When word first got round that two of video gaming’s biggest names were to co-star in a game together, tongues were waggling. Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog, two bitter rivals, were to settle their differences on a global platform. Literally, as it turns out the location in question is the Beijing Olympics! … Er, OK.
Regardless of what you may think about the two juggernauts facing off for the first time in a sports arena, Mario & Sonic does make you feel a little bit tingly inside when you first see it. What’s Eggman doing with Bowser? How can Wario run that fast against Sonic? How come Charmy (who cameos as a referee) has no speaking lines? We don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but we certainly like it!
Developed by SEGA’s Sports division, it’s odd to see that a studio other than Sonic Team have managed to make their flagship characters look and sound better than they have in years. The animations on Sonic and every other character are spot-on, dropping any false pretenses they had in Sonic 06 or Secret Rings and, dare we say it, full of charm. Looking at Eggman or Knuckles as they win an event is a joy to see, while Shadow leaves the emo at the door and comes back to his cocky, stuck-up self from Sonic Adventure 2 (“Hmph, I let you win!”).
Of course, the characters look great also because the graphics are great too. We’ve only seen one or two Wii games that look better than Mario & Sonic (one of them being Mario Galaxy) and from a console owner’s perspective it’s good to see a developer actually use some of the graphical power that the Wii has.
Being based off the Olympic Games, Mario & Sonic is exclusively set in the Beijing national stadium, with all the running, rowing and athletic events taking place within its walls. It’s a bit disappointing for a franchise as creatively diverse as Mario or Sonic to be taking a ‘real world’ approach to things, but this is what you get if you make an official Olympics game.
Sadly, although there are ‘Dream Events’ which are ‘remixed’ sporting events that were touted to be bringing home a bit of familiarity, the locations for these are very drab and boring. Dream Race, for all its awesome premise, is set in what can only be referred to as a cut down Dusty Desert from Sonic 06. Dream Table Tennis and Fencing are just in different ‘realistic’ venues, and Freefalling reminds us slightly of Knuckles’ Chaotix’ special stage but that’s about it.
That doesn’t mean to say you won’t have fun with the events themselves. There are roughly nine or ten categories of sports to choose from, and each has a special method of control. The 100m race involves shaking the Wii Remote and Nunchuk up and down alternately to win, while the Trampoline uses only the Remote’s motion sensing to bounce up and down while pressing buttons to cues.
You do get some really inventive uses of the Wii Remote here, such as in our favourite event Archery, where the Wii Remote takes the part of the arrow and the Nunchuk the front of the bow. Others make less sense, such as rowing – rather than making consistent rowing motions, players must press two buttons while pulling the Remote and Nunchuk backwards. And some controls, like Fencing, were just over-complex and confusing to perform properly.
Despite its enduring single player mode, it does all get slightly tedious on your own – the game is made with friends solely in mind, which doesn’t seem to add up when you can’t complete the Circuit Modes with a buddy. That aside, Mario & Sonic is great with three other mates as you all try to throw that javelin further than anyone has before – either locally or even globally.
You can connect to the Nintendo WiFi to upload your best times, jumps and lengths (oh matron) on the international leaderboard. While it’s not exactly an online multiplayer, it’s a start, and it’s otherwise a good use of the WiFi Connection. People have some ungodly times out there.
The thing we can’t get over is that the World Records from WiFi are not displayed on your console as you’re playing the events, meaning you can’t effectively challenge the top of the world in real time. Having to manually go into the WiFi option menu just to upload your time is a bit of a pain as well, but the thought of inclusion either way is nice.
Mario and Sonic’s first appearance together makes for a rather subdued experience. The game itself is solid, although there are a few spots of tedium and a few of the events aren’t really that satisfying to play.
As far as franchise representation goes, the character personalities and animations are absolutely perfect, but besides that there’s nothing here that would really warrant it as either a ‘Mario’ or ‘Sonic’ game. This is ‘Wii Sports featuring anthros’ deal, but despite this and it’s other faults you’ll still get plenty of fun out of it. Which is sort of the point really isn’t it?