If back in 1990 you had told either a Nintendo or Sega fanboy that both Mario and Sonic would be appearing together in a game in 2007, you'd have been told that you were completely insane. Well, the unthinkable has happened, and the once-fierce rivals are now together for the first time in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games. It's too bad that this isn't the great platforming game an entire generation has been dreaming of since the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis days. Instead it's a collection of minigames, some of which are good, and many of which are not.
One of the game's big draws is that it lets you use characters from the Mario and Sonic universes. From the Mario side you can select Mario, Luigi, Wario, Waluigi, Bowser, Daisy, Yoshi, or Peach. From the Sonic side you can play as Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Blaze, Vector, Dr. Eggman, or Shadow. Each character is rated in a number of categories, but these ratings don't seem to matter much if you're any good at the game. Multiplayer options include download play, which lets you play six events against up to three other people and, if everyone has their own cartridge, four people can choose from all 24 of the game's single events or compete in full circuits. Though there's no online play, the game tracks records for all events, and you can even upload your best scores and times online to see how you stack up with the rest of the world.
Mario & Sonic lets you play 24 real Olympic events (four more than on the Wii), as well as a few of the fantasy variety. A few events from the Wii version are missing here, but they've all been replaced by new competitions. You can play single events; a circuit, where you compete in four events and try to finish first so that you can unlock new sports; and missions, where you compete in multiple events but have specific goals such as finishing in a certain time or throwing the javelin a particular distance. Why you'd ever not want to throw the javelin as far as you can--and instead try to toss it just a bit further with every throw--is anyone's guess, but it's something you'll have to do here. Most of these contests use stylus-based controls, a few use only the D pad and face buttons, and some of them require pressing buttons while you use the stylus. Athletic events include: 100 meter dash, 400 meter dash, 400 meter hurdles, long jump, triple jump, hammer throw, the javelin throw, and a few others. These events are really basic and require little more of you than to rub the stylus across the screen to run, make a circular motion to spin, or draw a line at an angle to throw or jump. The controls here work fine, and the tutorials are generally helpful, though you'll experience some trial and error when trying to get your timing down in the 100 meter dash.
There's more to the game than track-and-field events. You can make a splash in the 10 meter platform dive or take a dip in the pool for the 100 meter race. The latter is performed much like the foot races, except you have to draw a specific pattern repeatedly to swim, as well as hit a button at specific times to keep your stamina going. If you're into gymnastics, you can hop on a trampoline, where you have to move the stylus to jump and then draw patterns you see onscreen to perform moves. You can even do the vault, where you run up to a springboard and then jump across the horse while doing tricks in midair. Another event is skeet shooting, which is significantly more enjoyable on the DS than it was on the Wii. Archery is one of the better games. Here you move the stylus downward to pull the arrow toward you and then line up two pairs of sights with the stylus. This isn't too tough on its own, but when you start having to take wind speed into account, it gets pretty tricky. One of the more entertaining events is a DS exclusive: cycling. The controls make sense, there's a bit of strategy involved with regard to your pacing, and the races are usually pretty exciting.
One sport that should have been good, but isn't, is fencing. You move your character back to dodge an opponent's attack, and then move the stylus forward to stab when he or she misses. You can parry shots, but you'd have to have lightning-quick reflexes to do so, and there's no point in doing so aside from when you have to parry to pass a mission. Another event that fails to be much fun is table tennis. You can at least move your character around (something which you couldn't do on the Wii), but the action isn't all that interesting, and due to the fact that one person is displayed on each screen, you have to imagine where the ball is when it crosses the game between the two screens.
The big problem with Mario & Sonic is that the mechanics for most events just aren't much fun. The game requires some precise timing and movement to pull off certain maneuvers, but the touch-sensing seems to be a bit iffy, so you're never quite sure how your movements will be read. Even if you aren't having trouble with an event, you probably won't have much fun, unless you enjoy scribbling with the stylus to pretend that you're running. A number of events force you to blow or clap into the microphone--a mechanic that's totally played out. There's also very little depth to any of the events. Other than a few sports for which the controls really get in the way, it's not difficult to win gold on your first attempt. In fact, you'll probably set world records on your first go at a sport on more than one occasion. Consequently, though you might have fun for an hour or two, you'd be hard pressed to squeeze much more entertainment out of the game, even when playing with up to three other friends.
The visuals are probably the best thing Mario & Sonic has to offer. The familiar and beloved characters are nicely animated, right down to individualized celebrations. The frame rate is steady, even when eight characters are displayed onscreen at once; it's a very technically solid visual presentation. The audio isn't bad either. If you use the same character over and over, you'll likely grow weary of the repetitious exclamations, but there are plenty of characters available should you tire of one. The music isn't anything exciting, though you can unlock classic Mario and Sonic tunes by playing some of the trivia games, which oddly enough have you do things such as sort goombas or match cards instead of actually answering trivia.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games probably isn't the game you envisioned when you imagined the once-fierce rivals finally getting together, but that's not its biggest problem. Instead, the trouble lies in the often uninteresting and occasionally frustrating controls, combined with some events that are too similar to one another, as well as shallow gameplay that brings the game down.