Does this go for the gold, or settle for a mere bronze?
After the original Mario & Sonic Olympics game sold so well in 2007, it’s easy to see how one might become curious about the sequel, which takes the cross-over duo to Vancouver for the Winter Olympics. When a game becomes one of the most profitable titles of the entire year for its parent company (or in this case, companies) you can’t help but poke your head in and see what all the fuss is about. At its heart, Mario & Sonic is another minigame collection in a long line of minigame collections, so you probably already know how you feel about this sort of thing right off the bat. But even as far as minigame collections go, does M&S stick the landing?
There are three main modes that make up the bulk of the gameplay in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter games: Singleplayer, Multiplayer, and, lastly, “Adventure Tours” – but more on that in a moment. Each mode contains several sub-modes to play with, offering over double the number of modes from the original Mario & Sonic DS game. For example, under Singleplayer, “Single Match” will allow you to play any of the unlocked events with any character in the game, “Multi-Round Match” will take you through a number of events in a set and determine the winner based on how many events you won overall, “Party Game” has you playing random events to complete games of chance, and the final mode, “Ghost”, allows you to trade and compete against ghost replay data of an event, either from a friend or from one of the staff members that worked on the game. One would assume that all of these modes are also available for the game’s Multiplayer mode, but I wouldn’t know – despite bearing the “Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection” logo on the box, M&S is local-multiplayer only, and I regrettably have nobody nearby who is willing to play the game with me. The Wi-Fi connection is instead used to submit and view leaderboard statistics for the game’s 25+ events, and while that’s admirable enough, minigame collections are always more fun with a friend – even if you’re several thousand miles apart.
But the real meat of Mario & Sonic, one would think, is the all-new “Adventure Tours” mode, replacing “Mission Mode” from the original Mario & Sonic game. Adventure Tours is a full-fledged story mode for the game, taking Mario and Sonic through a variety of imaginary Vancouver locales as they chase down Dr. Eggman and Bowser, who have sabotaged the Vancouver Olympics in order to start their own evil version of the Winter games. Given that the bulk of one’s playtime would presumably be spent playing a story mode like this, “Adventure Tours” is listed as the third item on the game’s main menu – under both the Single and Multiplayer modes. It only takes ten minutes to see why, exactly, a design decision like this was made – it’s simply not very fun. Nearly every aspect of this mode is a chore to work through. For starters, it’s full of pages upon pages upon pages of over-written dialog where characters make nothing but brain-dead-obvious statements at each other. It’s rare that I’m not willing to tolerate a game’s storyline, but I found myself mashing the A button to get each dialog sequence over and done with so I could move on to the next event. On top of that, almost every event you attempt will require you to look around for the necessary equipment. For instance, let’s say a character wants to compete in a Snowboarding event – you’ll need to search the superfluous RPG overworld for a treasure chest containing a snowboard, or talk to an NPC willing to give the equipment away. It feels like busy work – which is a shame, because finding and recruiting characters to your “team” is actually kind of fun; there’s a bit of strategy in picking the right character for the right event that I found somewhat enjoyable. It’s just surrounded by the most tedious stuff imaginable.
But let’s get one thing clear, right here, right now: what you’re really coming to M&S for is the events themselves. A minigame collection is only as good as the minigames it features, and new to Winter Olympics are “Dream Events”. Rather than the dry, real-world events that populated 2007′s M&S game, “Dream Events” add a little bit of fantastical flair to the proceedings, such as a snowboard race with Mario Kart items or arena-based deathmatch with mobile snowball cannons. The real-world events run the gamut of what you’d expect from the Winter Olympics, with ice skating, curling, hockey and more. But, as anybody experienced with these kinds of games knows, not all minigames are created equally. Some events, like the aforementioned snowball cannon deathmatch, are really fun and really polished – but others, like the real-world “Snowboard Cross” event, are frustrating thanks to obtuse controls that force you to use touch-screen. It simply doesn’t make any sense, as all of the other snowboarding events instead opt for the more logical choice of normal D-pad controls. However, chances are you’ll still end up breezing through most of the content in Winter Olympics, seeing as most events don’t put up much of a fight. The few rare times I would fail an event was largely due to an unclear goal description or because I succumbed to poor touch screen implementation.
In the end, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games doesn’t do much, if anything, to raise itself above the plethora of other minigame collections on the market, but neither is it really an outright awful game – it’s simply somewhere in the middle; not bad enough to hate, but not good enough to love. If you’ve got some local friends and you can pick it up on the cheap, portable Olympics minigames may be worth the price of admission. But as it stands right now, I wouldn’t really recommend the game to anyone.
Note: As blogs are now required to disclose these things by law, we would like to state that TSSZ News was provided a review copy of this game courtesy of Sega of America.