It’s become one of the great gaming traditions that with every Olympic ceremony comes the obligatory video game tie-in. While many of us have fond memories of huddling around a TV set with friends, and going for gold by bashing away at a controller to breaking point, it’s also a genre which has fallen into a disreputable reputation thanks to lazy repetition. However, two of gaming’s biggest names are once again coming to the rescue with their third attempt to bring some much needed fun to the usually joyless affair that we’ve come to expect.
Perhaps it’s also still a little hard to swallow the fact that such an awesome collaboration between two of gaming’s most iconic heroes has culminated in such a simple and modest franchise. Seeing as the pair bitterly fought for popularity throughout ‘90s, I guess having them join together to celebrate unity between all nations and creeds – including Hedgehogs and Italian Plumbers – makes perfect sense. It’s that aspect of friendship that defines this representation of London 2012, and not the reality of the upcoming event that we’ve endured so far. There’s no mini-games which see you having to sort out public transport issues or navigate a closed off Leicester Square on a Saturday night.
Devoted fans of the duo will have to continue to wait for their very first platforming collaboration, but it’s worth noting that Mario and Sonic’s Olympic titles have not only been hugely successful, but also surprisingly enjoyable. As cute and colourful games which are aimed at a family market, Sega have succeeded in managing to do something a little different from most Olympic titles, especially through extensive use of Nintendo’s emphasis on motion controls.
Being the very first entry in the series for the 3DS handheld, the game makes use of everything from stylus controls to the inbuilt gyroscope. It’s also another 3DS title which is devoted to making you feel too embarrassed to play it in public. A handful of events such as Weightlifting and Swimming require you to shout or scream into the microphone, which will draw very strange looks on the bus.
Unlike most Olympic titles, Mario and Sonic also boasts a fully fledged story mode – complete with a bizarre plotline involving Dr.Robotnik (I refuse to betray my childhood by calling him ‘Eggman’) and Bowser covering London in a thick cloud of multicoloured fog. To be fair to Sega, it’s a decent effort at trying to salvage a storyline, even if it’s not entirely successful. There’s something downright odd about it all. As a Londoner, seeing Sonic wandering around the British Museum or reading the text description “Wario must head to Eton” is frankly barmy, no matter how you cut it. You half expect to suddenly read that Luigi has been mugged on the streets of Brixton.
As you make your way through the 6-8 hour long storyline, the 57 events of the Olympic Games are strung together by dialogue heavy cut scenes, as Mario and Sonic – along with fellow chums including Tails, Luigi, Princess Peach and Donkey Kong – work together to sort things out in time for the opening ceremony. You’ll travel between locations like Olympic Stadium and London Bridge, with each one holding its own events and boss battles. Really it’s just a glorified way of simply stringing together increasingly difficult brackets of Olympic events against harder competition, but it’s a nice addition and will likely satisfy kids or nostalgic adults.
The sheer variety of the 57 events is fantastic, meaning that even though they vary wildly in quality, it’s always fun jumping from one to the next. At the high end of the spectrum are events like speed walking – which sees you swishing your stylus to a metronome beat – and a first person perspective Basketball, in which you have to aim by tilting the 3DS and shoot by pushing it forward as if throwing the ball. Other highlights include BMX, Steeplechase and Triathlon, all of which succeed in offering a decent learning curve and a satisfying control style.
Some events inevitably blend together into a mishmash of mediocrity, often being neither bad nor great, but simply forgettable. Archery is an enjoyable but predictable test against wind levels, while some including Hurdles and Judo shake up the formula by incorporating memory puzzles and timed challenges. Of course, it wouldn’t be an Olympics game without some real stinkers. Beach Volleyball is a frustrating and clumsy affair, while many of the wrestling and fighting events are crippled by clunky controls and confusing instructions.
Despite the mixed quality of the events, there’s a real variety of styles and gameplay which makes it a joy to see what’s next. While a few such as the 100m dash predictably involve nothing more than frantically tapping buttons, there’s also some as unique as Synchronized Platform Diving, which gives you a precise number of seconds to count down in your head, and then scores your accuracy to the figure. As you play through each chunk of the story, it’s unlikely that the next event will feel overly familiar or repetitive, and for a game which is essentially a collection of mini-games, it’s definitely a good thing.
Graphically, Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympics is up there with some the prettiest titles on the 3DS. The classic characters from both Nintendo and Sega’s rosters are well animated and colourfully rendered, while the Olympic stadiums and London backdrops are full of detail and hundreds of animated spectators. Equally impressive are the 3D effects, which aren’t quite essential to the gameplay (ala Super Mario 3D Land), but they’re perfectly pleasing to leave on for extended sessions. Events such as Trampoline and Swimming boast incredible 3D effects, although with the aggressive control style of some mini-games, you’ll find yourself losing an effective viewing angle on occasion.
As a single player experience it’s enjoyable enough, but considering the fact that this it’s clearly a game to be played with friends, the lack of online multiplayer is both frustrating and confusing. Instead there’s merely the option to play with up to 4 friends with 3DS consoles via Local Play, or if you’re feeling brave, pass and play on the same console, which isn’t of much interest seeing as you’ll never physically compete in the same event. Thankfully, a host of options and customisation features – including an enjoyable quick party play mode – mean that local multiplayer is a blast if you get the chance to hook up with a 3DS friend.
Despite the overall inconsistencies and lack of any true innovation, Sonic and Mario and the London 2012 Olympics is an enjoyably varied mix of mini-games which offer plenty of fun either when playing alone or with friends. The variety of touch, motion and even microphone integration, as well as great 3D effects make it a surprisingly proficient showcase of the power of Nintendo’s 3DS. If you liked the previous games there’s plenty to enjoy, but if you still feel underwhelmed by Mario and Sonic’s sporting partnership, there’s nothing on show which will change your mind.
Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games is released for 3DS on the 10th of February.