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Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games (Wii) artwork

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games (Wii) review

"Being quite a revolutionary game in itself, Mario and Sonic was always going to attract a lot of interest. The two trademark characters of SEGA and Nintendo, respective gaming rivals for years, come together for the very first time and head an enjoyable Wii title that can even cater for two lots of fanboys. Buying the game will certainly lead to a lot of fun if you've got friends coming over, but if you're counting on the game keeping you amused on your more solitary days, maybe it isn't ..."

Being quite a revolutionary game in itself, Mario and Sonic was always going to attract a lot of interest. The two trademark characters of SEGA and Nintendo, respective gaming rivals for years, come together for the very first time and head an enjoyable Wii title that can even cater for two lots of fanboys. Buying the game will certainly lead to a lot of fun if you've got friends coming over, but if you're counting on the game keeping you amused on your more solitary days, maybe it isn't the right purchase for you.

Mario and Sonic is rather simple in nature. There's a bunch of Olympic events and players must utilise the Wii controllers and motion sensor to make themselves look ridiculous whilst attempting to use the correct technique to break those prestigious world records. Some events require both the nunchuck and the remote, whereas others need only the remote itself. For instance, the good old 100m sprint gets players frantically moving their arms up and down (yes, in a sprinting sort of style) holding both the nunchuck and remote, one in each hand. The shooting, however, demands only that you point the remote at the screen to aim the gun's crosshair, and pick off the targets with the B button. Oh, before you think it - yes, it's insane that Mario can keep pace with Sonic in a sprint, but having the spiky guy win every time would be no fun, would it?

Though not every Olympic event is present, the selection is a fairly handsome one ranging from track and field to aquatics, archery and gymnastics. There are over twenty in total, and they all offer a decent challenge as you go for gold. Unfortunately, the controls for a few of them overlap which reduces a touch of originality. About half of them use the up-and-down 'sprint' motion at some point which can get tiresome (physically!), and some of the control methods opted for are just downright strange. Archery is often unpredictable as well as infuriating, whilst Table Tennis and Fencing are both very basic - a lot more could have been accomplished using the Wii's motion capabilities. I also can simply never get the hang of triple-jump, but this is probably more my shortcoming than the game's. That said, there are still a satisfying number of events where the controls are well balanced and occasionally, even somewhat realistic, such as the aforementioned sprint, the swimming and trampoline. A mention must be given to the 'dream events', where four events leave the confines of the Olympics and are glossed over into more deep and entertaining versions. The pick of the bunch is a Mario Kart-style sprinting race (with power-ups and everything) which is simply exhausting. Table Tennis and Fencing enjoy slightly more adventurous gameplay and a 10,000m Diving race appears! This bizarre but fresh offering ensures that a lot of crazy amusement is simply begging to be had.

There are 16 playable characters available and they are assigned into certain 'types' based on their ability in the four different attributes; speed, stamina, power, and skill. Sonic, for example is quite obviously a speed type, whereas Bowser is of the power variety and Tails heads the skill characters. Stamina doesn't have a 'type' itself but instead, characters such as Mario are 'all-round'. There are four characters in each class (making up the 16) and which events they are best at depends on these stats. Pick a high-power character for the hammer throw or javelin, but stamina-rich participants are more useful for the 400m, and skill will serve you better for table tennis (no pun intended). Numerous mainstream characters like Tails and Peach are blended with the less famed ones such as Waluigi and Vector, and the result is that it's very likely you'll be able to pick your favourite character from a fairly wide collection. Mii compatibility is also offered and although Mii stats are not indicated, it can sometimes be satisfying to beat your friends and win gold by playing as....yourself.

