We'd like to thank Ultra Powerful Pal of Gaming Hell, Kimimi, for casting her ees over this and making sure we weren't ralking absolute rubbish, like we normally do.
Also, this'll sound strange but... We spoil the secret final event in Mach Breakers in the Extended Play section, so be careful. Apparently sports games need spoilers now.
Something a little different this time- a double bill of sporty Namco games!
Before we get to looking at these two games- that's Numan Athletics and Mach Breakers, in case you haven't cottoned on just yet- let's set the scene. Konami's Track & Field, released all the way back in 1983, set a standard template for multi-event athletics games in the arcades, yet weirdly aside from Taito's Field Day, there weren't many direct competitors to the throne at the time. Honestly, the vast majority of competitors and contemporaries can be found on the home consoles of the era, such as the Activision Decathlon, Epyx's Summer Games and Daley Thompson's Decathlon. Instead, there was something of a resurgence of them in the late 80s with Konami's own Konami '88 / Hyper Sports Special and Boot Camp / Combat School, SNK's Gold Medallist and Taito's Record Breaker, but by the early 90s they were on their way back out (alongside any genre that wasn't a one-on-one fighter, ohohoho) until Sega's DecAthlete...
Except for a little anomaly in 1993 called Numan Athletics, probably one of the absolute best games in this style, It came from Namco too, who had never even touched this kind of game before! The twist seems simple- the participants of this set of events are actually powerful mutants called Numan, who perform amazing feats like stopping trains or lobbing missiles without breaking a sweat- but it has more than that going for it, as we'll see. The game even got a second chance with a sequel, Mach Breakers, but aside from some Japan-only ports for the first game, both have languished in obscurity. A big shame, as we're about to find out!
So, we'll look at both titles individually, then sum things up afterwards.
The finals are about to begin! Are you ready? Here we go~!
First up is 1993's Numan Athletics, or Sports Competition for the Super Athlete as the flyer says.
Running on Namco's NA-2 hardware, home to the similarly-obscure Emeraldia and Knuckleheads, Numan Athletics pits four Numan athletes- Sharon L'Halles from France, Harry Boffin from the USA, Masaemon Nakamura from Japan and Bongo Tembo from Kenya- against each other in eight events of strength and speed. As the game phrases it, they'll show you the best events, and they certainly do.
The mechanics of each event are pretty intuitive, adopting the standard three-button layout for games of this ilk, but are helped along by short introductory videos that explain how each event works (which can be skipped if you already know). That sounds like a really small thing, but very few other games in the genre actually introduce the rules like this outside the control panel instructions! Amongst those eight events, naturally a few of them are based on the classic Track & Field staples, so let's look at those first. While some are mostly the same but given a more over-the-top edge, others are actually quite nicely refined. To start with the ones that just add a bit of punch, the 100 Metre Dash is the Turbo Dash where the Numans outrun a drag racer, and the Triple Jump is replaced with the Niagara Jump, where you'll have to time it carefully or you'll end up falling a long way down. The Missile Toss is the standard Javelin event, but with some crucial differences to make things easier- your character's running pose changes when you're in the area to throw the missile, and while it doesn't give your exact angle, the missile angle moves down as you hold the button rather than up, giving you a moment to register what's happening and make it a little easier.
While not quite as directly inspired from its forebears as those other events, the most interesting events to look at the in this light are the shooting events, Interceptor and Numan Sniper. In other Track & Field-style games that have a shooting event- in particular Hyper Sports and '88 Games- it's usually pretty awkward to control, with crosshairs that move vertically on their own and you have to either wait for the clays to get in the target and shoot (in Hyper Sports) or move left/right ('88 Games). It's a little clunky and they're amongst my least favourite events. Both Interceptor and Numan Sniper, however, are designed to be as intuitive and exciting as possible. Interceptor uses the two Run buttons to let you move between four possible spots on a platform to hit torpedoes heading your way (with explosive results, including a wardrobe malfunction for a direct hit, if you miss) with your Numan laser powers, while Numan Sniper- one of my favourite events- is a quick-draw event where you have to destroy the monsters that appear to the left, middle or right, with the fire button corresponding to each button. Both these control schemes are a lot more immediate, intuitive and fun to use than systems used in other games like this, and help highlight what I like to think is the design philosophy of Numan Athletics- making its events more accessible and intuitive than the competition.
