The 2012 Summer Olympics are set to begin across the pond in July, and you know what that means, right? Yep, Olympics video game tie-ins! So, let the games begin, starting with Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Sega and Nintendo’s crossover mascot collaboration has produced two previous mini-game sports packs, and with the next Olympic Games right around the corner Mario and Sonic have returned to renew their friendly rivalry. The Wii version actually came out smack dab in the middle of the busy 2011 holiday season, and that’s the version I will be covering in this review. A Nintendo 3DS version is also on tap for retail release on February 14th, and I’ll have a review going up for that platform in sync with next week’s launch.
On the Wii, Mario and Sonic’s latest venture into waggle athletics is divided into two categories. The 21 Olympic events are whimsical renditions of real competitions, such as 100m sprints, hurdles, relay races, long jump, freestyle and synchronized swimming, uneven bars, soccer, table tennis, fencing, beach volleyball, hammer, discus and javelin throw and so on, each getting players up and active, thrusting, twisting and flicking their Wii Remotes in hopes of achieving gold medal glory. (All games can be played with just a remote, but some offer optional support for Wii-mote and Nunchuk.) Then there are 10 Dream Events, which put creative and outlandish twists on these traditional Olympic activities. More on those later.
Unfortunately, the main draw of the game – the core Olympic sports – is where the game buckles to the floor like a Tonya Harding-conspired club to the knee. For starters, Wii MotionPlus is not supported in any way, and since many of the events are reruns from the original game, now over four years old, the controls feel all the more antiquated.
Table tennis, a simple enough game that has been MotionPlus perfected in Wii Sports Resort, is a dull mess of an event that affords the player no sense of control. Basically, you flail the remote as the ball approaches and hit the ball back and forth until the AI decides to fudge things up (or you flub a shot or the laggy motion sensor throws off your timing). You can’t move your character or dictate shot angle or power. It’s lame.
Rhythm-based events like Rhythmic Ribbon and Synchronized Swimming falter as well, with certain sweeping gestures failing to register with accurate and consistent timing. And I can’t forget the mainstay 100m dash – vigorously shaking a Wii-mote to send a character barreling down a track has become the most played out motion control mini-game. It’s pretty sad that Sega put no effort into updating the game’s motion control technology. Obvious signs of a licensed tie-in.
The Dream Events, on the other hand, remove much of the motion control fluff and present mini-game challenges closer to what you’d find in Mario and Sonic’s solo adventures. Other than name, they have absolutely nothing to do with Olympic sports – and they’re generally a lot more fun because of it. Each event borrows iconic themes and locales from traditional Mario and Sonic games, layering on an even thicker coating of personality to a game already bursting with nostalgic charm, vibrant colors, and iconic tunes and character emotes.
Dream Long Jump, for example, unfolds like a side-scrolling platformer as players compete to stay alive the longest while hopping across a flowing sea of clouds, set to a stitched storybook backdrop pulled from Yoshi’s Story. Sonic Heroes’ Grand Metroplis stage makes an appearance in Dream Uneven Bars, another event presented in side-scrolling platformer style, only in this event players swing from a sprawling wall of poles to amass the highest point total. The Moo Moo Meadows track from Mario Kart Wii sets the stage for Dream Equestrian, which has the player tilting the remote, held horizontally, to steer a wagon full of Yoshi eggs to the finish line with as many eggs still safely on board as possible. Dream Spacewalk is another fun one, using the anti-gravity mechanics of Super Mario Galaxy for sort of a rail shooter-esque cooperative boss battle against Dino Piranha.
Another great addition to the Mario & Sonic repertoire in this third outing is the London Party mode. London Party is Sega’s representation of Nintendo’s Mario Party franchise. Up to four players join together in a rousing family showdown to see who can be the first to fill up their sticker book, guiding their chosen Mii or mascot through a board game-style map modeled in a cartoonish likeness of London’s city streets. During free time, players can roam about the map at will, and by talking to certain NPCs bonus mini-games are triggered. Once Big Ben chimes, free time ends and an Olympic event begins, and based upon performance in these mini-games and sports events players are rewarded with varying amounts of stickers to place in their sticker books. The first player to place 16, 32 or 48 stickers on their sheet wins the game.
As its name suggests, London Party makes for a fun family/party play experience (although you can play by yourself against CPU opponents), and opposed to rounds of Mario Party, which often drag on for far too long, these sticker book matches generally blow by within half an hour. And if a game does overstay its welcome, a suspend option allows you to save progress to continue the next time friends and family are around.
Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games gets many other features right as well. In addition to using Mario and Sonic universe mascots (Mario, Sonic, Luigi, Tails, Yoshi, Peach, Wario, Shadow, Dr. Eggman, Donkey Kong and many other familiar faces are yours to play with), Mii avatars can be imported and further customized with unlockable pieces of clothing and costumes, such as Penguin and Propeller Mario suits and a Werehog getup. To get at these special costumes as well as other unlockables like new music tracks (each event’s background song can be customized to your preference), you’ll need to scratch off lottery tickets you’ve won by competing in the various mini-games. Matching like items on the scratch-off cards unlocks the pictured award, and even non-winning tickets are saved up to trade in for prizes. Achievement-style Challenges are another nice touch, rewarding players with badges of honor for reaching certain career and performance milestones.
Indeed, there is quite a bit to like about Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games, but strangely the things it excels at are the things that have the least to do with Olympic competition. The Olympic sports are outdated retreads of mini-games that have been seen and done before, made even worse by poor or uninteresting motion control mechanics reminiscent of 1st generation Wii productions. The Dream Events, London Party mode, and gobs of achievements and unlockables compensate for these glaring shortcomings somewhat, but even at its best this game’s entertainment value fades quickly and lacks the staying power to make it a family game night fixture.
+ London Party mode is good family party night fun
+ Dream Events put a crazy twist on Olympic sports
+ Lots of achievements and unlockables to strive for
– Olympic sports mini-games are mostly dull retreads
– Outdated motion control implementation with no support for Wii MotionPlus
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Release Date: 11/15/2011
Genre: Party / Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Source: Review copy provided by publisher