There was a time when Mario and Sonic meant something.It was the era of the 16 bit. When 2D sprites roamed the earth. Mario was in our hearts and in our happy meals, while Sonic taught us how to run. Taken together, they were the polar opposites of planet gaming. Most had to decide which machine they were going to game with for the next few years, and in the end, it came down to this one binary choice: Mario versus Sonic.
It was a difference in philosophy. The Yin and the Yang. Ryu and Ken. It was an exciting time for console gaming.
Yet as Bob Dylan is too often quoted, "The times, they are a' changin'", and Mario has since survived three generations of gaming console. Sonic has seen the fall of Sega as a hardware manufacturer, and now lives a hermit's life off the back of Sony, Microsoft and even Nintendo. But never before has both Mario and Sonic been featured so prominently on a single piece of software. Could the Olympic spirit re-invigorate the duo in light of their newer, friendlier disposition? Can the ultimate rivalry be resolved by the ultimate world competition?
I am here to tell you it can not. This game is flawed in too many ways to be regarded as anything approaching the final word on "Mario versus Sonic". For this, Wii owners would be better served to save their pennies and pick up Super Smash Brothers Brawl sometime next year, which also features both characters.
The game includes over twenty actual Olympic events and is branded after 2008's Beijing Olympics. It allows players to participate using one of sixteen characters culled equally from the Mario and Sonic universes. Each character is grouped into the categories of power, all-round, skill and speed, making four characters for each. Sonic would naturally fall under a speed-type, while Bowser favors power. As such, Sonic would have an edge on the 100 meter dash, while Bowser may be able to throw the javelin that much further. That being said, each event is "win-able" as each character. Players can also use their Mii's to compete in events, but the game does not tell you what category they would fall under.
The primary fault of this game is lack of simplicity. Every new event means you must sort through pages of written instructions. There is no "practice event" button as with Mario Party mini games, despite the fact the events are a level of magnitude more complicated. Some events demand one action to "charge" your player right before the event, another action to get a good start at the event, another action to run or swim, plus another action to pass a baton or turn around. As such, you are never exactly sure of what you will be doing as soon as you reach that foul line or hurdle.
While the controls support use of the Wiimote and Nunchuck, all events will work with just a single Wiimote sans attachment, and some even require you to remove the Nunchuck entirely. I would often forget to re-attach the Nunchuck, and would subsequently do poorly on the next event. I could always just use the Wiimote exclusively, but as someone who really wanted to use the attachment, having to disconnect it was annoying.
The game also makes use of the A, B, and Z buttons. Problems arise when I am expected to enter them in time with something as only the "A" button is visible on top of the Wiimote, while the B and Z buttons are the triggers under the Wiimote and Nunchuck. Perhaps I am just an uncoordinated chump, but mixing these buttons around and demanding quick entry was neither intuitive nor fun, especially when you are plainly asked to input "A","B", or "Z" rather than responding to something in-game. As such, the trampoline event is ruined, despite having so much motion-sensing potential.
Events include the 100 meter dash, which has you "wiimote jogging" as fast as you can until your arms turn to rubber and you feel like vomiting. Also notable is skeet shooting, which would be a serviceable activity if not for the frustrating hit-the-button-exactly-now event that proceeds every round. Table Tennis was done better in Wii Play. Freestyle swimming becomes needlessly complicated when every individual character has a preferred stroke (each with a different wii-motion). While some games like the hammer throw and fencing are actually fun and relatively simple, they are overshadowed by events like archery, which are more trouble than they are worth.
Ultimately, this game only shines in multiplayer. We had a good time when there was someone on hand to explain each event (no reading), and we could all complain together how much our arms hurt. The results were always close, and it was great fun to compete against each other despite the title's other flaws. Thankfully, multiplayer is an option most game modes, and supports up to 4 players.
Additionally, Mario versus Sonic has "dream events" taking place in Mario's world of shells, ghosts and warp pipes. These events range from a race around the track while avoiding obstacles and using power-ups ala Mario Kart, to a massive swan dive off the side of an airship. These were especially fun in a group setting, and a game made up entirely of these events would get an easy recommendation.
Still, entertaining multiplayer action does not excuse a game which is a chore to get through alone. This game is a good distraction when playing with a bunch of friends who want a party game with more graphical prowess than Bomberman '94, but fails at everything else. My advice to Sega would be to remember they are making a Mario game, which is supposed to have instant pick-up-and-play appeal, as evident in the Mario sports games.
The game looks pretty good, with all characters rendered well. Character movement looked fluid, and it was great to see Sonic throw his arms back as soon as he reached top speed. The bright and vibrant colours make this look like a Mario game, and people who stopped gaming a few years back would likely be impressed to see the two major mascots in a single title.
The music is likewise serviceable, but is somehow disregarded when swinging your arms wildly to win a race. I would have liked more character dialogue as characters overtook each other, or at any part of the game save the character selection screen.
"Mario and Sonic at the Olympics" turned too quickly into "Player versus Mario and Sonic Olympics", and the result is an unhappy gamer with a set of sore arms. Ultimately, the only license used to its fullest is the 2008 Beijing Olympic one, which is also the one most gamers are least excited about.