This all feels very strange. Itís not even Christmas and yet Mario & Sonic are headed to next yearís London Olympics. From early next year it will be nigh on impossible to move around without seeing or hearing a reference to the UKís big event. Be it on TV, radio, print media or just around the office water cooler it will be omnipresent. Which brings up the question as to why Sega felt the need to release this game now, rather than wait for the ready made advertising? It will have been in order to make the Christmas market no doubt, but it still feels wrong. The timing isnít the weirdest thing about the party games title though. The real peculiarity is the feeling of transportation back to 2007 and the first year of the Wiiís life cycle.
Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games follows the well-trodden path of its predecessors in general structure and brings back the majority of the events seen in 2007ís Beijing edition of the game - the first time Mario and Sonic appeared in the same game, which at the time was quite a big thing and helped determine the success of the title and subsequent series. The same roster of characters as in the original appear here (though itís possible to have your Mii enter the events if you canít choose between Mario and company), and the list of events is expanded versus what has been seen before including football, rhythmic ribbon and equestrian. There are also new dream events which adhere less strictly to Olympic convention such that you can be sprinting against Sonic, or fencing with Mario in locations more familiar to fans of those characterís games rather than the corresponding sport.
Events retained from the previous Olympics donít play out exactly as those experienced with the game will remember. For example, sprinting is controlled by swinging the controller down when leaving your blocks, waggling it up and down stupidly fast for the race duration - and in turn aggravating that tennis elbow injury you forgot about (or have neglected given the need to win versus your partner or children!) - and hoping you make it across the finishing line in first place. But, in addition to this you can press A when you want to perform a special dash and your chosen avatar spins whilst running and gains some momentum, hopefully turning that photo-finish into a clear victory. If youíre lucky enough to be playing with some others, ensuring the enjoyment factor of the title - as with any party game - grows exponentially higher, then there are options to compete versus each other individually or in teams and also, depending on the event, compete together against the opposition. Badminton or football, for example, allow this as well as some of the dream events including the spacewalk (think Super Mario Galaxy locales with space based boss battles). Co-op play definitely adds some mileage to the game but is likely to be less popular than versus play given the competitive nature of party games amongst families around the Christmas tree and throughout the year.
The new events are somewhat hit and miss. As might be expected, if youíre not already a fan of equestrian, or football these visions of how those sports should play out are unlikely to change anyoneís opinion. However, liking the sport may not lead to enjoyment of the events herein. Football, for example is very basic. Five a side, with a choice of the four outfield players for your team and a robot planted in goal. So it begins ok, but then quickly the limitation of the game design jumps out in that the players only have eight directions of movement. Maybe recent versions of Fifa have spoilt me, but it just feels wrong and hard to enjoy. Thatís not the only issue. Thereís no way to sprint, one way to shoot. There are two types of pass available but having your teammates in the same area is perhaps hoping for too much. Itís not a football simulator, so limitations are to be expected but it just feels old school. Itís other events as well. For badminton youíre forced to use just the Wiimote and not the nunchuk, so of course you canít move your players around - they do that automatically. Itís far too basic for a new version of a game which came out four years ago. This is the crux of the problem bedevilling Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympics. Itís a four year old game with some new bells and whistles. It doesnít make the most of todayís hardware - no MotionPlus - and is in effect a collection of extra content for the Beijing game, dressed up in British colours.
There are quite a few bells and whistles though. In addition to the extra events and London 2012 presentation (think official logos, London landmarks and the like littered throughout) there is a game mode called ĎLondon Partyí. Asked to pick your character and a sticker book with 16, 32 or 64 empty spaces, the game requires control of your avatar around a top-down London city meeting other characters to initiate bonus events, or waiting for the next main event to come up. Main events are a choice of the Olympic events whilst bonus ones are somewhat bizarre but befitting of a Mario and Sonic game - avoid being possessed by a Boo, for example. The first to fill their sticker book wins. Through this and the main mode players can beat challenges (think similar tasks to achievements and trophies but within the game as opposed to system architecture) as is becoming increasingly common in Wii games, and obtain scratch cards which if a winning one, unlocks something. Unlockables vary from different pieces of music (Super Mario World theme!) to pieces of clothing for your competing Mii.
What must be remembered when trying to qualify the success of a game such as this is its target audience (to some extent) but also the way in which itíll be played the majority of the time. Indeed, the way itís been designed to be played. In the case of Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympics itís a cute party game available to be played between friends and family, typically involving younger children. With that in mind Segaís decision to exclude MotionPlus and keep existing and new events as simple to play as possible is clearly a purposeful choice. It means the game isnít a step-up from whatís come before in any way. But, what it is, is the best game of its type on the Wii, the original family oriented party console. So if youíre after the next generation of party games it seems youíll have to wait for the next generation. If however youíre looking for a way to survive over Christmas with the family, or have some youngsters still enthralled by Mario & Sonic at the Beijing Olympics, then this would be a wise investment.
This review is based on the Wii version
The Olympics have begun in the Nintendo & Sega Universe!