First Impressions: Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games

2014th time’s the charm

Believe it or not, nearly four years have already passed since the 2010 Winter Olympics hit Vancouver, Canada. That means, as you probably already know, the 2014 Winter Olympics are just around the corner, this time settling comfortably in Sochi, Russia. The occurrence of the worldwide games also means that, you guessed it, there’s a new Mario & Sonic game in development — the aptly and lengthily titled Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. We recently had the opportunity to play this new series entry and though our time with it was short – limited to only playing two of the different types of races offered – we now have a better idea of what to expect from this title, and it’s exactly what we were all anticipating.

Being the first Mario & Sonic game on the Wii U, there are obviously some new features exclusive to the console, but the core gameplay has remained almost unchanged. This game, like the rest in the series before it, is a collection of mini-games that are all based around Olympic events. While it has been announced that there will be 16 different events to play, plus 8 additional “dream events,” there has been no official confirmation on what all of these will be. All we know for sure at this point is that there are at least two different downhill racing events, because those are what we got to play — one was a straight up snowboard race, and another was longer and transitioned between skis, skates and a bobsled.

Just like in the previous Wii games, many of the controls in this one were associated with Wii Remote movements. Characters in multiplayer races were steered by pointing the Wii Remote at the screen and tilting it from left to right, while a quick upward flick of the Remote when hitting a jump at just the right time would increase the character’s speed. The motion controls were surprisingly responsive, leading us to wonder if Nintendo has actually found a way to increase the Wii Remote’s sensitivity when used with the Wii U rather than its mainstay.

When not using a Wii Remote in multiplayer, we also had the option of using the Wii U GamePad. The GamePad still relied on its built-in gyroscope for controls, but this was just as, if not more, responsive than the Wii Remote. Rather than splitting the screen when playing with two players, this instead takes a page from the book of Call of Duty: Black Ops II and allows one racer to play entirely on the GamePad. Looking at the small screen while tilting it to move felt natural, indicating that SEGA has truly optimized this one for Nintendo’s newest console.

As can be expected, the game is full of whimsical music and all of the character sounds that we’re so familiar with. Unfortunately, the same quality wasn’t as obvious in the graphical department. The environments that we saw were absolutely gorgeous, full of detail and vibrant colors. The character models were a different story though. Mario, Sonic, and all of their pals were cursed with jagged edges that stood out against the white snowy backdrops. There was also a bizarre lack of animation in the characters’ heads, resulting in faces that were frozen in nightmarish smiles. Truly terrifying stuff.

Aesthetic flaws aside, Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games is shaping up to be a strong entry in the series. The gameplay that we experienced was limited, but solid, and it’s apparent that the Wii U’s technology is being put to good use. Only time will tell if the necessary changes are being made to get this one as close to perfection as possible, but for now it should definitely pique the interest of series fans, or those of you who just like a good old fashioned mini-game collection.

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