IGN Review of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games
Earlier in 2007, SEGA announced Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games for both the Nintendo Wii as well as the Nintendo DS consoles. As we got closer to the end of the year, SEGA decided to send the Nintendo DS version into 2008 instead of pairing it up with its Wii brother for a simultaneous launch. Whatever the strategy behind this – whether the handheld game needed a bit more time in development, or whether the company was afraid the two versions would eat into each others' sales numbers – the fact remains that, apart from a few control tweaks and changes, as well as an extra mode or two in the handheld rendition, the two versions are almost identical in design. That's certainly not a bad thing as SEGA's unique mash-up of two familiar brands is a pretty fun Track & Field-style design, and it's impressive to see how well the handheld team kept up with the console developers when building the DS game.
The game is certainly not short on features. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games contains 16 playable characters from two company's line-up of franchise personas, and they're all grouped together based on talent in events: speed, strength, and skills. If it's a foot race, your best bet is to put a fast runner in there; a throwing event, a strong character. You get the idea. And the event list is pretty extensive, too, with 16 different Olympic-based events – from track & field/decathlon challenges to ping pong and trampoline bouncing – that have different styles of gameplay. On top of that are Dream Challenges based on existing events, as well as specific mission challenges for each of the 16 characters. Everything's tracked by an achievement system that awards trophies for all that you do in the game, and if you sync up your system to the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service, you can transfer your events scores and times to the worldwide server and see how you rank.
This all sounds familiar because, in description, you could apply it all to the Wii version of the game that shipped more than two months prior. It's not entirely a bad thing to have the same design. In fact, it's a testament to the power and the abilities of the Nintendo DS and the handheld team to see such an accurate representation of the Wii game on the handheld. The audio and visual experience is pretty close on the handheld, and the 3D engine is pretty slick for Nintendo DS standards with the way it displays detailed, realtime rendered character models and backgrounds across both screens, either in two different camera angles or as one tall screen sharing the upper and lower display.
But it's a double-edged sword. Some events are still duds, like Fencing. And as good as it is and as good as it looks, this game has been seen before, and for whatever reason while you might not have played the Wii version, the excitement of the Nintendo DS game is sort of diluted because there's not much here that gamers haven't heard about or experienced already.
Okay, that's not entirely true. The ways each of the games are played are definitely different compared to the Wii counterpart. Instead of waggling the Wii Remote and Nunchuk in the air, you're scribbling the DS touch screen as fast as possible. Instead of aiming an on-screen reticule with the Wii Remote, you simply drag the stylus where you need to pinpoint. Instead of waving the controllers in the air to jazz up the crowd for a power-up, you "clap" into the microphone…which can easily be overridden by tapping the stylus on the mic hole so you don't look like a goof.
Comparatively, the Wii version comes out the better game because the way you play feels more immersive and becomes more demanding for each of the events. Rapidly drumming the controllers is far more challenging than quickly stroking the touchscreen, and the results seem to be more obvious: you're much more likely to pant from exertion in the Wii game, which sort of fits the whole "Olympic Games" motif. And on the handheld, this is a game where you'll begin to worry about the well-being of your Nintendo DS system. I didn't manage to destroy a handheld during my playtime with Mario & Sonic, but when I saw how much pressure I was putting rubbing the screen back and forth just feels dangerous, especially when you start seeing the LCD screen goo start smearing due to the rubbing action. Of course, some games, like Ping Pong or the diving events -- are more casually paced or don't use the touch screen, but the games that require rapid speed on the lower screen are frighteningly abusive.
That might not be SEGA's fault, though. Heck, that's how I would've designed the running events. But what is SEGA's fault is the somewhat clunky presentation. While it's nice to get an instant replay after an event, sometimes that instant replay isn't as helpful as it could be. How close was your character from stepping over the foul line in the Javelin or Long Jump? No idea because all it does is show that same jump over again from a similar camera perspective. And the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection feature is a good one, but it's such a drag uploading and downloading the rankings from the server. There are 16 events, and you can only pull down the scores one event at a time. It's such a drag picking an event, connecting to the service, waiting for the system to respond, waiting for the system to download the stats for that one event, and waiting for the system to disconnect. Why didn't SEGA add a "get all events" button? Seems like a no-brainer to me, especially since you'll have to update the rankings frequently to have the most up-to-date list.
The game's difficulty level isn't enormously high, at least when it comes to breaking records. Don't be surprised if you manage to hit an Olympic or World record the first time you try an event. The challenge in Mario & Sonic isn't to hit these records because, the way these games are balanced, that would be a lame challenge. No, it's all about getting a high enough result to compete against the online rankings as well as beating the rubberband AI opponents and completing the side challenges like the Mission Mode and the Trivia Mode. Speaking of trivia, some of these questions are downright silly: Why do the Olympics take place every four years? Answer: Because the original Olympics took place every four years. Did Bazooka Joe write these answers? How about telling us why the original Olympics took place every four years, hmm?
Luckily the game supports the local wireless function of the Nintendo DS for multiplayer, and honestly, that's where most of the fun will be had…if you can find three other players willing to tear up their Nintendo DS system. All events can be played if someone's unlocked them on their system and is using their cart in the network, but those without cartridges can partake in a limited number of multiplayer challenges using the Nintendo DS Download Play option. The online component of Mario & Sonic doesn't bleed over to multiplayer, unfortunately, which is sort of a shame since Worldwide competition could have been the upper hand of the DS version over the Wii edition. The other missed opportunity is Wii to DS connectivity, but since Nintendo hasn't really established the guidelines for the link between handheld and console at this point, we really can't fault SEGA for not getting this feature in.
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