Two years ago Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games earned its keep by doing the unthinkable: combining characters from long-time rivals Nintendo and Sega. Now they're back together for the Winter Olympics, but will you feel the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat?
- Approachable, easy controls
- Fun, weird 'Dream Events'
- Great curling event
- Hockey is over-simplified, but fun
- Uninspired presentation
- Bland recreation of real sporting events
- Drab solo play
- Dream Events must be unlocked
- Pointless unlockable trinkets
Is there any game concept more perpetually disappointing than Olympic anthologies? There are exceptions, to be sure, but generally you'll find a couple of standout events among a collection of garbage no one plays a week after purchase. Two years ago Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games earned its keep by doing the unthinkable: combining characters from long-time rivals Nintendo and Sega. Now they're back together for the Winter Olympics, but will you feel the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat?
It Takes an Olympic Village
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games is a party game that features a collection of real and imagined events that can be played individually or in a Festival Mode that vaguely replicates the entire Olympics, opening and closing ceremonies included. 16 real events are included. You'll find several skiing options (downhill, slalom, jumping) in addition to speed and figure skating, bobsledding, hockey and curling.
By and large, the normal competitive events are too rudimentary to be worth much consideration. Most use a simple tilt of the Wii Remote as a primary control scheme. Skiing is all about waving the remote back and forth to stay balanced and in good form while in the air.
In general, the control scheme improves upon the first Mario & Sonic title, which relied heavily on extensive waggle. The emphasis on accessibility is welcome, given the overall “party game” feel. But accessible doesn't have to mean a lack of imagination. Using the Wii Balance Board (an optional device for several minigames) doesn't make the events feel any better. Wii Motion Plus functionality might have added something, but that device isn't supported.
Gold Medal Events
The two exceptions to the lackluster Olympic fare are hockey and (shockingly) curling. The 4-on-4 hockey is simplistic, yes, but also fun with a couple of people. You'll skate and pass frantically while holding the remote NES style and shaking it to shoot. Curling is genuinely good, and those who are skeptical of a sport involving brooms, weights and ice will find themselves converted by the oddly competitive spirit the event brings to life.
And then, like a drab curtain being pulled away from an interesting sculpture, you'll find the dream events. These are much more overtly Nintendo-influenced takes on the real events -- snowboarding plays just like Mario Kart, for example -- and they're a lot more fun than almost all of the regular events. No surprise that a snowball fight minigame is more fun than figure skating. The downside is that most have to be unlocked; you've got to play the lousy regular games in order to get to the good stuff.
Less Exciting than Your Average Power Point Presentation
Playing through all the genuine Olympic minigames, lame as they are, might be more rewarding if the game's plethora of medals and coins could be put to any good use. But you're able to buy new songs, outfits for your Mii and stickers for your winter gear (like a big snowboard decal) and that's about it. Yawn. I’m pretty sure it's not hypothermia creating this bored feeling.
The lame unlockables fit right in with the rest of the design. One of the reliably solid aspects of most Mario titles is presentation. Nintendo treats its flagship character with respect. But this is Sega, the house that broke down Sonic, and the game shows little of the attention to detail that makes even a throwaway Mario game feel like a triple-A release. The graphics are fuzzy and indistinct. The audio is thick with public domain songs and some new compositions that sound more like Academy Awards walk-off music than Olympian fare. The menus can even be a bit trying; they all feel so quickly slapped together.
Can Sonic Stick the Landing?
Part of the problem with Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games is that so many of its events have been done better in other Wii minigame collections. If you're a devotee of that gaming style, there won't be much here that feels either new or competitive. And if you're playing solo, expect a real lack of challenge. Sure, this is a family minigame collection, so there's no reason to expect an Olympian-level difficulty, but more taxing challenges would be welcome. Even with a couple dozen Mario and Sonic-related characters to choose from, not to mention the ability to use your Mii in-game, even hardcore franchise fans should think twice about a ticket to these Olympics.