The three remaining events, then, are where Numan Athletics uses its super-powered human concept to really get inventive. While the Non-Stop Rock Chop is a fairly standard event- build up power then smash the rocks, not the best event but it has a nice rhythm to it- it's the other two, Vs. Express and Tower Topper, that are my favourites. Vs. Express is, as it might sound, a battle against a train where your Numan stops it with their bare hands with a well-timed button press, then sends it back down the track with button-mashing- the presentation, showing your athlete staring down the train as it approaches, is particularly top-notch. Tower Topper, on the other hand, is purely timing-based, and probably the trickiest of the events to grasp at first brush, where you have to tap the button to wall-jump between skyscrapers- tap too early and you won't gain much height (and that qualifying time isn't exactly low), tap too late and you'll fall off, which isn't a problem at the start but you'll land with a thud if you're a few stories up. Despite being rubbish at it, this is my favourite event in the game because of how novel and ridiculous it is, and when you nail the timing, it feels so so good.
The execution of the game mechanics is masterful here, but I think a big part of Numan Athletics' appeal is in its aesthetics. Beyond the unusual setting for a sports game, the four playable characters have a lot of charm to them, with cute victory/loss animations, little voice clips (to the point where mentioning the game on Twitter gets the response of Sharon's "STAY WITH ME, OK?") and an overall sense of character you don't see in games of this type. There's even little touches like the different animations for the end of the Missile Toss depending on where it lands and the drag racer in the background of the Turbo Dash. Finally, while there isn't that much music in the game, the stuff that is here is by Nobuoshi Sano and is incredibly catchy, particularly Interceptor and the World Record music. All this care put into the game's presentation, coupled with the friendly and intuitive but still challenging mechanics of the events themselves make Numan Athletics one of the finest multi-event sports games to ever hit the arcades, and it's a game arguably only matched by its own sequel.
For being a game with the best events, Numan Athletics is awarded...
In a sentence, Numan Athletics is...
Truly the Sports Competition for the Super Athlete.
And next we have 1995's Mach Breakers, or Numan Athletics 2, if you prefer.
Released on Namco's NB-2 hardware- that's the same board that runs The Outfoxies so you know this is a step above- Mach Breakers: Numan Athletics 2 is the first game, but more so. This time, seven Numan athletes from all over the world- Johnny Sanders of the USA, Makoto Kotobuki of Japan, Michael Fletcher of Jamaica, Sophia Rayleigh of England, Karl Weiseman of Germany, Masala Tikka Masala of India, and Long Rui-Hu-An of China- compete in events even more spectacular and over-the-top than last time!
Mach Breakers is mostly a straight sequel- bigger, bolder, and on stronger hardware, but keeping that three-button set-up- but there's a few little changes here and there to the structure. For a start, seven playable characters means you actually choose one at the start of the game rather than get assigned to one via the Start button you pick. While the stats screen says each one has their own specialities, the differences don't seem to be so wildly pronounced that certain characters are going to be at a huge disadvantage or anything (it mostly affects timing for events like Deep Diving, as they have different animations as cues) so you can rest free in just picking a favourite. Additionally, the games are now split into days, and while you always start with the Maximum Speed event (surprise, it's the Turbo Dash but you race a train) and end with the ridiculous Ground Spike on the 5th day, the remaining three days let you tackle a set of three or four events in any order you desire (via a slow rotating selector) or, in a multiplayer game, the player who won the last event decides. A nice concession is if you're struggling with an event, you still get a reduced qualifying time, but you now have the welcome choice of skipping the event entirely if you feel you can't do it. The final change is for solo players- you will always have a rival player, using the points system from the first game's multiplayer mode. Luckily, you don't have to watch them take their turn- their score is shown before your attempts if it's a one-at-a-time event, so you know what to aim for.
