Mini-game collections. Does the Wii need more of them? Absolutely not. Every developer out there has shelled out game parties, carnivals, and sporting events in an attempt to cash in on the motion-fad and the wallets of unsuspecting parents. The strategy works, especially when two of the most iconic video game mascots went head to head in one last year in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games. Many scoffed at SEGA’s corporate director, Masanao Maeda, when he predicted that the game would sell 4 million copies on both Wii & DS combined. Those folks were silenced when the game ended up selling more than 5 million units across both systems. As a result, we’re looking at a sequel in Vancouver this winter.
My rental time with the Beijing title was brought on by curiosity, as I wanted to see how well both franchises were incorporated. I had no desire to play another Olympic game. They have been made since the NES days with Konami’s Track & Field. While you could stomp around like an idiot on the Power Pad to compete in the track events, the game’s core mechanic remained the same: quick, alternating (sometimes timed) button presses that absolutely destroyed your controllers. Every Olympic game that followed did the same. In the case of Mario & Sonic, the Wii controllers were spared thanks to their motion control, leaving players to flail around like Margikarp and earning a wanker’s cramp alongside their virtual gold medals. The DS was not immune to physical damage, though, as unprotected touch screens were totally annihilated due to back-and-forth rubbing. Our wrists and touch screens need a break to play a something more than just a mini-game. The Winter Olympiad only has one sport that doesn’t warrant a bunch of rubbing, waving, or leaning. That sport is hockey.
I don’t have to even mention how important the sport of hockey is to the country of Canada. The two are synonymous with one another. Not including hockey on a Winter Olympics game in Vancouver sounds odd to me. Hockey also would play out like a stand-alone game, instead a series of button presses or waggles. It would be the deepest aspect of M&S at the Winter Olympics and would be enticing to people like me, who desire a bit more from their Olympic games after living through them year after year.
Hockey has never been seen on a winter olympics title due to licensing issues, as the National Hockey League players participate in the winter olympics, representing their home countries. The Olympic teams can be found in modern day hockey games by EA and 2K Sports as a concession. With Mario & Sonic, there are no country designations and, obviously, no NHL players. Reaching a licensing agreement with the NHL Players Association can be bypassed altogether.
Speaking of EA and 2K Sports, their hockey titles have been consistently the best sports games on the market. With EA’s NHL ’09, which garnered almost all “2008 Sports Game of the Year” awards across various gaming sites, the sport became an experience that rivaled, and in some ways bettered, Madden when it game to gameplay depth and replay value. It’s a picture perfect emulation of the sport that still managed to be improved with each yearly release. The Wii does not have a hockey game that is close to decent. NHL 2k9 for the Wii was a colossal disappointment for hockey game fans, who were frustrated by complicated motion controls and graphics that were comparable to the Nintendo 64.
However, if hockey were to happen, I wouldn’t recommend the simulation route and more along the lines of an accessible arcade style of hockey that was perfected by Midway’s NHL Hitz series, before Midway made the jump to “pro,” then three jumps back by becoming overly racy. Arcade hockey features 3-on-3 gameplay and no rules, a la Super Mario Strikers (which was a violent game, compared to other Mario sports titles, that featured bodychecking into an electric fence that surrounded the playing field). Icing, offsides, roughing, and all other penalities are thrown out the window. Hit who you want (as long as it’s not the goalie), when you want. Wind up for some wild, super-powered slap-shots and rickle the mesh. Yeah, a contact sport sounds like a fun time for Mario & Sonic. I recommend finding NHL Hitz 20-03 for XBOX, GameCube, or PS2 (it costs about $10 or less at used game stores) and giving it a play. My friends who hate hockey play this game with me, so that is a testiment to how enjoyable arcade hockey is to some.
What do you think? Should a sport that is much deeper than a series of button pushes be included in the upcoming Mario & Sonic at the Winter Olympics? Would you be more interested in the overall package? Let me know.