Somehow, Gaming Hell cannot escape the lure of the mutli-event sports game. We'd better limber up again!
The first time we covered the genre on this site we accidentally set the bar high, impossibly high for any unfortunate to follow in its footsteps- the Namco duology Numan Athletics & Mach Breakers. In that article we mentioned that the venerable Track & Field arcade games (a series which we'd go back to for New International Track & Field) pretty much went unopposed in the arcades at the time, with the exception of Taito's Field Day (and, uh, Hunchback Olympic I guess). Most multi-event sports titles to take influence from Track & Field would be found on home consoles instead, such as Daley Thompson's Olympic Gold and Alien Ughlympics. Additionally, Field Day came just a year after Track & Field, whereas most of the other arcade challengers in the genre like SNK's Gold Medalist, Konami's own Combat School and Taito's Recordbreaker, came in the late '80s instead.
So, now let's finally talk about Field Day. Sure, why not, we'll probably cover all of 'em eventually.
Released in 1984, from this side of the world Field Day seems like a strange Track & Field clone at first brush due to its themeing- one that only has ladies participating- until you see the game was released in Japan as The Undoukai. Sorry, I mean THE Undoukai. That's a term usually translated as 'Sports Festival' or sometimes 'Sports Day', and hidden text inside the game (thanks, TCRF) refers to the game more specifically as 'Dokoka no gyoshiryoo no undoukai', or 'Some Womens' Dorm's Sports Day'. So, it's a traditional Undoukai, which you can read more about over here or simply refer to the Azumanga Daioh episodes about their Sports Festival, but a quick summary for our purposes is it's like a British or American Sports Day, but instead of Egg and Spoon Races (is that a thing in America?) [Please don't email in answers to this, we truly do not care. - Ed] there's things like rolling giant balls or obstacle courses where you have to grab bread with your teeth. So, when you realise Field Day isn't really a straight Track & Field Olympic-level kind of game, but instead some kind of student or amateur event, then the odd choice of events makes sense. In order, with illustrations courtesy of the instruction card as scanned by the Natsuge Museum Twitter (from the now-defunct arcade of the same name) those events are the Ball-Toss where you have to get the right angle to land balls in the net; the 3-Legged Race where two athletes tied together have to make it to the end of the track; the Bell-Ringer where you have to hit a puck up a ten-metre pole; the Obstacle Race that includes pommel horses, hurdles and a piece of bread you have to eat; the Softball-Toss that only counts the first bounce as you go for the furthest throwing distance; the 120 Meter Relay Race which is exactly as it sounds; and finally the Tug of War where button-mashing is the order of the day for taking your team to victory.
As different as they are though, events are structured in the same was as Track & Field- three buttons (two to build speed or power, one sandwiched in the middle for actions like jumping or throwing), a qualifying score or time for each event, and failure means the end... Well, no it doesn't, actually. On the default settings, yes, failing to qualify dumps you out the game, but while Track & Field only had an extend setting, giving you an extra try once you hit a points threshold, altering the dips on Field Day lets you start with an extra try! Failing to qualify for an event when these settings are in place means you just lose a life and still move on to the next event, similar to the system in Mach Breakers where you can skip an event you're struggling on, except you don't get the opportunity to retry an event, you just skip straight ahead. This is a nice little concession if the machine's set that way, and on the whole Field Day feels ever-so-slightly easier than Konami's entries in the genre... Kind-of. On the default settings, the qualifying times are fairly lenient (with the second loop eschewing that for being out-and-out brutal, good luck sinking 40 balls in Ball Toss) and once you figure out how the events work, they're quite simple to do successfully in terms of execution, nothing on the level of the brutal High Jump event from Track & Field that, to this day, I still suck at (I feel I need a degree in astrophysics to figure that one out) or anything that requires an absurd level of mashing. I mean, there is mashing, but not 'later bonus stages in Fatal Fury' mashing. Some Japanese sources (JP Wikipedia and the like) say the game's too difficult, but I honestly disagree, as someone who's played a fair number of these kinds of games, the qualifying times here are pretty reasonable in the first loop at least!
That said, Field Day may have some fairly simple events, but it also has some rather odd design choices that do slightly damper my enjoyment, mostly related to the order of events and the number of attempts you get. Ball-Toss, for instance, is pretty cleverly implemented- you mash one of the Run buttons to keep the angle of your shot level and press Action to throw a ball- but it's also the first event, and having only 20 seconds on the clock to figure this out isn't ideal, even if you have the instruction panel available. The Three-Legged Race doesn't ask you to mash one button like hell, you need to alternate, in rhythm, to get both the maximum speed and to prevent your athletes from tripping over (because they're not co-ordinating properly if you don't, get it?) but if you don't realise that or can't figure out the rhythm (which is more specific than other running events) you'll keep tripping over. Finally, the Obstacle Course has two things that aren't immediately obvious, you need to press the Action button twice to clear the pommel horse (which would be on the instruction card, at least) and failing to grab the food is an instant foul which is a really mean trick, instructions or not. What these three events have in common is that you only get one attempt at them before forfeiting a life or the game entirely. Now, yes, Track & Field and Hyper Sports had events where you only had one try, but the difference is that those events were generally the 'easy' ones- the 100 Meter Dash, the Hurdles, the Freestyle Swimming, basically the events that are primarily mashin' them buttans. The more complex events have multiple tries for the player to get used to the mechanics and briefly consult the instruction card / panel, so it's a bit unfortunate that Field Day didn't take note of this element too, it would've helped the game a little.
