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Gaming Review

'Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Winter Games' (Wii)

By
Released on Friday, Oct 16 2009



Also available on: DS
Developer: Sega Japan
Publisher: Sega
Genre: Party / Sports

Despite being two decades old, Mario and Sonic are still worth their weight in gold. Once sworn 16-bit enemies, the mascots decided to team up two years ago to storm the Olympics, selling a whopping ten million copies in the process. With such success, it makes perfect sense to see them return to the 2010 Winter Olympics, an outing that manages to fix many of the problems that plagued the first game, even if they create others elsewhere.

The most commendable change is opening up all the events from the start. There's no need to spend Christmas morning playing through the single-player while everyone looks glum and slightly envious of your motion gestures: all the main mini-games are ready to play in their entirety, with the training and party modes all stuffed off to the side so you can jump straight in and get playing with minimum fuss.

Another welcome addition is the flexible control scheme. The best example is skiing: you can play the event by standing on a Balance Board with remote and nunchuk in tow, or simply with the two controllers, and failing that, just with the remote. It means that those with all the trimmings get to use them for a more immersive experience, yet allows everyone to play with the very basic set up, which comes especially handy for the new co-operative events. For better or worse, there is little advantage between them to maintain an even playing field. (It should be noted that you can only have one Balance Board available at any one time due to the Wii hardware architecture.)

As well as significant multiplayer adjustments, the main campaign has also had an overhaul. Festival mode takes you through the Olympics day by day, teaching you new events and putting you through your paces through regular competitions. The gradual yet diversified pacing of learning new games, alongside boss challenges and Dream Events, captures that 'one last go' factor throughout. Our only complaint here is that training is scored the same as competitions, which is somewhat harsh for those trying to learn the ropes, but on the whole the campaign is a resounding success.

And yet, despite the steps to ensure a more relaxed and open progression to playing, the controls themselves are still hit and miss. Using skiing as an example once more, a remote and nunchuk make logical substitutes for the poles, and since turning requires gradual tilting and pitching for movement and speed, provide just the right level of accuracy to play. Other course-based activities, such as snowboarding and bobsleigh, require the controller to be held in front of you to be tilted to the sides, which is less representative and far less accurate due to a larger turning radius. Although we applaud the even playing field with the control schemes, it's here that Wii MotionPlus would have made all the difference, especially on taking sharp and rapid turns in such time-intensive events.

Elsewhere, the game manages to step away from the waggle-heavy approach from the last outing and into a more broken-up gesture approach. Speed skating is a mixture of shaking the controller and swinging from side to side in rhythm, and Figure Skating is a two-minute gauntlet of gestures, both of which are unattractive and uninvolving ordeals. Jumps and trick-based activities rely on simple timed gestures, and the other two stand-out events, Curling and Ice Hockey, take ideas from other games (Wii Sports bowling and Mario Super Strikers specifically) but clog them up with obstructive flicks of a remote, and in the case of the latter, rigid passing and movement.

In fact, in some cases it's these influences from the other games that become the stand-out moments. The Dream Events pick out certain mechanics and drop them into themed courses or arenas. Skiing through a snowy Green Hill, collecting power-ups and taking speed boosts is just like Mario Kart, while the Mario Galaxy Ski Jump event launches you through obstacles to collect points and land on a target, much like Super Monkey Ball Target mini-game. Even the completely non-related pastimes of snowball fights and gliding have elements of Pilot Wings and third-person shooters, making for priceless multiplayer components that put the regular events in the shade. At the same time, these all need to be unlocked by playing through the Festival, going against the grain of the open accessibility it prides itself on.

Once you've made it through the Festival, everything starts to wear thin. High scores are in vain against the often frustrating or poorly assigned controls, but multiplayer is where the game truly shines, where the fun of competing with others overrides the need to have absolute precision and timing. The Party mode, which adds gameshow and balloon-popping elements around events is lengthy process hindered by long load times (which is present throughout the package) while the shop accessories are a superficial means to extend the legs of the game. Although that's not to say it's a secret pleasure to dress up a Mii, or connect online to use real-time local or Vancouver weather for outside events.

There's little doubt that Mario & Sonic should be applauded for trying to better itself the second time around, and in many ways it succeeds by becoming more approachable in practically every way. Yet when it comes down to the events themselves, the majority are hampered by inaccurate controls or by simply being not interesting enough to play in the first place. As a party game to kick back to it's a success, just don't expect anything to sink your teeth into.


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