IGN Review of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games
Mario and Sonic teamed up for the first time together two years ago with the original Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games. Released shortly before the two mascots went head-to-head in Smash Bros. Brawl, the original offering was a bit heavy on waggle, but also had just enough added depth to remain an entertaining option in the world of Wii mini-game fests.
It's now two years later, and the unlikely pair is back, this time kicking off the winter Olympics in style with Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games. Gone are sprints and pole vaults, instead replaced by downhill skiing, snowboarding, bobsleigh, hockey, and more. And while the Olympic spirit is still alive and well in the duo's second sports outing, the overall package lacks the innovative touch and overall polish to be a true contender on Wii.
Mario & Sonic follows the same core design as the original game, giving players 27 events including both classic and "Dream Events" based off the core disciplines in the Olympic games. The events include everything from Skiing (slalom, freestyle, and downhill), ski jump, snowboarding (in both downhill and halfpipe), bobsleigh, skeleton, figure skating, speed skating, hockey, and even curling.
Players can jump into any of the classic games right off the bat, but playing in Dream Event mode requires unlocking, done through the game's simplistic single-player mode or via general in-game play time. As with the first Olympic game, the dream events are more "Nintendo-like" representations of the core events, so snowboarding for example has a SSX-meets-Mario Kart feel, complete with items, loops, and speed boosts. Most of the dream events are fun, often surpassing the classic disciplines.
As far as interface and options go, the game's 27 events are coupled with a coin system where items and extras can be purchased in the shop. After each event you'll get scored based on your rank in the event and any emblems (the game's own achievement system) you might have earned, and then can take that cash into the shop and blow your loot on some new Mii gear, logos for your snowboard or skis, in-game music, or history behind the Olympics in the library section. The library is a nice concept, but the content is really limited, having you spend a few dozen coins for what amounts to just a few pages of info. Really? A page and a half on the history of hockey? It's a nice concept, but it could be taken way further. Luckily coins come easy, and there's plenty to unlock if you're a completion freak.
The events themselves are really the make-or-break aspect though, and unfortunately you'll have to search for the ones that really pull you in. In general the dream events are stronger as I mentioned, but many of the core events aren't worth the time it'll take to unlock those dream offerings in the first place. Skiing has been done over and over again on Wii, and neither the main slalom, the snowboard event, nor ski jump are superior to what you'd find in Wii Fit or Wii Fit Plus.
Most of the events also use a whole lot of waggle or over-exaggerated remote tilt where controls could have made for a better experience, so while games like the original SSX Blur married tilt with analog stick control in tandem for snowboard carving, Mario & Sonic has you waving the controllers back and forth, and then doing simple waggle to pull off tricks. Even hockey, which should be a no-brainer, is a bit of a mess, having three-on-three play with "shake to shoot/check" controls, and very little strategy at all.
On the plus side you've got the surprisingly awesome curling, which -- if you don't know the sport -- is basically a mix of bocce ball, shuffleboard, and a little bit of horseshoes. Players throw rocks down the ice in an attempt to get closest to the bulls-eye made out of ice, and each team can sweep to change the rock's speed mid-throw, and even knock opposing teams out of the circle. At the end of it all, the closest team to the center wins points based on their throws. In Mario & Sonic, the developers included everything from bowling control for slide strength, hook and slice for curving the rock, and sweep controls that allow you to change the speed and counteract a bad throw.
Aiming is done with the pointer, and the physics used to knock opponents out of the way are well done. It's hands-down the best addition to the package, which is a huge win for myself and fellow Nintendo guru Craig Harris, who is equally obsessed with the sport. Is it worth getting the game on its own? No chance. It is a great addition though, so if you're a hardcore gamer amongst a family of casual Wii owners, there's at least something fun and unique that Mario & Sonic does better than any other Wii game out there.
A few of the other events, such as figure skating and bobsleigh, are decently done, but lack some innovation. Figure skating has you picking a few public domain tracks (yup, classic "freebie" songs make a return after Wii Music) and then carving up the ice in an auto-moving rhythm game of sorts. Whenever you reach jump sections or specific stunts, you shake the remote in time, balance with it vertically positioned, or spin it in circles to pull off moves. It's far from a mindblowing offering, but it works, and casual players will have no problem picking up the simplistic controls.
The downhill tilt racers -- bobsleigh and skeleton, for example -- work, but they're also very uninspired. Shake to start your run, press A to get on the sled, and then tilt back and forth to steer. Oh, and for those that were a fan of the relay race in the previous Olympics game, speed skating offers the same tandem system. Shaking speeds you up, and then tilting into turns controls how tight you take the corners. It's basic, but it's at least original in design; more than I can say for the classic ski, snowboard, and ski jump events.
On the audio/visual side of things, Mario & Sonic isn't bad, but it's also far from groundbreaking. The game includes some ugly crowd animations, and also a mix of both decent and entirely lame interface choices. Main menu is well done, but the "village" themed shop is a pain to navigate with some choppy IR implementation. As for the audio, you'll find both some licensed and public domain music, complete with SEGA's token "announcer guy" doing all the narration. Without going into huge brand war issues here, it's obvious this is a mini-game set developed by SEGA, and not something Nintendo-made like Wii Sports, Wii Fit, or the Big N's own Strikers/Baseball/Golf franchises. It just doesn't have that final level of polish you'd expect.
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