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» Mario and Sonic At The Olympic Games (Wii)

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We’ve seen plenty of mini-game conglomerates on the Wii ranging from creative titles like WarioWare: Smooth Moves to the more gimmicky releases like Wii Play. Instead of focusing on depth, these games all advertise a pick-up-and-play value that should be appealing to gamers of all skill levels. While Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games hoped to set the standard for what a mini-game title should be like, once you get past the gratuitous arm-flailing events there isn’t a whole lot to get excited about.

A new take on Beijing 2008

The name of the game, along with a little history on the subject, implies that there would be some sort of rivalry between Mario and Sonic, but sadly there isn’t too much of this to be found. While you have 8 characters related to Mario and 8 related to Sonic, aside from this initial distinction there’s no real sense of fighting for king and country at all. Instead of competing for the sake of your country, here these selfish game characters are in it for their own personal glory.

The characters are divided up into four areas of expertise; power, all-around, speed and skill. If for some reason you bought this game and have no affection towards any of these characters, you also have the option to bring any of your Miis into play, and deformed antics would be sure to follow. While a speed character like Sonic has a definite edge in running races, it’s not clear as to what effects being powerful versus being skilled will have on your game. In any event these skill differences are essentially negligible, which is overall a good feature because it doesn’t commit to you only selecting the powerhouse characters.

Right from the start, you’re probably thinking that all of the running events involve nothing more than swinging your arms around as fast as humanly possible, and for the most part you’d be correct. To start off the running events, including relays and hurdles, you hold B and move the Wii Remote down, and then after a perfectly timed start you simply swing the Nunchuk and Wii Remote until you cross the finish line. In the relay events you have to simulate passing the baton which is something the developers could have easily left out. Still, this can tiring pretty fast, and if you're playing by yourself you'll end up feeling ridiculous. Events like the triple jump and long jump require you to swing the remote up at just the right time, but this motion is so sensitive that if you are even a little bit off you will most likely botch your run. The timing doesn't seem to be synced up properly, and the fact that it takes so long to understand how to do properly do a simple task like jumping doesn't help in terms of ease of use.

Fencing is a game that could have had potential, but the formula SEGA used isn’t exactly spot on. All you have to do is move your character back, which will cause your opponent to miss when striking you. Then you can use this window of opportunity to strike back and claim the gold. The ability to parry is useless because it’s more trouble than it’s worth, so an otherwise engaging sword fight falls terribly short. If a Red Steel-esque first person view was available then the action would be much more engaging, but instead you’re left feeling disconnected from the motions.

Archery is one of the better designed games that makes great use of the motion controls. To shoot, you hold down A and B on the remote and then line up two sights with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. Naturally, if you think about how you would aim a bow in real life the in-game setup is extremely similar, so it actually feels like you're controlling your character. This game does get tricky when you have to factor in wind direction and speed, and shooting at the exact moment your on-screen heart-rate is relaxed is just one more thing to worry about. As a whole though, the archery game is one of the more memorable games you'll come across.

Most of the other events involve following on-screen cues with some sense of rhythm. The trampoline event, for instance, has you wave around the remote to jump, and then while in midair a dialogue will pop-up instructing you on what buttons to hit. Although an entirely different event, rowing is pretty similar to gymnastics in terms of mechanics. You have the same task of pressing buttons as directed; only instead of waving your remote to jump you have to rhythmically simulate rowing by guiding the remote in a circular motion.

In addition to the fairly true to life Olympic events, there are also four dream events that extend the competition beyond the normal limitations of the Olympics. It would've been great if the entire game could consist of dream events, but instead we're teased with four great events. Track and field is juiced up to be more like Mario Kart with the incorporation of weapons and obstacles, while fencing now sports a health bar and special moves to build upon the otherwise amateurish gameplay. The high dive event now takes place thousands of meters in the air. Even table tennis, which isn't all that fun because you don't have total control of the way your character moves, has been spruced up with special return techniques and rally scoring.

Overall this games biggest problem is that it doesn’t reach to one specific audience. Casual gamers will have a hard time mastering the finer points that the control scheme demands, while the more experienced gamers will get bored at the amount of repetition. Waving your arms around and pressing buttons as the screen demands doesn’t carry the same thrill as competing in the Olympic Games would, and even the circuit and mission modes don’t make up for this game’s lack of thrills.

A Rivalry for the Ages?

For an Olympic themed one would expect competition to be high, but it’s hard not to feel a little shortchanged considering how games like Mario Strikers Charged are incorporating online play. It shouldn’t be too difficult to let players from all over the world run or swim against each other because lag wouldn’t even cause problems. Potentially there could be problems in fencing or table tennis, but for the most part you would think that online competition should almost be standard. Unfortunately, the only means of competition is via an online scoreboard that keeps track of world records, and while it is nice to have something to strive for, it’s just too hard to get pumped up playing against numbers.

In terms of presentation, you can always expect SEGA and Nintendo to deliver a quality product, but there's nothing here that goes beyond what we've come to expect. Sure the characters have their own charisma, but hearing them utter the same catchphrases over and over again tires fast. As is this problem with most other games, the announcer suffers from a lack of variety and can grow tiring very fast. This is especially a problem in the rowing event because a voice will comment on every single stroke you take.

For visuals, everything looks crisp when you're playing in 16:9 with 480p, and the smooth frame rates and animations make for an enjoyable experience. While the developers didn't really capitalize on the Olympic feel, which could've easily been done with some slow motion replays and cheesy motivational music, the level designs make you feel like you're a part of something big.

Conclusion

In the big picture, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games is a much more substantial game than Wii Sports, Wii Play, and the like, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. The success of future mini-game collections on the Wii relies on creativity, just like this game has with its dream events. Inventive and intuitive mini-games coupled with better modes for competition could lead to a great game, and even with its flaws this release isn't horrible. However, if you've had enough of games that seem more like tech demos on steroids, then Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games will only make a good paperweight once the initial value wears off.

Gameplay
70/100
The wide variety of events trumps most other mini-game style Wii titles, and the dream events are certainly creative. Still, repetitious movements and difficult controls can be bothersome.
Graphics
75/100
The character designs are alright and the presentation in 480p is a nice touch, but the holier-than-thou Olympic Games feeling is lacking.
Audio
75/100
Character voices and the announcer are both enjoyable at first, but are likely to annoy the life out of you, especially during extended periods of play.
Value
70/100
You won’t get too much out of this one if you mostly play by yourself, but there’s something to be said for the party value here. The lack of any online mode aside from a leaderboard is disappointing.
Overall
(not an average)
71/100
While this may not be the end-all solution to mini-game releases on the Wii, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. It’s worth buying if you haven’t played any other mini-game oriented releases and are looking for a casual, somewhat competitive game.



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