It was four years ago that the old 16-bit rivals teamed up for the first time: Sonic appeared in Super Smash Bros. Brawl and the two took their tussle to the track in Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games. It wasn't exactly a high watermark for either mascot, but it felt right at home on the Wii at the time: motion gaming was taking off and everyone wanted a Wii in their home at Christmas.
Two years later, the mascots tried to repeat the formula with Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games, slimming down some of the waggle controls for downhill events and adding Balance Board support into the mix. Now we're back in the summer for Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games, but it barely gains a bronze medal at the third attempt.
While the event list has been beefed up to include football, synchronised swimming, volleyball and more, it's the way they're tied together that disappoints: whereas previous games offered Festival or Circuit modes, 2012 only has single match – pick a sport, win it, pick another sport. There's no real coherence to the package, and although the dip-in, dip-out style works for some party games here it strips the game of its real competitive edge.
The events themselves are executed with mixed success, too. Sonic hasn't got much experience in sports games but Mario's been trying his hand at all sorts for years, so it's no surprise to see many team sports have been done better before. Football is slow and graceless, with none of the game's strategy or pace; volleyball is equally stodgy, especially next to the enjoyable Mario Party 4 minigame. There are some highlights – shooting is one of the more skilful pursuits on offer – but it's a disappointment to see the team sports get such short shrift.
Dream Events should rescue the package – who wouldn't want to take on Super Mario Galaxy's Dino Piranha with Sonic, Mario and team? – but again they're tough to recommend. Dream Hurdles is chaotic in the best way as four players jostle at high speed while trying to leapfrog each other and hurdles to score the most points. It's instinctive and hilarious, like New Super Mario Bros. Wii boiled down to its purest joy, but others aren't so successful. Dream Sprint puts you in balls on Sonic Heroes' Bingo Highway stage, and plays more like Super Monkey Ball than anything from Sonic or Mario's history.
It seems cliché to complain of sports games offering a “mixed bag” of events, but London 2012's problem is the better events aren't good enough to make up for the poor ones; many of these you'll boot up once, ace on your first try and never play again. There are the odd highlights, but they're not enough.
The London Party mode is another ill-advised addition; a pseudo-Mario Party with none of that game's order or planning, you walk around a cartoon London playing minigames and sports until you have enough stickers to fill your sticker album. Quite who at SEGA thought that would be an engaging multiplayer format is anyone's guess.
As you play through any mode you accumulate scratch cards that unlock music or clothing for your Mii, but little else. There's no trivia, no ghosts and precious little incentive to play on your own, other than to fulfil the Achievement-like challenges that do nothing but fill up a profile. There's the ability to upload your best times and scores to Nintendo WiFi Connection but as that takes 30 seconds or more and you have to upload them one at a time, we understand if most people don't.
What felt fresh and enjoyable four years ago doesn't cut the mustard in 2011, particularly when some elements have been stripped out or reworked to poor effect. London Party mode is a poor alternative to the dozens of superior Wii party games, and while its cast of gaming greats is enough to forgive some of its mistakes it's still pretty far off the mark.