Refreshingly for a simultaneous release on Wii and DS, the handheld version is a completely different beast to its big brother: far from being a stripped-down conversion it’s a decent accompaniment to the Wii version, although one aimed at a completely different gamer. Where the Wii game looks to capture the lucrative family and party crowd, DS owners have received a more solo-oriented experience, although there’s naturally still multiplayer modes available.
The main bulk of your playtime in the DS version will be in the Adventure Tours mode, a single-player affair that sees you start out with only the titular twosome in your squad as you attempt to thwart Eggman and Bowser’s plan to host their own Winter Games. Along the way you enlist other characters for your team, grab items, explore towns and take part in missions to progress along the way. It’s a bit of a departure for both heroes, with no platforming, rings or coins along the way, but the more you play the more sense it makes.
You can switch between Mario and Sonic at any time, using the plumber’s skills to travel through pipes and Sonic’s ability to jump on springs and break down walls. The other characters are strictly non-playable, but you’ll still need their skills to progress – Yoshi can use his tongue to hit far away switches, Tails can repair broken machinery and so on. With a dozen characters to assimilate into your team it’s understandable why you can’t select each one at will, but they all have unique skills and you’ll need to unlock them all to progress.
Making your way through Adventure Tours is very simple: completing the majority of missions rewards you with an ice crystal, four of which can be used to destroy an ice wall blocking your path. After that you proceed to the next area to collect four more crystals until you’re faced with a boss battle, at which point victory will make another area available for the process to repeat. It sounds repetitive but the variety of characters, sports and missions keeps it fresh – one minute you’re shooting snowballs as Princess Peach and the next you’re skiing against King Boo. In fact, it’s almost the case that the sports get in the way of the adventure: it’s easy to get caught up exploring the areas, and often you’ll choose to ignore missions to hunt for items, characters, trivia and extra lives.
When you do make your way into a sport, you’ll rarely be competing in a full event – you could be asked to perfect your ski jump landing, score a certain number of points in the shooting or come first in a cross-country race without the ability to crouch. There’s plenty of variety in the sports and the missions, but that also makes the game feel strangely disjointed – perhaps areas based on perfecting different elements of the same events would have worked better. With 26 different events to cram into the adventure it’s understandable SEGA felt the need to keep each mission brief, but it often feels more like cut corners than time well spent.
Of the events themselves, there’s the usual mix of hits and misses, mainly due to some odd control decisions. The Snow Machine Fight would have worked perfectly as a first-person-style shooter with the touch screen used to aim, but instead you use the D-pad to manoeuvre, making it a slightly sluggish affair. Curling isn’t as engaging as the Wii version due to its peculiar brushing mechanics, and the majority of the skiing and snowboarding events come off unfavourably compared to the deftness of the Wii’s control methods. That’s not to say there’s a lack of good events – the Biathlon’s combination of button-bashing, stamina-saving and target-obliterating is among the highlights, as is the Rocket Jump, predictably a ski jump with rockets attached. As with the Wii version, the Dream Figure Skating turns out to be a surprise hit, with a choice of medleys from the world of Mario, Sonic or a combination of both, with spins, jumps and boss fights all spicing up the action. It’s one of the few examples of the DS game catering to older fans of both titles – the majority of the dialogue in Adventure Mode is rather simplistic, lacking the knowing humour of the Mario and Luigi series or Bioware’s work on Sonic Chronicles. Compared to the Wii version, which feels like a celebration of both series, the DS game occupies a world of Olympics, snow and ice but precious few Death Eggs or Super Stars.
Another area where the DS version feels rather slight compared to its big console brother is the amount of unlockable content on offer. Whereas the Wii offers a shop to purchase blue coin challenges, and outfits and costumes for your Mii, the DS has no such store, although the ability to upload your best times and scores online as well as unlock emblems based on your accomplishments survives intact, and staff ghosts are available immediately in case you’re feeling brave. The Adventure Tour mode will last you a fair few hours, and although the ghost races are fun they don’t have the same appeal as Mario Kart DS, so you’ll likely find little to drag you back unless you play with your friends.
Like the Wii title, there’s a range of multiplayer modes to keep you and your fellow competitors interested, from straightforward races to a handful of Party Games that combine sporting events with bingo, concentration and a wheel of fortune. If you’re only making a fleeting visit with your buddies, you can exchange ghost data to learn new tips and tricks or simply humiliate your opponent with your super skills. There’s single-card and multi-card play too, so all you need to dish out some Olympic-sized pain is a victim with another DS console – not hard to find in this day and age.
Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games comes off second-best to its Wii brother in some regards, but it holds its own remarkably well in the graphical stakes. Each character has a sharp and well-animated model, and although the towns in Adventure Mode look a little drab compared to the excellent artwork in Sonic Chronicles they’re still colourful and clear. Most importantly, the frame rate is smooth and solid throughout, maintaining a great sense of speed in the downhill events and ensuring you never miss a trick. The package isn’t quite so impressive in the audio departments, with some predictably bright and breezy music washing over you, although the voices and sound effects are clear and more varied than perhaps you’d expect from a DS cartridge.
On the whole, you’re well advised to get Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games if you’re after a fun and accessible single-player adventure. The sports are hit and miss, but the Sonic Rush-like Supersonic Downhill and Fever Hockey are addictive events you’ll go back to time and time again. It may not have the subtle controls of the Wii version, or the same amount of unlockable content, but it’s still an enjoyable pick-up-and-play title that’s well worth a look.