shooting are simplistic in their execution but thoroughly addictive, and it could even be argued that the similarity of controls throughout the game helps build a feeling of consistency, making things more intuitive. From a purely personal standpoint, I found the controls in Mario & Sonic to be slightly more engaging, but there's not much in it – both games are essentially tied down by the same reliance of simplistic and easily-remembered touchscreen commands.

Another comparison one could make between the two games is the shallow nature of the solo experience. Playing on your own is fun for a while, as successful progress earns you bonus items like new outfits and, perhaps most importantly, new characters to play as – including fan favourites like Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid and Simon Belmont from Castlevania – but it soon becomes tiresome and repetitive. Just as was the case with Mario & Sonic.

However, New International Track & Field is rescued by one of the most startlingly comprehensive multiplayer modes I've yet experienced in a portable title. Naturally, there are the usual local wireless opinions for those of you that like humiliating your human opponent in person, but it's the online side of things that really elevates this release above other sporting titles.

Not only can you compete against other players online in different events, you can create a list of favoured opponents so you can easily locate them for future clashes. In addition to this, the game also keeps you up to speed on the performance of these rivals. For example, if they play a single-player game and beat your score for a particular event, that information is uploaded to the New International Track & Field community site via wi-fi and then flagged on your DS when you next power-up.

As you might imagine this creates a level of enmity the likes of which has seldom been seen outside of home console services like Microsoft's Xbox Live and is fully in keeping with the core ethos of Konami's original arcade version. Just as gamers back in the early '80s would feverishly inspect the high-score table of their local Track & Field cabinet before demolishing rival scores with glee, DS owners now have the chance to experience the same feeling of elation when they destroy a friend's world record.

To be honest, just as the original Track & Field was criticised for being too simplistic, this update doesn't do a great deal to counter such an accusation. In single-player it's unlikely to hold your interest for long but when the online portion of the game is as stunning and as likely to leave you as breathless as an Olympic sprinter, that doesn't seem to matter.

New International Track and Field

Gorgeous presentation and an astonishingly complete online element help New International Track and Field overcome its relatively minor issues and ascend very close to the top step of the podium