IGN Review of Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games
The cross-over rivalry that no one ever thought would happen is happening for a fourth time. They first met up and competed against one another in 2007's Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games. After that they fought it out on the battlefields of 2008's Super Smash Bros. Brawl, then hit the slopes for 2009's Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games. Now Nintendo and Sega's heaviest hitters are once again going head-to-head on Wii -- and this cross-over's feeling a little weary.
The novelty factor of seeing Mario and Sonic in the same game has certainly worn off by this point. This gives Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games a bit less momentum to build on than four years ago, when these characters had not yet met. Even more unfortunately, the Olympics side of this equation is waning too. We've come full circle and returned to the Summer games again, meaning almost all of the sporting events featured in this release are the same ones we first saw in Mario and Sonic's first meeting. It's all feeling a little too familiar here.
So where does that leave us? London.
The one stand-out new element in this third Olympic outing is the setting itself. The location of London is prominently presented with a celebration of the city that Beijing and Vancouver never got in the older games. Famous landmarks like Big Ben and the London Eye offer real-world iconography that feels like it's truly starring side-by-side with the game-world characters. The developers' focus on elevating London ends up elevating the entire package, especially in the new "London Party" mode.
Similar to Nintendo's Mario Party series, London Party is a four-character competition mode that serves to bring all of the game's many different events together into one fun free-for-all. A cartoony, accurately mapped version of London becomes the equivalent to Mario Party's virtual boards, and you direct your Mario or Sonic character to run around the city collecting items and running into other Mario or Sonic characters.
The ultimate goal is to fill up a tourist's sticker book before your three opponents can do the same, and stickers are awarded for earning victories in events -- events that take place every time Big Ben chimes to say it's time.
It's a lot of fun. London Party does a great job of pulling together all of the wildly different elements that make up this game, and overall it's a mode that could comfortably take up a spot in regular multiplayer rotation for you and your friends. But that said, not all of those wildly different elements are winners individually -- and the game can be frustrating when you come across a stinker.
There are three categories of events that you'll encounter. The first are unique to London Party mode, and they're mini-games made almost directly in the tradition of Nintendo's Mario Party series. They often have nothing to do with the Olympics at all, and sometimes nothing to do with Mario, Sonic or London. Still, they're generally fun activities like matching spinning icons with a partner, chasing down and tackling a Shy Guy or collecting coins strewn throughout the city streets.
The second category of mini-games is the Dream Events, making a return from the first two Mario & Sonic Olympics games. These "what if" scenarios are a bit more connected to actual Olympic sports competitions that the unrelated London Party mini-games, but they're still not too grounded in reality. In Dream Discus, for example, characters ride on the giant discs they throw and their tosses turn into a two-minute race to collect Sonic series rings. Dream Long Jump transforms a one-leap event into a multi-jump bouncing competition where four characters hop across Yoshi's Story clouds. Dream Hurdles and Dream Spacewalk adapt pieces of Super Mario Galaxy, and so on.
And then, last and least, is the final category of games contained here -- the actual Olympic sporting events. These quasi-realistic competitions are the least video gamey part of the package, and they're also the least fun. Most of them are recycled from the original 2007 game, often with the same control schemes in place -- which feels like an unwelcome step back to the days when developers thought the Wii remote was only good for constant, repetitive and arm-fatiguing shaking motions. Some of these designs are fine in an encore appearance, but I could have done without ever waggling my way through another 100m Dash.
Within this group of mini-games (which are the core of the game, after all) only four events are entirely new -- badminton, canoeing, horseback show jumping and football (a.k.a. soccer for American readers). It's nice to have at least a few new, non-recycled sports to experience, but playing through each of them here it's easy to see why none of them were good enough to make the cut for 2007's first crack at adapting the Olympics.
Badminton is a basic Wii remote-swinging volleyfest, as you mindlessly slap a shuttlecock back and forth until one side or the other screws up the timing and sets up a point-winning super shot for the opposing team. Canoeing is reduced to a rhythm game, as you simply swing the controller in time with an on-screen graphic again and again. The horseback riding, a.k.a. equestrian event, is arm-tiring waggling combined with a need to balance the controller and Nunchuk between obstacles, which doesn't seem to register subtleties in your hand position well. And the football? Bland. Mario Strikers Charged did it so much better.
That's the sense I walked away with from a lot of these events, actually, as many parts of Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games just end up feeling like late-generation rehashes of mini-game designs that earlier Wii games already offered better versions of years ago. Just look back at Wii Sports Resort for a perfect example -- a few of its included activities mirror the events contained here, like canoeing and table tennis. And Resort's use of the MotionPlus adapter made its versions of those same activities feel immersive and fun. Mario & Sonic, though? Not so much.
I would have loved to see Sega's developers work more closely with Nintendo and perhaps integrate MotionPlus support into some of the returning events for this game, to make them feel and play differently than they did four years ago. Tons of Wii owners now have MotionPlus controllers -- especially after the release of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword -- and upgrading some of the old sports like fencing and the discus toss could have been great.