This week here on Skirmish Frogs is Portable Gaming Week which is a fine topic as any to have a wander, or in this instance for today’s lookback, a 100m dash down memory lane for a game that still holds dear even to this day.
As a kid, the whole idea of playing video games on the move was such a fantastic idea it’s still a surprise that kids weren’t continually hyped up and continually bottom-burped in excitement at the thought of taking Mario, Link and all their favourite characters in portable games wherever they went – to the beach, to the toilet I mean everywhere! For most people, the first foray into this exciting time may have lied with Tetris and yes it is easy to get nostalgic over this puzzle game with it’s infectious yet repetitive Type-A music and the link cable to play with a sibling or friend in car journey’s. For me, Tetris was fine but it didn’t quite capture excitement, exhiliration, and all the other great adjectives starting with E. It was Easy (another adjective beginning with E) to buy video games for me, having liked watching sports and playing sports, chances are that snotty Exciteable (note anot…you get the gist) little kid would want to play Sports Video Games. And they’d be right.
Track Meet was released in Europe in 1992 on the Game Boy based on the spirit of the 1992 Olympic Games held in Barcelona. I hate to break hearts and cause disappointment but the true love of button-bashing games for me did NOT come from Track And Field (though years after Track Meet I would get to experience the joy of T&F) but from this portable classic. You get to play 7 Olympic-type events: 100m, hurdles, javelin throw, pole vault, long jump, discus throw and weightlifting. In the same vein as T&F, you battle one-on-one against a computer opponent that gradually gets more difficult. You start off against Ricky The Barbarian (mugshot below) who as the implies, is slow but very strong. You’ll destroy him in the running events but try taking him on in weightlifting and you’ll wear out the buttons on your Game Boy quicker than I could run the 100m. Which isn’t fast, nor pretty.
The beauty in the games lies in both the controls and the challenges you encounter whilst you progress through the game. The controls for the events are simple, responsive and make you feel that if you were not quick enough in a race, or could not hammer the button quick enough to raise your power bar in the weightlifting events, it was not down to the fault of the game (Take note Atlanta 1996 on the Mega Drive, for shame) but down to how good YOU were at mashing that button. The A button would usually be the run or power button and the B button would be the action button, so your character might jump for instance in the hurdles, or throw the discus. Nowadays Olympic-type games have so many ways of playing them, in terms of controlling analog sticks and tapping buttons in rhythm to the game’s beat, but Track Meet does the button-mashing genre well and relies on your technique. The challenge of the game is the increased difficulty of your opponent, who each have their own strength and weakness. There is not some great difficulty spike that appears suddenly, but you will have to perform better and better throughout the course of the game if you stand any chance of completing it – as obvious as this sounds, you cannot coast through the game getting lucky and winning events you shouldn’t have – you have to bring your A-Game, or your gold-medal winning game to this.
When all is said and done, Track Meet is a pure button-mashing Olympics-type game which for me is on par with Track and Field. What is great with these type of games is that everyone has a different technique they use to achieve maximum efficiency with the mashing (sounds like a good business theorem) – be this the sock method or the pen-lid method. For those who have read to this point and wondering my technique, it was (and still is) a straight-forward old-fashioned rootin’-tootin’ Game-Boy-on-the-floor-getting-stumpy-fingers technique that propelled me to victory. Or the fourth competitior at least. Games like this turned boys into men, from cats into tigers and gave kids like me the feeling of being a gold-medal winner. And when all is said and done, isn’t that what games should be about, no matter the genre or the platform you play it on? To make you feel like a winner, like you can accomplish anything and climbed Rocky-type stairs and overcoming adversity to be the best and to win? That is why I love Track Meet ever so, for without this I wouldn’t have stumpy fingers…I mean the love for athletic games like I have, and to have the tenacity to never give up, no matter what or whom is thrown at you. So for that Track Meet I thank you, you’ll always be a gold-medal winner in my eyes.
As always, I thank you for reading this far and sharing this journey with me. Until the next time we meet, pip pip.