Previews// Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games

Posted 16 May 2011 12:33 by
We all knew it was coming. Ever since SEGA realised that it was on to a good thing with the triple threat that is Mario, Sonic and the Olympic Games, it was inevitable that we’d see a new party game every five minutes, well, every two years... but it feels like five minutes.

The advantage that SEGA has however, is that the Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games games are really rather good. Rather than the typical Wii family-oriented shovelware, these offer an entertaining selection of competent mini-games that benefit from the prestige of Mario and (well, the sort of prestige of) Sonic. They’re not super-fantastic, but they’ll keep you entertained with the kids, basically.

So what’s new in the London 2012 edition for the Wii and 3DS, then? Well, the setting for starters - most of the Olympic venues that are dotted around London (including, naturally, the huge stadium currently being constructed in Stratford) have been re-interpreted with a trademark Nintendo-esque art style.

A range of new events will be made available in the Wii version too, focusing on sporting challenges that best fit the British and Western European tastes. I had a little play on a selection of these - Equestrian (horse-riding for the non-Etons out there), Canoeing and Badminton. We love a bit of Badminton, we do.

Equestrian is played with the Wii Remote held horizontally, shaking up and down to speed up your gee gee. The aim is to guide your horse around the course with spectacular force. Get the best clear time to earn the gold medal - timing of jumps using the 2 Button is important, and if you go too fast around corners you may get thrown off your ride.

Badminton requires nary but a flick of the wrist to serve and return shots, and it’s about as taxing as every other faux-tennis game on the Wii. Canoeing sees you racing down Eton Dorney on your own or with a friend as you try to mimic the best paddling action you can remember. Timing is important again, as well as keeping in sync with your partner, although the final stretch allows you to go hell for leather, which can be quite amusing if you’re watching your grandma attempt this.

According to SEGA, there are more new events and features planned to keep things fresh on the aging waggle box, including football, an all-new Party mode (details of which were not disclosed) and improvements to some old favourites such as the 100m Sprint. What really caught my interest however were the revamped Dream Events - sports with a twist, set against a peculiar Mario or Sonic-related backdrop.

In past Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games instalments, these additional events didn’t seem to stray too far from the ‘reality’ of the standard Beijing or Vancouver venues. This time around, events are actually set in locations that fans of both franchises will know and love.

I saw two of these - the Dream Long Jump is basically a 4-player endurance mode set in a Yoshi’s Story stage. Players bounce on clouds to avoid falling down past the ticker tape at the bottom of the screen. Avoiding enemies, activating lightning clouds to stun your opponents and butt-slamming other players is a great way to be the last man standing. And it’s pretty fun to play as well, particularly if you want to forge a grudge between friends.

Dream Discus has the SEGA and Nintendo mascots fly around the well-ventilated canyons of Windy Valley from Sonic Adventure, on huge spinning discs. The aim is to collect the most rings throughout the course, whilst avoiding Spinner badniks and charging up spins to knock other players out of the game. At the end of the stage, you drop from a tornado, and a bonus is given to the player who lands closest to the centre of the platform.

While the Wii is enjoying its third instalment of the Mario & Sonic series, London 2012 will be the first time players will get to enjoy cartoon Olympics on Nintendo’s 3DS handheld. It’s taking a somewhat different tack from the console version - instead of particularly long mini-games, the 3DS version gives you bite-sized micro-games and blasts them at you in what SEGA calls a ‘medley.’

I played a five-game medley that took advantage of all of the different aspects of the 3DS technology. Judo simply asked you to press a combination of the right buttons at the right time. 1000m Kayak Singles focused on the Circle Pad, requiring you to rotate it as fast as possible to clear the five-second course.

The gyro sensor was used for the Balance Beam, with the 3DS having to be tilted around shapes and find the centre of gravity; and the 100m breaststroke was played by blowing into the microphone in a rhythm. My favourite has to be the 20km Race Walk though - using the stylus to swipe to and fro on the touch screen to the timing of the music. It all goes a bit Pete Tong if you cock up the rhythm, and your character visibly walks like a nutter as well. It’s great.

I know that whatever I say about these games, SEGA will sell a truckload of them regardless. So I have no qualms with saying that Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games is looking very nice indeed. Particularly on the 3DS, where the character models look sharp and there are no headaches (haw haw) to be had at all.

I’m interested to see what more the Wii version can bring to improve on past titles, but generally it looks like Londoners will have a party game for all the family to be proud of when the Olympics come to town.

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