As for the events themselves, Mach Breakers does a nice job of taking events from the first game and adding to them in a (mostly) meaningful and interesting way, and also adding new events that feel right at home in the world of mutant sporting activities. To look at the tweaked events from last time, probably the most successful one is Bomb's Away (their spelling, not mine), an even more ludicrous version of Vs. Express, where you're stopping a gigantic missile and you need to hold the initial press a little longer to change the angle of the pushback. Only a minor variation, but the extra visual flair (you get an impressive third-person view of the missile when it's launched) adds a lot. Block Buster is a nice Non-Stop Rock Chop variant too, where you now build up power to knock down a segmented block tower within the time limit, and Future Gate is Numan Sniper but with friendly targets that take away points if you hit them. While not as direct a rejig as the others, Rapid Jump is roughly analogous to Tower Topper from the first game, just with horizontal jumps instead of vertical (and the venue being an active volcano full of hungry monsters). Probably the main disappointment here is Beast Hole, a new variant of Interceptor, with you being propelled down a tunnel while monsters make their way towards you from one of five lanes. The problem is, in Interceptor, if you got a passing score and missed a missile, you still qualified. Here, missing a monster gets a fault even if you get a passing score, and you're attacked by three monsters at once, and you can have points deducted for poor accuracy. It makes a simple event harder to clear, and this was the first one I straight-up skipped on.
However, the new events more than make up for the disappointment of Beast Hole. A few events are adapted from Track & Field classics but with the Numan twist being used to great effect. Ice Crusher is mechanically similar to hurdles- slam through ice blocks like you would jump over hurdles- but cleverly focuses the event on the number of ice blocks destroyed rather than a finish line (though the distance is used for tie-breakers) and has nice visual clues in the form of floor markers to let you know when a block's coming. There's also Super Stunt, the gymnast's choice but with a moving car replacing the standard jumping horse (and yes, if you don't time it right, they plough straight into you), and Hyper Glider, a Numan take on the long jump but involving a rollercoaster track and even a bit of floating involved to squeeze every last meter out the jump. Much like some of the events in the original, these owe a debt to the Track & Field-style games that came before, but mix them up enough to make them more interesting, more visually appealing, and even making them more accessible and palatable (Also, thankfully, no high jump event. I hate those.).
The game saves its best efforts for the completely new events, though. Deep Dive might seem like a standard swimming event at first- swim a required distance then swim back- but you're not going across a piddly Olympic-size pool, you're going down into the sea, and while you can go beyond the allocated depth to ensure victory, you also have a oxygen meter and if it runs out, it's a fault. The final event in the game is probably the most Nuamn-y thing possible, where you build up power after jumping from a hot-air balloon to punch the ground- interestingly, building up power is all for naught if your punch is timed poorly, as you only get a percentage of your power, depending on your timing! The personal favourite is Monster Drag, a timing-based event where you drag a chained kaiju down a city street with just your bare hands- successfully hitting the sweet spot on the two arm meters three times in a row gets you a few bonus meters, and this is essential in getting a passing result. All these completely original events have the same level of ingenuity and creativity of those from Numan Athletics, with even more love and attention put into them (like the Dig Dug cameo in Ground Spike that I can never unlock).
