It’s amazing how a game can be so different on one platform versus another. Last week I reviewed the Wii version of Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Sega delivered a fun game, but it turned out to be a far more successful Mario Party clone rather than the Olympic sports mini-game bonanza it was supposed to be.
The Nintendo 3DS version, on store shelves in North America starting today, is the exact opposite. The Wii version’s London Party mode and crazy Dream Events have been trimmed away and the overall game structure has been rejiggered to focus on—get this—the Olympic sporting events. A few feature changes/removals are head-scratchers, namely the lack of support for importing and customizing Mii avatars and the inability to choose from the full cast of characters before an event (each event only provides a pool of four preset characters to pick from). However, fresh, new content has been added to the mini-game mix, and overall Mario & Sonic performs much stronger on the go.
Unlike the Wii version, the sports take center stage here. Mario & Sonic’s 3DS mini-games cover a broad range of Olympic disciplines, from track & field and aquatics, to gymnastics and contact sports, to court & field sports and cycling. Sega put exhaustive effort into utilizing every facet of the 3DS’s control repertoire too, taking a slightly more complex WarioWare microgame approach to adapting over 50 athletic challenges for the handheld arena. A few are absolutely horrid – yelling into the microphone to lift weights or tapping a button to pick up a water bottle to run the marathon does not constitute fun gameplay – but the results are mostly outstanding.
Gyro/motion controls are implemented to great effect in events like archery and double tap, which have you shooting at targets by physically aiming the 3DS system to line up shots, as well as basketball which has you shooting free throws by pointing the system to aim at the rim before lightly thrusting forward to take the shot. BMX racing also has you tilting the system to land at the proper angle to keep up speed as you steer around a bumpy dirt track. And of course it makes sense to tilt the 3DS to maintain footing in the balance beam event.
Blows into the microphone combined with tilts of the circle pad are used to power sailboat races; alternating left and right finger taps on the touch screen send your mascot paddling forward in the 100m freestyle; gymnastic floor dancing and rhythmic ribbon events challenge your timing with stylus strokes; and events like kayaking and handball have you rotating and flicking the circle pad to row and swat balls away from the goal, respectively. The gameplay diversity is immense, and the games are generally so fast, intuitive to control, and easy to get into that you’ll quickly succumb to the addictive force of trying again and again to beat your previous high score or increase your medal rank.
A casualty of this varied set of controls is the 3D effect. 3D is used to bring a little extra sparkle to a few of the events — trampoline jumping, for example, presents a top-down view of your video game athlete springing into the air towards the screen — but for the most part it’s all window dressing on top of a game that’s already as cheerily and colorfully presented as can be. Further problematic is how easy it is for the 3D image to break. When you’re tilting the 3DS and constantly switching system positions to put your hands/fingers in the most comfortable position for each event, avoiding blurry sight lines and the dreaded double-image effect is impossible. You’re better off leaving the 3D slider down for this one.
Stepping in for the deleted London Party, Mario & Sonic 3DS features a meatier story mode starring all of Sega and Nintendo’s revered franchise icons. While Mario, Sonic, and their fellow mascot pals are buffed up ready for the Olympic Games to begin, Bowser and Dr. Eggman are up to their usual no-good shenanigans. You see, their invites to the competition didn’t show up, and they’re ticked off. So, what do two ornery villains do when their upset? Why delay the Olympic proceedings and ruin the fun for everyone else by creating a machine that blankets London in an even thicker layer of fog, of course. Not just any fog either; but phantasmal fog that covers the entire stadium and spawns ghostly mascot clones eager to pick a fight.
In the kinder, gentler Mario & Sonic universe, mascots throw down by competing in quick athletic challenges. So in effect, the story mode serves as a primer for learning the mini-games you’ll continue to play individually later on.
Shockingly, the story mode is quite substantial. At first it doesn’t seem so, as the credits first begin to roll within roughly three to four hours, after you’ve led Mario and Sonic to victory in their quest to thwart Bowser and Eggman’s scheme. Check the story mode again, though, and you’ll discover a secondary prequel plot which chronicles the events that led to Bowser and Eggman not receiving their invitations. Combined, you’re looking at approximately six to eight hours to complete both storylines. Not shabby at all.
It’s great to have a campaign mode of such substance extending the longevity of the experience beyond the additional hours of time you’ll spend replaying solo and medley events for shinier medals and badges, tickets to unlock more profile badges from the twist-action prize machine, and to raise high scores for uploading to the online leaderboards. On the other hand, after a while the story does begin to feel like maybe it’s been dragged out too far. The cutscenes tend to be rather long and wordy, and charming as it may be, watching and listening to your favorite Sega and Nintendo stars sigh and giggle through such an absurd plot is only palatable in spurts (unless you decide to outright skip the cutscenes to keep the pace going).
Multiplayer, in addition to story mode play and single-player quick events, is another option, although only in local Wi-Fi mode. Unfortunately I don’t know anyone with a 3DS to compete against, but the game does support both multi-card competition and single-card download play for up to four players. Multi-event medleys can also be customized and traded amongst friends. Lack of online competition is somewhat disappointing, but at the same time these types of mini-games seem better suited to solo play. I found the global score uploading to be strong enough of an outlet for online competition.
Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games just missed the mark on the Wii, falling short of its gold medal aspirations by only putting on a bronze (maybe silver) medal performance. On the 3DS, however, it’s a portable sports mini-game bash that stands proudly at the top of the tiered winners’ podium, clutching its gold medal and gently weeping in patriotic glory as the national anthem plays in the background. Sure, some of the events are total duds, but that’s to be expected when you’re dealing with a mini-game set that crosses the half-century mark. The bulk of the challenges are remarkably fun, quick hitting, and ideal for small-burst portable consumption, and no doubt you’ll find at least a dozen or so favorites that you’ll return to time and time again.
+ Makes excellent use of the 3DS’s many control capabilities
+ Mini-games are fun, quick, and accessible
+ Addictive draw to going back for medals, badges and high scores
+ Silly story mode adds many hours of game time
– Story mode cutscenes can be a bit too long and wordy
– Can’t import Mii avatars
– Each event forces you to choose from four preset characters
– Poor 3D implementation
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: 2/14/2012
Genre: Sports – Mini-Games
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-4 (local multiplayer only; multi-card and single-card download play supported)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher