Although track events like the Long Jump and the Javelin occupy a tiny niche next to pro sports leagues, there’s something very compelling about watching Earth’s best athletes test the limits of the human body. Playman Track & Field offers up a polished bundle of minigames that impart a taste of that feeling, lifetimes of training not required. All it takes is a keen eye and strong thumbs.
There are five events to choose from: the 100 Meter Dash, the Long Jump, the 110 Meter Hurdles, the Pole Vault, and the Javelin. Although their controls vary a bit from one to another, they’re all based on perfecting your accuracy and timing.
As the simplest event, the 100 Meter Dash sets the baseline for all of the other minigames. When the race starts, you tap touch buttons that appear on the right- and left-hand sides of the screen as quickly as possible to accelerate. Incorrect taps slow you down.
The game lulls you into an easy rhythm, and then suddenly switches up the pattern, causing you to stumble if you’re not right on top of the change. Then, at the end of the race, you touch both sides of the screen at once to lunge forward for that extra bit of speed. It’s an elegant little system, and it takes a surprising amount to skill to master. World records and failing times are separated by only fractions of a second.
The other minigames have similar controls. The Long Jump starts you off at a dash, and then has you execute your jump and an extra mid-air “stretch” with double-button taps. By the same token, the Pole Vault and the Javelin force you to pick up speed and then double-tap at exactly the right time to plant the pole or release the javelin.
Playman Track & Field lets you play these events individually or through a five-event tournament, and there are two difficulty levels: Amateur and Pro. Beating the tourney on Amateur unlocks the Pro level, and beating the Pro tourney unlocks Survival Mode. We didn’t have much trouble getting through Amateur, but beating Pro is no easy feat (we briefly considered doping at one point, but decided it wasn’t worth it). You can also set up pass-and-play multiplayer with friends, or upload your tourney scores to an online leaderboard, although you have to exit the app to do it.
The game’s charming visuals add a lot to the experience. All of the athletes animate very naturally, and they’re gently stereotyped by nationality, too. The Eskimo competitor wearing a sleeveless parka cracked us up bigtime.
We were a bit disappointed that Playman Track & Field only has five events, but it’s still a good value at 99 cents. We can see ourselves returning to it for a long time to come.