If this had proper online play it'd be a must buy, but as it is I'll pass. Good review jeebs.
N.B.: DS review here.
Video gaming's most famous duo, the plump platforming hero Mario and his speedy new bumchum Sonic, make a return to the world of sports by competing in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The second in what's likely to be a long line of Mario & Sonic sports games brings together your favourite characters from both worlds to go head-to-head in a slew of ice and snow events, from hardcore curling to delicate figure skating. But has SEGA slipped up with their latest effort or crowned the Wii with a must-have sports/party gem?
Winter Olympics follows on directly from its predecessor in a lot of ways: there's a handful of sporting events to take part in and the Wii remote and nunchuk get you through each and every one. SEGA have tweaked and refined the setup from the first game, and it's a bit double-edge in its result. It's by far a lot tighter to maneuver by twisting the remote, or moving it vertically from left to right. There's a lot of response, and when it works you're left enjoying the action that little bit more. You're able to turn a corner with ease whilst plummeting down a hill at breakneck speeds, or slyly steal a rival's hockey puck without slamming your vibrating wand in frustration.
Whilst we're oozing over how accessible the controls are, the spiked edge of that sword is that with simpler, less waggle controls comes a little less freedom. Aside from the events where you're doing more than left right movement - hockey, curling and snowball, it does feel that touch simplistic. That said, it is good fun; almost anyone can pick up and play. Even your granny could work it - maybe.
What's a good setup without events to enjoy? Racing fans can enjoy a dose of downhill skiing or a spot of snowboarding through various gates, much like in Wii Fit, and in the same way any markers missed will cost you time and points. Those seeking a bit more action on the slopes or half pipes can slap on a handful of tricks by waggling the Wii remote in any direction. Once you're up in the air, shake it about a few times and with a decent landing, voila! You're able to score far higher with better timing and a little extra precision, but again there is a feeling like there's a lack of depth whilst tricking - it's almost as if simulating male pleasure could earn a reputable score.
For those of you seeking a lick of ice action, there's the initially-tricky-then-very-simple speed skating, where you're doing a lap or two of a circuit, swishing your arms from left to right in time with your character. It does the job, but after several runs does tend to border on repetitive; fun, but in small doses perhaps. Figure skating on the other hand is more varied. In the same way it's about matching Wii remote movements with markers, there's a need for more skill and timing here, syncing up and performing to classics. Nothing quite tops Dr Robotnik/Eggman or the equally chunky Bowser doing an adorable twirl in front of a crowd of cheerful sprites!
There are some more engaging and less predictable events - ice hockey and curling being two highlights - the former letting you push a four-person team through a mini tournament. The setup is very accessible - A button to pass, B to swap characters and a good old thrust of the Wii remote to shoot. Whilst there is an odd glitch or two, it all flows well, letting you get on with scoring without focusing on any unnecessary waggle and pointing.
Curling's a more relaxing beast. Point, apply the right pressure and sweep away with a quick waggle to set your stones in place. The closest to a centre target bags the points and wins the game, unless your stones are knocked out during a rival's go - all in good fun with no gripes here, it's straightforward, well paced and even the often-disregarded skip-the-CPU's-go makes playing far more enjoyable.
Some of the events can also, optionally, be played out on the Wii Balance Board, which does add plenty of variety - crouch and bend to one side to emulate skiing, or even plonk your arse on the board to experience the joys of bobsleigh. It doesn't revolutionise the whole experience, and it doesn't need to, but it offers a responsive alternative to flexing the remote from side to side. That said, we're rather lazy so would use our hands to do all the work!
After sampling the games get a little structure and tips into playing them with a single player story mode dubbed 'Festival'. There's no need for a storyline of epic-proportions, just the situation as you'd expect: you're an absolute Olympic noob, there's 16 days and a whole lot of events to take part in. Each day, bar two for shopping and relaxing, there are two or three events to work through, covering all the game's bases. Learn to skate like a pro, or take to the ice ever-so-gracefully - and rack up points after each to attempt to take the crown at the end. Feeling it's all a little too easy? There are several compulsory rivals to compete against along the way, after which their costumes become available to kit a Mii out in.
Aside from taking home a sparkling gold medal, there's a chance to rack up some good money and splash it out in the shops, even so that there are two festival days dedicated to blowing your load. New costumes for your Mii, themed-outfits, shoes, hats and classic SEGA/Nintendo music are at your disposal, and there's a good supply of interesting collectibles to lap up.
Festival mode also unlocks alternative 'Dream' events. Fed up of breezing through regular snow, snow and more snow? How about zipping through space in a Mario Galaxy-themed world or snowboarding through the streets of a classic Sonic Adventure level? These 'impossible' events are certainly worth unlocking for Mario and Sonic fans - the notable highlight oddly enough being dream figure skating. Here you get to choose between two worlds - the first taking your team through a funky classic Mario world, complete with Bowser's castle and angry Thwomps. The second, Sonic the Hedgehog-themed, takes you from the blue wonder's 16-bit roots to the battle with Chaos in Sonic Adventure. The only problem with these Dream events is that there's a demand for more. Snowboarding and using items as Sonic in a Mario world, or vice-versa, does look utterly bizarre and it does seem like a waste to have only a level or two for each.
Visually Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympics can be plopped over the half way line. It's not the ugliest game in existence, not the prettiest, but is better than expected for a lighthearted party game. That said the presentation as a whole seems a lot more cared for than the original. Character models are rendered and animated fluidly, and are more than convincing on screen. Levels and environments are nicely presented, albeit a touch simplistic, perhaps rushed in places, but do a good job of blending both Mario and Sonic into a more realistic setting. Dream events are the visual treat here, with SEGA breaking out the box to beautifully emulate some of the more quirky and weirder classic levels from both franchises.
Those wanting a little extra challenge can submit scores online, though we're left wondering why online play was omitted. Once you've explored the major events and whisked through the Dream alternatives, there are a few other bits to play with - a Party Mode that breaks up the events into a Mario Party-esque design for friends to join in and compete.
Fortunately SEGA have toned down the need to point and waggle like a maniac, that we certainly like. There's a better balance, the controls are far more responsive and accessible to a wider audience. With that though comes simpler gameplay, it's fun don't get us wrong, but can grow repetitive fairly quickly. Online play and competitions would have really helped add an extra of depth.
A step up over the original. Smooth animation and your favourite characters rendered nicely, backgrounds and environments are good enough but perhaps could have had a extra care. As a whole, Winter Olympics is nice on the eye with slick menus and a clean look. Doesn't have to be pixel perfect given the nature of the game, but we were hoping for a little bit more love and care in places.
Some excellent re-arrangements of classic SEGA and Nintendo themes with your usual bag of sporting anthems. Certainly not bad, good enough for what's needed.
On your own Mario & Sonic at the Winter Olympics can last just hours, it's enjoyable but to really get the most out of it you'll need fellow humans to play with or against you.
With friends it'll certainly last as long, or perhaps longer than something like Wii Sports but as with Nintendo's own sporting efforts, the lack of online play drops replayability down a few places.
Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympics is, at the end of the day, a huge party playing host to two most loved franchises and that's what it was designed for. It may be incredibly simple to work through the single player mode, but entertaining friends or family is where the package really shines through. Whilst it may be as accessible as Nintendo's Wii Sports, it may not be for everyone. The simplistic controls and gameplay might be a tad off-putting for those having a resume of gaming skills, but for the masses Winter Olympics are a solid package that can heat up a living room with fierce competition.
If this had proper online play it'd be a must buy, but as it is I'll pass. Good review jeebs.