Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games Wii, DS
Last year we saw a gaming event that many thought would never happen, a pairing of once bitter rivals that was enough to give fanboys a wet dream. Yes, the gaming legends Mario and Sonic finally made it into a game together, a sporting game centred around the Olympics. It made sense as it was sure to be competitive between the two sides.
Unexpectedly the use of the Olympic licence stretched to next year’s winter Olympics, and so we have another game based on the snowbound sports. This automatically leads to less variety in the events, as practically all are based around skiing, snowboarding or ice skating, but there is a reasonable amount to choose from. Unsurprisingly a good number of the events involve racing, either in timed races or against other racers, and as such are quite similar. All the snowboarding events, bar one, are identical the skiing events for example; the controls are the same, the courses are the same, there’s nothing to tell them apart really. Skiing and snowboarding do get their own unique events though, in the case of skiing it’s a long jump, and with snowboarding you get to pull stunts in a half pipe.
The skating events offer a little more variety, with the two racing events being more dependant on effort than just steering. These involve waggling your Wiimote sideways to emulate the movement of the skaters arms in speed skating, and the shorter of the two races needing you to maintain a rhythm with your movements. Then there’s the figure skating event, which plays like a rhythm game, you watch your character skate around the rink and must pull off motions with your Wiimote on spots you pass over. There are other events not based around skiing, snowboarding or skating though, but would it surprise you to hear there are more racing events? Yes that perennial winter favourite tobogganing makes an appearance – first waggle your Wiimote for all you’re worth to get a good run up, then jump on the sled and all that’s left is to steer to the finish, following a racing line to maintain your speed.
That just leaves a small handful of events, not that I think snow ball fights are sanctioned by the Olympic committee. These are split between more action-oriented events, like the aforementioned snow ball fights, and ice hockey, curling, and the inexplicably included hand gliding. These offer a nice respite from the similarity of the other events, as do the dream events which take some of the sports out of the real world and in to the crazy worlds of Mario and Sonic. I found these to be a lot more fun than the regular events, skiing through a Sonic level is much better than just down a hill, ski jumping between planets in Mario Galaxy and ice skating round a Mario Kart track are just a couple of other things you’ll find to do in the dream events. These are not only more fun, with their power ups and speed boosts, not to mention more varied courses, but I also found them a little more forgiving, which is also a nice break from the frustration you sometimes feel in the normal events.
All game modes are available to play with up to four players and there are several game modes on offer. You can, of course, play single events at any time, although not all are unlocked to begin with, then there is festival mode, which simulates the Olympic timetable, spreading events out over a couple of weeks or so. This mode is made up of a good mixture of training, main events and dream events, with interruptions every two days from a boss character with a challenge for you. Training mode, obviously, allows you to practice events at your leisure, and there is even a game mode devoted to the Wii balance board, that I was sadly unable to try. Party mode adds to the longevity with a few game types that play in a similar way to the Mario Party games, using the events of the main game to determine the results of turns. There’s plenty of stuff to unlock too, music, outfits for your Mii, sports equipment, it all gives you a little more incentive to play that little bit more.
The regular events, although a little lacking in variety, offer something for the sports enthusiast, and the dream events bring something to the table for the Mario and Sonic fans. It’s certainly on a par with its predecessor in terms of quality. The only problem is since then Nintendo raised the bar with Wii Sports Resort, which has left this looking a little lacking. All in all there’s a lot of play here, although it is most fun playing with friends.
Obviously there were going to be differences between the Wii and DS version, but the control system actually translates pretty well from Wii to DS. Instead of motion you have touch control or button bashing. There are quite a few difference in the events department, with cross country skiing and shooting making an appearance.
The biggest difference in this version is the main single player mode; there is no festival to go through, but instead an adventure game. Eggman and Bowser have stolen the Snow Sprites, meaning no snow for the winter Olympics and as Mario and Sonic you must travel through a Pokemon style adventure to save the day. Instead of turn-based battles you'll play sporting challenges, not only to defeat the bad guys, but friends as well so they join your team as only specific characters can get past certain obstacles. It's certainly a novel approach to a sporting game, one that I've never seen before but it works well and is a nice change to address the lack of story found in practically all sports games. If it's not your cup of tea you can just play the sports events on their own, alone or with wifi play with friends, so it certainly doesn't detract if that's not your thing.
It's rare that a handheld game surpasses it's console cousin, but this is definitely the case here. The inclusion of the adventure mode is really quite different to anything you'll find in any sports game anywhere. And it's a definite plus, and just in case it doesn't appeal it's not compulsory. Sega should be commended for what they've done here, it's a real fresh of breath air, and I look forward to seeing other pairings of genre from them if it works this well.