The remaining events don't really have these problems, as they either have multiple attempts or are easy enough to grasp on the first try. The two that only have one attempt are the obvious mash-fests 120 Meter Relay Race and Tug of War, and you have multiple attempts at the Softball Toss and Bell-Ringer events. It's a shame things are just a little lopsided here because honestly, I really like this one! If it was a little more considerate with some elements of its design, this could be among the best- the execution is solid, there's no overly-weird control foibles or out-of-nowhere final stages like with Combat School and the idea of setting it at a sports festival distances it from its inspiration, allowing for events you won't see in other games of this type. They're fun events too- Ball-Toss, Three-Legged Race and Bell Ring are my personal favourites. The presentation really sells it too- it does its best with what it has to make the game feel like a sports day, with a detailed crowd background complete with signs and flags, and the background music which isn't tied to specific events but feels more like a band playing over the event including public domain songs like Turkey in the Straw, the Can Can and the William Tell Overture. When you're putting your name in, you even hear the band 'messing up' the song they're playing and starting again, just like my mom trying to play Teddy Bear's Picnic on the piano and restarting every third note (everyone's mom does that, right? No, just mine?). Damn it all, it's just so charming, and unlike other games that ride on charm for their appeal, this one backs it up with a pretty solid and at times inventive multi-event sports game, even if it's only like 10-15 minutes long (at least your hands won't turn to dust by the end of a playthrough, eh?).
While Field Day may be pretty unashamedly a Track & Field clone (go back to TCRF's page on the game and you'll see some graphics that were possibly scrapped because they looked a little too close to Track & Field... Well, maybe real life too) I feel it's a very good attempt by a company who never really dabbled in the genre, one that stands out in terms of events chosen and presentation. The only other time Taito would take a stab at this genre was later in the '80s with Recordbreaker / Go for the Gold which took a more realistic approach and with a little faux-3D presentation, and that's no fun, is it? Field Day is definitely the more Taito-like of the two, and it's all the better for it. I certainly have some quibbles with some of the design choices here, and ultimately superior games would show up later on down the line, but this is also one that does what it does very well and with a little charm to boot. It was a little difficult to decide a score on this one, but I think Field Day as a mid-point between the excellence of Numan Athletics and the far-more uneven Combat School is a good spot for it. So if you're looking for something to mash to and you're done with all the Track & Field games from this time period, this is a surprisingly solid choice and it's certainly one I've returned to for a quick blast here and there, to scratch that button-mashing itch.
For snatching the baton from Konami's hands before lightly fumbling at the finish line, Field Day is awarded...
In a sentence, Field Day is...
A strong example of the multi-event sports game before everyone else copied the format.
And now, it's that time, folks!
First, a dirty little secret.
As shown by this video, Field Day contains a classic Taito jape.
Enter your name as SEX, and the athlete on the name entry screen will stop with an exclamation mark and say "いやーん" ("Iyān!", which translates to "No!").
Your name in-game will be replaced by XXX. Hey, at least it didn't call you H.! like Bubble Bobble. And yes, this works in all regional versions!
Next, let's very quickly look at the Japanese version, The Undoukai, and see what's different.
Beyond the name change, there's a couple of very small alterations. The voice for the race announcer in the 3-Legged Race, Obstacle Race and 120-Meter Relay Race is changed from Japanese to English (featuring the least enthusiastic English voice they could find in the office), some Japanese flags being held up by members of the crowd have been removed, and the sign in the background has had its Japanese text replaced with the English text GATE. You can see the changes to the backdrop by hovering your mouse over the image above, switching between the World and Japanese versions. A pretty quick and easy localisation then, I'm mostly surprised they kept the panty shots on the title screen- I would've thought they'd be the first to go!
There's only one home port of Field Day, and it's only on a Japanese collection. A true exclusive.
Taito Memories II Joukan (that's the one with the green cover, released early in 2007) for the PS2 is the only time Field Day has ever been brought home, which makes sense- if Field Day was going to be ported to anything, it would've been the NES, and they either figured it wasn't worth the trouble porting it or just forgot it like everyone forgets about arcade sports games. However, adding a little variety to a multi-game collection, that's what games like Field Day are made for! It mostly seems OK, although this collection was released before the MC68705P5 microcontroller emulation was cracked for MAME and, well, sometimes these retro collections crib a bit from MAME. In any case, the JP Wikipedia page alleges that this version isn't great, as it says something about the music being wrong in parts, the difficulty being incorrect on the second loop (I didn't notice myself) and the game crashing if you reach the fourth loop (you think I'm good enough to get that far?). What I can confirm is that it's missing the option to alter the score to earn an extend, but you can set the number of lives. You can see footage of this version over on NicoNico if you so wish, so you can see what you'll be getting.
Yes, I was the only person on Earth disappointed when Hyper Sports R was cancelled because I was looking forward to more multi-event sports nonsense.
LET ME MASH BUTTONS IN PEACE