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Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games

Stage 1 : First Impressions
by Shawn White (2008-01-02)

Stage 1: Impressions

Stage 2: Analysis

Stage 3: Evaluation

In the 1990s, there were two names any respecting gamer had to know: Mario and Sonic. Now years later, the pudgy plumber and haughty hedgehog have brought their age-old rivalry to the 2008 Olympic Games. Epic contests of strength, speed and wits come to mind with such a spectacle, but look elsewhere if that's your expectation. In an attempt to be the spiritual successor to Wii Sports, this meeting of gaming titans seems wholly anticlimactic.

The immediately apparent problem with Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games is that the game can't decide on a focus. The casual orientation is clear: there's no story to accompany the exciting opening cinematic, only an easily navigated menu in which players can tackle single events, circuits or mission sets. All 16 characters - eight from both mascots' universes - are usable from the onset, divided into classes of All-Around, Power, Speed and Skill. The individual stats of each character aren't of much concern in the beginning, but they may help in winning the more difficult events later on.

How everyone ended up at the Olympics is a mystery.

Upon entering the events, however, the game loses a lot of casual appeal. This isn't Wii Sports where players can pick up the controller and understand what to do within seconds. While almost every event features two controls schemes - Wii Remote and Nunchuk, or Wii Remote alone - players have to read through explanation screens that are often long-winded and unclear. The game would have done well to learn from the Rayman Raving Rabbids series, where the instructions are simple and concise, and the controls are clearly demonstrated.

Surprisingly, the control scheme involving the Wii Remote by itself is given the least attention during explanation. Although this is the simpler of the two, it is rarely intuitive, as most events seem designed for the Nunchuk (six events, in fact, require it). The developers made an unwise move in putting the form of the events ahead of function of the controllers; the result is an "advanced" control scheme that experienced gamers didn't need and will have to spend time learning, and a more "casual" control scheme that too often feels like an afterthought.

Plan on doing some explaining for when friends come over.

The game features a variety of events such as 100m and 400m dash; 4x100m Relay; Hurdles; Long Jump; Trampoline; Fencing; Ping Pong; Hammer Throw; Javelin Throw; Skeet; Archery and Sculls (rowing). A number are available from the beginning, while others - such as the Dream Events, which include a Mario Kart-style foot race that's more fun than most normal events - must be unlocked by completing the Circuit and Mission modes.

The visuals aren't too far outside of Mario Party 8, but they serve the purpose of game well enough. All of the characters come with their expected voices, but the audio, outside of the opening cinematic music, is pretty mediocre. The interface is very clean, and the game's Gallery features a storehouse of information about the Olympics that can be unlocked by playing short mini-games. This more interactive approach is a good way of keeping the player interested in reading.

At least getting to the events is easy.

I'm not convinced of this game's worth for the single player, however. It doesn't have the pick-up-and-play factor of Wii Sports; doesn't have the speed and energy of WarioWare: Smooth Moves; and doesn't have the humor and wide variety of Rayman Raving Rabbids. The Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection is only used to upload high scores so as to compare with worldwide players. Characters don't interact in any interesting ways, either, which is probably most disappointing. They feel like marketing puppets.

Mario and Sonic at the Olympics Games isn't a bad game, but the initial impression is that of a wasted opportunity giving way to mediocrity. Stay tuned for Stage 2 where I'll cover the modes and multiplayer more extensively.

Stage 2: Analysis >

Stage 1: Impressions

Stage 2: Analysis

Stage 3: Evaluation