The visuals offered by the game are very solid but not quite spectacular. Characters are designed exactly as we know and love them and the event settings such as huge stadiums and vast lakes are pleasing. There is also a wonderful opening sequence with every character getting a chance to show off upon loading up the game. The Wii gets its fair share of criticism on the graphics front but Mario and Sonic doesn't suffer from the system's lesser capabilities. As far as the sound goes, well, there isn't much of it. With only a handful of tunes (which are decent enough), a big chunk of the sound comes from the polished sound effects and the little catchphrases from each character. It's not a bad touch but hearing "It's all about speed!" for the 600th time can start to be quite grating. Still, the title isnít one that is designed to be sound-dependent and from that point of view, the sound effects and limited array of music get the job done satisfactorily.

The events can be played in several different ways. 'Single match' is quite obviously where you simply select an event of your choice to play on its own, but the bulk of the game comes in the 'mission' and 'circuit' modes. Missions see you select a character and complete the six missions that they have been given. These are things such as finishing within a certain time (eg, 400m between 45 and 48 seconds) or attaining a certain distance (eg, Javelin between 70 and 75 metres). Other, more simple missions require you only to beat a certain rival or finish in a specified placing. With six missions for each of the sixteen characters, there is a lot here to complete, but unfortunately these missions are often quite tedious as well as a pain to unlock. Circuit mode is more enjoyable. There is again a Mario Kart-esque feel to it as one character must be selected to complete a number of specific events to earn points based on how high you place (and of course, the player with the most points at the end wins). There needs to be a bit of tactical thinking as one speed event followed by three power means that Sonic will not be the best selection, even if he is your favourite! The main annoyance with this mode is that in the earlier circuits, the AI is hopeless and winning two events out of four or five will usually be enough to see you stumble into first place. Most things are unlocked via completion of the circuits, and in fairness, they do steadily get harder as you complete more and more. This mode is certainly the most playable aspect of the game.

As I just mentioned unlocking, the time is ripe to bring up one of the most irritating elements of the title, namely the fact that you'll have to pump a good few hours into it before all of the events are available to you. If you've bought Mario and Sonic primarily for its multiplayer, then this might prove a big inconvenience - your friends may come round to be welcomed with disappointment at your reluctance to play it all afternoon in order to unlock high jump or whatever. On the other hand, if you do play for hours on end, then you'll probably end up being branded a prat for playing it so long and being better than everyone else. Sometimes life isn't fair.

Once you've had the game for a few weeks, everything is unlocked and everyone is familiar with the events, then I'll admit that you can have hours of fun with the Olympics. You might look like an idiot playing but so does everyone else so it's just funny instead of foolish. There is a bit of online involvement but this is not as thrilling as it might be. Instead of directly competing with people all over the world, you can only compare the world records that you've worked hard to achieve. It can actually be somewhat deflating to break the game's world record (which are contemporaneously accurate to real life) only to find out that about 10,000 people have beaten you. Speaking of world records, ones achieved in multiplayer will not be saved by the game and I consider this a tad ridiculous. The difficulty of achieving the required times or distances isnít any different based on who youíre against and with a lot of play likely to come when your friends are around, itís a plain silly detail.

On the other hand, one of the best points about the title is that a complete amateur can very conceivably give a hardened pro a run for his money, as the game isn't so practice-based as others once youíre familiar with the required technique (my 'prat' theory was actually just conjecture so don't worry). It can be enjoyed within the family as well as with friends, but the fact that many events will require more controllers (as well as nunchucks) means that more money will have to be shelled out to realise the game's maximum potential. Some events like shooting, javelin and archery are taken in turns and can be accomplished with only one controller, but the more competitive and exhilarating racing events cannot be enjoyed in such a way.

In all, it's a fun first coming-together of two big franchises, and I would recommend it if you have a number of players to call upon, as well as enough controllers for everyone. As previously addressed, the single-player can easily grow repetitive and stale, but few games are currently out that match the excitement its multiplayer offers. Itís easy for beginners to grasp, and smooth to quickly load up for a game. Mario and Sonic will be a worthy addition to the collection of many Wii owners.

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Community review by welsh_tom (June 23, 2008)

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