DesertEagle’s Take: While I’ve never hurled a controller at the wall in a moment of unadulterated gaming frustration, I’ve still broken a fair share of input devices. Typically, this has been the result of an overly vigorous session with an Olympic-themed title, usually from the joystick jerking of Decathlon for the 2600 to the dual analog stick palming featured in Beijing 2008. Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games for the Nintendo Wii was the first title to forgo stick grinding and make a controller-saving transition to frictionless waggle control. With a selection of twenty competent mini-games, the title became a casual crowd pleaser and one of the Wii’s best selling third-party titles.
In anticipation of the imminent 2010 winter games, Sega has returned with another collection of diminutive diversions that seeks to replicate their previous success. As expected, few changes were made to the existing formula. While the mini-game count has increased to twenty-seven, the diversity of events is limited by the source material, meaning there are an abundance of skiing, snowboarding, and sledding variations. Inexplicably absent is the biathlon; a peculiar omission since the previous title’s skeet shooting was capably adapted. One worthwhile addition is the game’s Festival mode- a campaign that recreates the entire winter Olympics. With opening and closing ceremonies and an event calendar modeled after the real games, the mode generates a feeling of cohesiveness that was absent from the title’s predecessor.
Clearly, accessibility was a key objective for Mario and Sonic’s second expedition, as evidenced by the title’s variety of control methods and muted difficulty. All events can be controlled with a single Wiimote, while some allow for Nunchuck augmentation and others even offer balance board support. After experiencing frustration with SSX Blur’s uber-tricks, which required players to draw invisible shapes with the Wiimote, I was worried about figure skating’s similar input method. Like the rest of Winter Games, the event’s execution was near flawless. After one or two attempts with each sport, obtaining gold medals was almost effortless. Thus, more experienced gamers may be disappointed by Mario and Sonic’s relative ease.
Graphically, the game comes close to matching the polish found in first-party Nintendo titles. Each of the game’s twenty characters are well drawn and proficiently animated. As Yoshi glides down an alpine slope, his anthropomorphic body reacts realistically to every jump and curve. It’s a shame that the game’s framerate doesn’t offer a real sensation of speed and sporadically falters in the game’s multiplayer modes. Still, most audiences will overlook the game’s slight visual defects once they peer into the game’s cornucopia of unlockable content; players can customize equipment or even read up on the history of the games.
While most hardcore gamers may dismiss Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games as an attempt to capitalize off a forthcoming sporting event, the title holds a respectable amount of play value for more casual gamers. With a host of unlockables, a modest variety of diversions, and immersive controls, the two mascots’ trip to Vancouver is one of the better translations of the international games. While the plumber and hedgehog might not have earned top honors, their efforts are certainly worthy of a silver medal.
Shipwreck’s Take: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games may cause gaming aficionados to chortle and pass it off as just another mini game collection aimed at an unwitting casual user base, but maybe it’s worth finding out why this series sold so well when it visited the Summer Games two years ago. It turns out, in addition to having two of the biggest icons in gaming on the cover, the original is actually a well-made game that (as cliché as it may sound) is great for the whole family.
While not something I’m likely to play on my own, Mario & Sonic is meant to be played with others – and that’s just how I played it. The day Mario and Sonic arrived, my in-laws just so happened to be coming over for dinner so I threw the game in to see how it would fare. To give you some background on my in-laws gaming exploits, they don’t own any videogame consoles but they do enjoy games like Wii Sports and The Beatles: Rock Band. They also don’t really have an affinity for these characters as illustrated by my mother-in-law announcing, “I want to be Mario. That’s Mario, right?” as she selected Luigi. So how did the green and skinny Mario do? Three hours later he was still triple salchowing his way to yet another Olympic medal.
The genius of the game is in the variety of control schemes that allow you to play the twenty-seven event types with all kinds of combinations of Wiimote, Nunchuk, and Balance Board controls. All of the events are easy to pick up and the control schemes are explained succinctly in just a few screens of information, so there’s not a lot of time wasted in jumping to and from events and learning them on the fly. We jumped from slaloming down hills to ski jumping to speed skating to bobsledding to ice hockey and to figure skating without missing a beat. Curling was really the only event that we had control issues with as it was difficult to slide the stone with the right amount of power.
Figure skating was a hit with the ladies of the house and it was fun to watch them wave the Wiimote around in time with the music and try to nail that finishing pose like they were trying to win over a stingy Russian judge. Equally entertaining was playing some of the co-op events like bobsledding and having everyone in the room shifting their bodies back and forth to stay on track. Moments like these happen a lot in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games and these moments are really what made me realize how good this game is at creating a fun and goofy time for its audience.
In addition to playing each event individually, there’s the career-like Festival Mode and a few different variations of Mario Party-type set-ups where you compete to see who’s best over a mix of events. The game also features a lot of unlockables, including outfits to dress up your in-game Miis and fan-service Dream Events. These Dream Events are more imaginative takes on the competitions and feature mechanics and visuals from classics like Sonic Adventure and Mario Kart. There’s certainly a lot to collect and see, but the game does skew on the easy side as I was routinely getting gold medals on most events on my first try.
When it comes down to it, this game is never going to be at the top of my recommendation list for hardcore gamers. But while its strength isn’t in its difficulty, I’d highly recommend Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games as a title that brings together a room of hardcore and casual gamers. It certainly won over this stingy judge.