When Sonic fans learned of the epic teaming up with bitter 90s rival Mario in 2007, tongues salivated at the possibilities. Just what kind of game could be made from a Mario and Sonic game? Imagine the disappointment when, following Sonic’s appearance in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, that the resulting product would be a sports-influenced party game instead. Despite the somewhat unwarranted vitriol (one might argue that a platform game would be even more blasphemous to both franchises), Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games was honest fun with friends and family.
Two years on, and the IOC (the board that runs the Olympics) are clearly wanting to milk this cash cow as much as SEGA. And who can blame them – the 2007 hit remained high in the charts for well over a year, and outsold Nintendo’s own Super Mario Galaxy handily to boot. A Winter Games edition was inevitable. Vancouver, Canada is the setting for our licensed heroes this time, and SEGA has been more than keen to take better advantage of the Sonic and Mario franchises. Does it retain the same Christmas holiday fun as the last Olympic Games?
Here we have characters from the Super Mario universe, and characters from the Sonic the Hedgehog universe, teaming up to compete in snowy Olympic events. It’s not exactly Shakespeare, but it’ll do. To be fair, anything more than this would have been downright ridiculous. Of course, it’s not explained (just like the first Olympic Games) why the two mascots would stop their bitter console fight to do some skiing, but anyone who cares needs a boot to the head.
Set in Vancouver, the Winter Olympic Games fuses real-life events with larger-than-life characters and anthropomorphic animals. The result is a game that makes sports like these appear approachable to kids and the massmarket, who generally couldn’t give a stuff about some dudes weaving in between poles. It does so under the pretense of getting active, but in actuality these events are limited to button presses and Wii Remote waggling. Despite that, it’s still the most appealing method of getting into curling I’ve seen in my life.
JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up
FAVOURITE SCENE: The opening scene, really.
Of course, the first Mario and Sonic game did the same with Summer sports, but it fell somewhat flat because it didn’t capture the essence of the two game franchises enough. Here, the two brands have been used to a much better effect, from character-based liveries for Olympic equipment to cameo boss battles and large numbers of C-list Sonic and Mario characters bouncing within the stadium stalls. Even the little things can help add atmosphere to the game. It feels very much like a Mario and Sonic game at an Olympic event, rather than an Olympic event that the characters happen to be appearing in. The two distinctions are quite significant.
SEGA never really had a problem with tapping the graphics of the Wii for Mario and Sonic, and this game continues the very colourful affair of the series, and new characters like Metal Sonic are given some awesome life in their animations. There did seem to be loading issues with the Wii version, in that transitions from menu to event and then to results proved to be more tiresome than the physical exertion itself.
Surely the crowning glory in Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games’ presentation, however, is in its revamped Dream Events mode. These are games based on original Olympic Winter sports, but with a Mario Kart-style edge to them, including item boxes, flying battles and Ski Jumping through Good Egg Galaxy! There are some serious homages to both Mario and Sonic franchises here, with a snowboard version of Radical Highway and an epic Dream Figure Skating event which sees you perform skate moves to the theme of Death Egg and Crush 40, beating up Perfect Chaos with the power of team pirouettes.
JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up
FAVOURITE BIT: Watching Shadow perform Figure Skating to the tune of Swan Lake.
The music is your standard party game fare, for the most part, and it does the job well. When you’re playing through some of the single player modes, the boss battle music can get quite pumping and some of the cross-country music is so jazzy and cheesy that you can’t help bob along to it as you furiously drudge your way across the snow.
Within the dedicated Shop menu, you can use Star Points collected throughout the game to purchase the Mario and Sonic soundtrack, along with some bonus tracks collected from the annals of the mascot’s history. Some of the Super Mario tunes are quite nice, slightly remixed versions of 8-bit and 16-bit adventure games, while the Sonic tracks simply seem lifted from whatever game it came from. Not much of a thing to complain about, but those looking for a bit extra might be disappointed in the Sonic offering.
