The 2008 Beijing Olympics will be remembered for a number of different reasons. They were the first Olympic Games to be held in China, Michael Phelps brought new meaning to the word excellence by capturing eight gold medals, and Usain Bolt became the world’s fastest man. But of course the greatest achievement to come out of Beijing in 2008 was the, once thought impossible, joining of Super Mario and Sonic The Hedgehog in one game. Since then the once bitter rivals have duked it out in Super Smash Bros. Brawl and taken to the slopes of Vancouver. Well it looks like the partnership is nowhere near ending as both the plumber and the blue blur are off to rainy old England for another go at the podium in Mario & Sonic At The London 2012 Olympic Games.
This time around, Mario & Sonic’s quest for Olympic gold is divided into three categories: the traditional Olympic events, the all-new dream events and London Party. The Olympic events are just that, mini-games based (rather loosely) on actual athletic activities from the Games. Ironically these end up being the worst part of the game as all but four of the events are copy/pasted directly from the 2008 edition and the new activities: equestrian, football (not the good American kind), canoeing and badminton all have their own faults.
Equestrian horseback riding suffers from slow unresponsive controls and makes what should be an agile and nimble steed feel like trying to steer a full shopping cart down a narrow alley. Both canoeing and badminton seem like good concepts and on the surface seem like they might actually be fun events but in the end just end up turning into free-for-all Wii Remote waggle competitions. The last new event, football (or soccer for those living in the New World) is definitely the most robust offering of all the Olympic events, but gets very old very fast, especially considering that a much better game of footie featuring Mario and friends is available on the Wii.
On the other side of the medal we find the Dream Events; these mini-games take Olympic Sports and warp them into the worlds of Mario and Sonic, allowing you to ride a giant discus to collect rings or fly in sync to defeat Dino Piranha. These games are mostly fun (though there are a few that you should avoid) and quickly steal the show from the formal Olympic events. It’s also a blast to see characters from both universes running around in the opposite realms, something which I always imagined would be very cool but impossible during the early 90’s.
Finally we have London Party which can accurately be described as the ‘main’ mode in Mario & Sonic At The London 2012 Olympic Games. Here you and your characters will be running around a virtual London trying to collect stickers to fill your book. The first to finish wins. To earn stickers you must win Olympic events, Dream Events and competitions unique to London Party. This mode is clearly the stand-out of the entire package and feels more like a game in the Mario Party series than a game based on the Olympics, bringing a breath of fresh air to a game and series that was already showing desperate signs of needing something new.
Now when you think of the Olympic Games you naturally imagine the most skilled athletes in the world competing in feats of strength and endurance. Mario & Sonic At The London 2012 Olympics gets about half of this right. It’s in the skill department that things are lacking as most of the games simply require you to waggle as fast as possible to victory; while this control scheme was tolerable back in 2007 when the Wii’s controls were still a novelty and experimental, in this day of precise motion controls via the Wii Motion Plus a collection that plays like this is simply unacceptable. There is a silver lining however, as all that waggling may just make you strong enough to actually compete in the real Olympics.
It’s clear that Mario & Sonic At The London 2012 Olympic Games is a firm believer in the ‘the more the merrier’ philosophy. I strongly recommend that you play this game with as many friends as possible. Sure, you can tackle all the events, and even London Party, solo but you will have to put up with a game that is just in love with the CPU controlled players. It’s just always giving them opportunities to bounce back from near impossible deficits even going as far as to center the camera on the computer players and ignoring the human player who is pulling away from the pack. My favourite story which I will share with you: me and my girlfriend are playing London Party, she is just four stickers away from victory when a CPU Luigi, after staging an impossible come from behind win in an Olympic Event, earns a power-up that steals an entire, complete sticker page from her. I don’t think she will ever forgive poor old Luigi for that.
Even with all the dream events and the obvious focus on the Mario & Sonic universes, it’s nice to see that the actual city of London is fully presented here. Everything from a gorgeous opening cinematic that takes us all over the capital of the British Empire to the hideous official Olympic logo show that the developers were very keen on showing that this is London’s games and get people excited for the actual event next summer. That being said, the game itself also looks very nice; the character models are all as well detailed and animated as in their respective series. The game also boasts some very nice graphics and environments mixed in with the official Olympic designs. The Dream Events stand out, and represent the games they are based on proudly. My only complaint here is that background characters, while lively, have rather stiff animations and do seem somehow off, as if they were running at a slightly slower framerate.
The audio quality is also top-notch, with a healthy selection of tracks from both the real Olympics and the digital worlds of Mario & Sonic. The game even features some very high quality remakes of popular tracks from the histories of Nintendo’s and Sega’s mascots as well as some of the better tracks from games past. It’s just a shame that the same attention wasn’t given to the character’s voices and dialogue. All of the characters speak as they would in an original game but the frequency with which they repeat the same one-liners can get tiresome. Also, where did the developers find an announcer who could scream like that? I have never seen such an enthusiastic announcer, and I’m a big fan of Don Cherry’s work.
The value you get out of Mario & Sonic At The London 2012 Olympic Games depends entirely on how much fun you can squeeze out of the experience. Sure, it will only take an hour or so to play all the games, but if you’re the kind of gamer that throws a lot of multiplayer parties then you can’t really go wrong here. For those looking for a bit more bang for their buck the game also features a surprisingly deep customization element, where you collect scratch cards to unlock new gear and costumes that can give you the edge in a competition. For the truly obsessed the game even features online leaderboards for every event as well as challenges (much like achievements) for you to complete.
All in all Mario & Sonic’s latest Olympic adventure seems to take a few good steps forward with the Dream Events and the more coherent London Party mode but several large steps back with dated controls, Olympic events that were simply copied and pasted from the original and a rubberbanding A.I. that would make Mario Kart’s blue shells green with envy. Mario & Sonic At The London 2012 Olympic Games is definitely not as easy to recommend as the first entry in the series was back in 2007, but if you are looking for a nice, fun, kid friendly party game and don’t mind the issues present here, then by all means book that ticket to London.