Hell has officially frozen over; Mario and Sonic appear together for the first time ever. If this idea had been suggested 10 to 15 years ago, you'd probably have been locked up and forgotten about. Times have changed dramatically since then: we now accept that SEGA is purely a developer and publisher, and in fact they have become great friends with Nintendo, working together on such titles as F-Zero AX/GX, so to some extent it was only a matter of time before Mario & Sonic would appear together. The wait is now over.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games is a pretty straightforward concept; anyone who played Konami's “Track & Field” series on the PlayStation should know what to expect. It's essentially a “mini games” title, comprising a quite varied selection of sports that are due to appear at next year's Beijing Olympics. The IOC officially backed this title as the “Official” game of the Olympics, a genre that has been rather lacklustre since its inception many, many years ago.
There are an additional 14 characters joining the two mega stars of gaming, giving the game a total of 16, 8 from the Mario Universe and 8 from the Sonic Universe. These range from the usual sidekicks and oddballs and bad guys; such as Luigi, Tails, Knuckles, Peach, Bowser and Eggman (Dr Robotnik).
Don't fancy playing as one of them? No worries, as you can play as yourself! SEGA have included (presumably with Nintendo's help) the ability to play as your Mii character. This is a great little personal touch as you get to see your very own Mii representation kitted up in sports gear with stylish sweatbands accessories.
The characters are split into 4 classes, Speed, Power, Skill and All Rounder. Each class has slightly different characteristics allowing for better performance in certain types of events, whilst it doesn't handicap your character too much, its a nice additional for multiplayer action. Mii characters start off as all-rounders, but adjust into different classes as your Mii gets event victories.
M&S (no, not the food store) has quite a vast array of events to choose from (24 in total!), naturally the game starts with only 50% available but the rest are quickly unlocked. All of the standard track and field events are here, with track events like 100m Sprint, 110m Hurdles, 4x100 Relay and field events like Hammer Throw, Javelin, Long Jump, High Jump and Triple Jump. Along with the usual, SEGA have also included a bunch of other sports which haven't usually featured in an Olympics title, including Gymnastics in the form of Trampoline, Skeet Shooting, Swimming, Rowing, Archery, Table Tennis and Fencing! SEGA certainly haven't skimped on the number of events, the variety ensures you'll find something you enjoy and, more importantly, something you're good at!
SEGA have also included some more extreme, unbelievable, totally not possible “Dream Events”. These range from “Pilot Wings” style sky diving game to a “Mario Kart” style “Dream Race” where your characters run around a track picking up power-ups whilst having to dodge obstacles.
So, now you know about the characters and events, time to talk game modes. Pretty straight forward stuff here, there's a single play mode that allows you to browse and play any event. The “Circuit Mode” is basically mini triathlons: It groups a bunch of events together, in each event you earn points and the medals are decided by your total points tally. Lastly is the “Missions” mode which is a feeble attempt at a single player mode; you're given certain tasks and targets which simply unlock more missions.
The “Track & Field” genre has been stuck with the same control scheme for decades, it never required skill, it was button bashing at its most simple. SEGA have obviously tried to force a change to this trend by maximizing the potential of the Wiimote and Nunchuck. Generally any “running” in this game is actioned by quickly raising and lowering the Wiimote/Nunchuck in an alternating fashion. Jumps are mostly performed by raising the Wiimote upwards. Trampolining is done by jumping, then performing button combos whilst in the air- DDR style. The Hammer Throw is achieved by rotating the Wiimote in circles. Then in Table Tennis utilises an obvious Wii Sports control system. SEGA have been pretty inventive with the controls, it's instantly more appealing than button bashing, and is similar to Wii Sports in its motion capturing.
The controls are generally easy to understand and responsive, help screens can be accessed before any event. Much like Wii Sports, you don't need to go crazy and totally act out the actions on screen, instead the game has a large focus on timing, for example the Long Jump has 3 jump sections, getting the timing perfect on each is far more important than the force of your action. This emphasis on timing really sets the game apart from its, now tired, button-bashing predecessors.
It would be naive to assume Mario & Sonic has legs in a single player form, of course it doesn't. SEGA have, quite rightly, focused this game on the multi-player experience, the game really shines when your battling against three friends with everyone gunning for the elusive world record. Most events are over quickly, which is suitable for multiplayer, but only acts as a hindrance for single player sessions.
If you're one of those gamers that enjoyed Wii Sports for its “fitness” elements you're in for a treat, I'd quite happily go on record saying this game makes me sweat! It's quite the physical workout if you put the energy in- one for the Wii Fit nuts! Hour or more sessions will probably leave you sore in the morning!
SEGA have clearly worked very closely with Nintendo on this game, the presentation is excellent with both sets of characters looking their absolute best: The game has that “Nintendo Polish” feel. Personally, I think it's presented far better than Wii Sports has more variety and looks a lot nicer to boot.
Mario & Sonic has healthily extended the range of sports games for Wii. It contains an impressive amount of events which span a number of different sports, and consequently there should be something for everyone. Overall, the controls are quite impressive, with only a few events feeling unrealistic. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games should be invited to any Wii multi-player party and easily wins the Gold Medal in it's Olympic discipline.