As odd as this sounds, initially I was disappointed with Mach Breakers. I think you can pin this down to being so utterly charmed by the look and feel of Numan Athletics- its more limited yet still vibrant colour palette, the short bursts of excellent, catchy music, the fact each event very clearly takes place in a different country with neat details in the background... At first brush, Mach Breakers felt like it lost that charm somehow (I will confess, maybe a bit of that is 'cause there's no Sharon). It was definitely a case of first impressions, though- I'm mostly thinking Maximum Speed as it feels plainer than Turbo Dash- because the look grew on me quite quickly, with lots of little details like the Namco adverts in Hyper Glider and the octopus in Deep Diver, and excellent animations on the athletes themselves. Mechanics-wise, it's absolutely as solid as its predecessor, and while I miss the Tower Topper, most of the new events are fantastic additions and are incredibly inventive and intuitive. The one thing I will say as a possible negative against Mach Breakers its its length- at 12 events (technically 13 if you count the short bonus event- more on that later) it's one of the longest games of its type, so you might need hands of steel and enough 16-shot prowess to make Takahashi Meijin proud. Aside from those minor quibbles, Mach Breakers is another fantastic entry in the genre, and a brilliant sequel to the original.
For being more button-mashing sports action, Mach Breakers: Numan Athletics 2 is awarded...
In a sentence, Mach Breakers: Numan Athletics 2 is...
More quality track & fieldin'.
Well, we hope you enjoyed way too many words about these two athletics games!
They both got a fantastic score, of course- I honestly believe they're the best in their genre- but is there one I prefer? There's a tiny bias here as it was the one I played first, but I have a soft spot for Numan Athletics that's too big for Mach Breakers to overcome. Certainly, Mach Breakers is the better game in almost every aspect (with the exception of Beast Hole)- not only are there more events including some very unique ones, but they're flashier, and with even more refinements to the previous game, it's the best kind of sequel you could ask for. Having said that, if I was picking one to play out of the blue, I'd actually go for Numan Athletics. This is absolutely a personal thing- Mach Breakers is great but with those extra few events it's a little more daunting to tackle casually. Numan Athletics is just the right length, and what can I say, I'm a sucker for that particular era/hardware's aesthetic. It's nice and clean, and that's not to take away from Mach Breaker's fantastic visuals (a more Playstation or Saturn-esque style) but I guess I'm drawn more to Numan somehow. That and there's also Sharon who is clearly the best.
Whichever of the two you choose to play though, you're definitely playing the best 2D Track & Field-style games to ever hit the arcades, and now you can join me in being all huffy and sad knowing that these games aren't well-known, have only had one proper home console port (and just for the first one at that) and will, most likely, never get a Western release from here on out. But then rejoice and play some fantastic button-mashers!
And now, it's that time, folks!
If you want more Numan Athletics in your life, then Ultra Powerful Pal of Gaming Hell @_Kimimi has you covered.
We shall direct you to her blog posts on Numan Athletics and Mach Breakers, as well as her piece for Nintendo Life on the Wii VC port of Numan Athletics.
Please read them and expand your Numan Athletics knowledge even further. Enjoy!
Also, just before we were going to print [Do websites 'go to print'? Don't answer that. - Ed], Kimimi put these together for Twitter, then gave 'em to us to put on this page.
They're complete versions of the character pictures that appear in incomplete form in the game's intro! Click to embiggen them. Ta!
Oh, if only we had more trivia to talk about with these games!
There's far more to talk about with the first game, so we'll begin there.
First up, a tiny note on the two-player mode- unusually for a game of this type, they're still actually locked out of certain characters depending on which player side is used. Players on the P1 side can only pick Sharon or Harry (selection is done with the buttons, on the screen that apears when you insert a coin in the four-player version, while players on the P2 side must pick from Masaemon and Bongo. A little unusual, but that's how it's done. Additionally, you get an extra screen before you press Start, showing a little cutin art of each character.
Next up is the only home port of the game, the Wii Virtual Console ve- ah, not so! There was another port... Sort of.
