2007's Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games on Wii marked the two once arch-nemeses' – in the eyes of us children of the nineties, anyway – first side-by-side appearance that didn't involve them attempting to wallop seven shades of snot out of each other. It was a solid sports offering that exemplified the minigame collection genre's ability to bring players of all ages together and partake in some simple fun.
However, as last year's Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games proved, after three instalments on both Wii and DS the series has dwindled in quality and appeal in the intervening four or five years. The mishmash of overly simplistic gameplay styles of varying quality just doesn't cut it any more. Which brings us around to Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games for 3DS, a game that epitomises how hit and miss execution can make or break a game of this ilk.
The 50+ Olympic events included certainly offer up a great deal of variety; Mario & Sonic 2012 can pride itself on that if nothing else. They're also never more than a few button presses away thanks to tidily presented and uncluttered menus, so partaking in single or custom set-ups of more than one event – which are referred to as medleys in-game – is a quick, simple exercise. Great presentation extends to the events themselves; the crisp, clean visuals could be mistaken for those of the Wii version on occasion, while the 3D effects are put to good use in a few events – a bird's eye view of the action makes the added sense of depth invaluable for centring your character in the trampoline event, for example.
Unfortunately, while its colossal event list sounds great on paper, Mario & Sonic 2012 suffers from the all too familiar “mixed bag syndrome” that many games in the genre stumble into. Whereas many events are executed well enough – though simultaneously are by no means crowning achievements – there are far too many sports included in which the control schemes are simply ill-conceived. The majority of sports utilising the microphone and gyroscope controls are outright terrible; luckily an ample amount of the touch screen or button-based events are playable enough so that you can feasibly avoid the duff sports while still having a sizeable chunk of content to play.
However, even the events that are at the very least bearable suffer from being stripped down versions of their Wii counterparts, relinquishing only the most basic of input to the player. Sports like tennis, badminton and volleyball don't allow players to move around the court and find the best position from which to return the ball; rather, the AI handles character movement and all you need to concern yourself with is thwacking the ball or shuttlecock in the right direction. Additionally football/soccer, for example, is reduced from full matches to nothing but penalty shoot-outs.
If ploughing through every available event via the list – impressive in length though it may be – sounds about as much fun as hugging barbed wire, Mario & Sonic 2012 includes a story mode that introduces new events at a steady pace. The plot opens with Bowser and Dr Eggman holed up inside Big Ben, understandably miffed that they've not been invited to the Olympic Games. In retaliation, Eggman has constructed a bevy of machines that are blanketing London in a dense multicoloured mist called the Phantasmal Fog in a bid to get the Games cancelled, with the odd side-effect being that it creates fog-based imitations of our heroes. It's up to Mario, Sonic and an all-star cast of familiar Nintendo and SEGA faces to put an end to the villains' scheme and get the London 2012 Olympic Games back on track.
The story is divided up into episodes, each one featuring a handful of characters as they try to figure out where the fog has come from and how to stop it. Every episode contains a set number of challenges consisting of up to five predetermined events; gaining a gold medal in (usually half of) the challenges opens up the next episode. Story mode is a marginally more interesting way to be introduced to the various events; however, while it's cool to find out which characters were included, the story is as bare-bones and flat as they come and feels like unnecessary padding.
It's also a tenuous way in which to link the various events together, concerning itself very little with such oddities as Olympic events being a viable way for the gang to stop the nefarious duo's diabolical scheme, or how the characters can all of a sudden find themselves transported from Tower Bridge into a packed Olympic venue before the Games have even begun, or even why Sonic for some unexplained reason can't run the 100m sprint in two seconds flat.
It shouldn't take players longer than five hours to see the story's conclusion – although there are bonus episodes available upon completion – and once that's done and dusted, Mario & Sonic 2012 includes both single- and multi-cart multiplayer for up to four people along with a myriad of collectable badges and stickers that are attainable by gaining gold medals in events or spending tokens acquired in-game. Custom event medleys can also be traded, although only locally with friends who also own the game as, bewilderingly, there's no StreetPass support.
The Mario & Sonic games were once a shining example of how minigame collections should be developed. However, while Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games is technically no worse than its forebears, its events are too much of a mixture when it comes to quality and after four years the blemishes and inconsistencies are beginning to wear thin. It's by no means a train wreck and a valiant first effort for the series in its jump to 3DS, but with the next inevitable release due in two years it's imperative that Nintendo and SEGA use that time to iron out the wrinkles and make this the all-star collaboration it truly deserves to be.