Generally though, the music and sound is good for the job. The characters all have amusing unique lines to mumble as they win or lose a match, and it helps to create a much more light-hearted atmosphere to the proceedings as opposed to the royal jingles that we heard in the Beijing Games.
JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up
FAVOURITE TRACKS: The boss music during Festival mode.
Just like the Olympic Games, different events require different ways of playing the game, although there are some general rules of thumb. Downhill events such as Skiing and Snowboarding usually involve the Wii Remote (with, in Skiing’s case, the Nunchuk attached) and tilting the controllers to turn from side to side. Tilting downwards will increase your speed, and backwards slows you down so you can turn more effectively. It’s relatively straightforward, and SEGA have taken the time to ensure that the motion controls are accurate enough for play.
There were a few instances of Wii Remote inaccuracy, but perhaps that was just my timid gameplay. During the Ski Jump, which required you to flick the controllers upwards to launch off the slope at the right time, I found that sometimes it was necessary to really jerk your arms upwards so your jump would register. These instances happened very rarely, but it was present all the same. The Nintendo DS version, benefiting from the stylus, had none of these issues whatsoever.
Other events, such as the Figure Skating, require just the one remote, inputting command prompts at the right time for the most points. Perhaps the games that strayed furthest from this norm were the Curling and Ice Hockey events, which used more complex controls. Having said that, Ice Hockey was not as comprehensive as I would have liked, and it meant a mad flailing session during multiplayer rather than fun scrambles for the puck.
Dream Events, as mentioned before, mix things up a bit and add some real meat to the Single Events mode. You unlock these special games the more you progress through Festival mode, and it’s very much worth it. If you wanted a fusion of Mario Kart and Sonic the Hedgehog, red shells and all, this is probably your best official way of doing so. These will most likely be the games you’ll see yourself coming back to.
Players can challenge themselves (and friends) at either Single Events, the one-player Festival mode or the special multiplayer Party mode. Festival sees you select one character as they journey through the 14 days of the Olympic Winter Games, from opening ceremony to the final parade. Bosses in the form of King Boo and Eggman Nega will randomly challenge you to skiing races, which is odd, but still quite cool as it somewhat validates the mode as a game in and of itself. The Nintendo DS version differs in that it provides an Adventure mode, where you control either Mario or Sonic as you stop Bowser and Eggman from stealing the land’s snow. It’s more fun than it sounds.
Party mode sugar-coats the Single Events around a mini-game wrapper, with success in certain events giving you an advantage in the party segment. One example include a balloon-popping game, with more pellets and time given to players who can get the most points in selected Olympic matches.
JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up
FAVOURITE PART: Dream Figure Skating in the Sonic Performance.
It’s all great fun, if you want a quick get-together with friends, but that’s it. After a while, you’ll not find the enthusiasm to complete every challenge and collect every single medal – despite the obvious hard work SEGA has put into ensuring the challenge is there for people who want to engage in it. The difference is not in that SEGA didn’t try with its longevity fail, it’s more that it was channeled in the wrong way, asking players to grind their way through the Single Events and Festivals in order to achieve that 100%.
It won’t be a game you can see yourself playing over and over and over. But that’s okay, because the point of the game is to provide a fun and engaging party experience for kids and the family. On those grounds, this game succeeds. Sonic and Mario fans alike will enjoy the improved experience and better use of the respective franchises, and will be tickled at the fantastic fanservice implemented in some of the Dream Events. As a party game and an act of fanservice, it delivers. It just won’t keep you hanging for ages at a time.
JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Down
FAVOURITE TIME-WASTER: Kicking King Boo’s arse at Skiing in Festival mode. Again. Oh look, and again.
+ The improved atmosphere and use of franchises.
+ Fantastic fanservice within the game.
+ The new characters such as Metal Sonic.
+ Dream Events. Enough said.
– Rare instances of Wii Remote undetection.
– The thought of grinding to unlock everything in the game.
– That some games didn’t reach their full potential.
– Odd loading times.