Yep, Numan Athletics got the mobile phone treatment! We're not even going to pretend we knew this before (it was pointed out to us in Kimimi's Nintendo Life article because of course we know nothing about Japanese mobile phone games, don't be silly). Once again, we are at a disadvantage because we don't have a 2000s-era Japanese mobile phone, nor do we have a way to emulate these, but from what we can see, it seems to be a super-dinky version of the arcade game, with only one player (and surprise, it's Sharon, best girl status confirmed) and, if our ropey translation is anything to go by, some kind of leaderboard system. Sadly, the only official page we have on this one is this tiny, pictureless blurb on an archive.org version of the site, but we do have a snippet on the game's release from Mobile Watch, which is also where we got the screenshots from. There was also a slightly-less-dinky version of the game that skewed a bit closer to the arcade game's presentation, Numan Athletics EX.
OK, now we can mention the Wii Virtual Console version. This is the only 'proper' home port of Numan Athletics, released in 2009 as part of a veritable glut of Namco arcade game ports, but while a very small selection of them made it to the US and EU storefronts, Numan Athletics alongside several other previously-unported Namco games including Emeraldia, Knuckleheads and Finest Hour never made it off the Japanese Wii Shop. Such a shame for an accessible multiplayer game like this. Anyway, here's the manual for this version for what that's worth, and here's the full set of Namco arcade games on the Japanese Virtual Console so you can look on in intense, painful jealousy.
As for cameos, not even Namco's most obscure games are exempt from this, and there's at least one (1) cameo to my knowledge, assuming there's none in any of the Tales Of games. Specifically, veritable Namco Cameo Museum maze-em-up Tinkle Pit has an appearance from Sharon (who else) on the high-score entry screen- apparently certain scores will trigger different characters to appear, including the likes of Ki from The Tower of Druaga and Leila from Rolling Thunder 2, but it seems to be a little hit-and-miss. The only consistent one is that lower scores that make it to the high-score table get Ms. Pac-Man to show up. In any case, Sharon doesn't do much- just saunters across the screen- but she has an all-new sprite for this cameo. Bless 'er! In what I like to think as the game giving thanks for its little cameo, the Hyper Glider event in Mach Breakers has an advertisement for a selection of Namco characters that appears in the background, and sometimes that advert has the boy and girl from Tinkle Pit.
Oh, and here's probably the sole bit of Numan Athletics merch outside of soundtracks- a Sharon gashapon figure!
There actually seems to be two variants- one comes with her jacket, the other doesn't.
This was part of the Namco Gals Selection Part 4 by Yujin- here's the little paper slip that came with it.
To move on to Mach Breakers, while the playable cast is completely new, there's two neat little nods to the previous game's roster. One you might miss is in the Future Gate event- as the camera moves down at the beginning of the event, you get a clear shot of four giant statues of Sharon, Bongo, Masaemon and Harry. You can see them during the event as well, but they're obscured by the audience stands, so here's a nice clean shot of it.
The second cameo, well... The new feature that lets you skip an event if it's too much for you does have at least one detriment- you won't get your character's proper ending. There's something way more important than that, though! If you clear every single event without skipping them and place 1st, then just before you get to the winner's circle...
... (We're building this up for dramatic effect.)
N-n-n-now, fight an old rival!!
She's back! Sharon challenges you to a shortened version of the Maximum Speed event after Ground Spike, with no qualifying time- you either win or you don't. However, this is strictly a one-on-one race, so if you were playing a multiplayer session, only the player who got 1st place overall gets the honour of this race. Two years may have passed but Sharon is, if anything, even faster, and you've got just about 5 seconds to beat the event! She can sneak up on your pretty easily, so while the gauntlet of events may have tuckered you out, don't falter at the final hurdle. Amusingly, Sharon still has her old voice clips from the first game! Sadly, this is strictly a cameo, and there's no way to actually play as Shaorn. I'm disappointed too, but whether you win or lose, you'll be taken to the final ceremony...
... But if you do win, she offers you a bunch of flowers. Aww.
OK, I can't lie, doing the research for both these games in the same week was a bad idea. My hands were like gnarled claws by the end.
GAMING HELL, SUFFERING FOR YOUR AMUSEMENT SINCE 2008 (IT'S OK, WE WERE FINE)