E3 2011: Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games hands-on
Most video games centered on the Olympics have been duds. Few can be described as more than quick cash-ins without any effort at creating a compelling experience. But one bright spot for Olympic-themed releases have been the SEGA and Nintendo collaborations for the Vancouver and Beijing events. The importance of these characters involved to their respective companies demands more attention to the quality of the games than other Olympic releases. With the London games just under a year away, SEGA had Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games (and probably the longest game title at the show) on display and I got a chance to go hands-on with both the Wii and 3DS versions of the game.
I started with the Wii. The first event that I checked out was a canoeing event. I chose to play as Sonic and climbed into the boat with Shadow the Hedgehog as my AI-controlled partner. Players are required to time their rowing in conjunction with their partner. To make it more accessible, an unobtrusive on-screen prompt guides your paddling. Though I stumbled out of the gate, I was quickly able to establish a successful rhythm and moved from last place to second by the time we crossed the finish line. The Wii version supports up to four players, in pairs or in versus modes.
In addition to the standard events, there are also dream competitions. These are more imaginative takes on classic events. This time, I took control of Mario for the game’s take on the long jump. The race started off with four characters running toward the edge of a cliff and leaping off. Fortunately, floating clouds acted as trampolines, giving us something to bounce off as the screen scrolled horizontally. It felt a bit like New Super Mario Bros. since all of the characters are able to bounce into each other. The goal is to be the final survivor and along the way, you can try to knock your opponents into the abyss or just wait for them to fail on their own. There are also some useful tools in the environment at your disposal. Hopping onto a storm cloud shoots out lightning, which can help you eliminate some of the competition. I can see this mode being enjoyable for competitive family members.
Another dream mode was a spin the discus. We see our characters again launching themselves off a platform, but instead of throwing the discus, they hop onto it and fly through the sky. What follows is an on-rails racing experience where players compete to collect Sonic’s golden rings as they dodge opponents and objects in the environment. Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games is all about accessibility and the mode is very forgiving if players make mistakes, so failures are basically minor speed bumps. Players can use a charge feature to give a little burst of speed to knock opponents off course or to collect golden rings before their foes can nab them.
The 3DS version offered different games modes from the Wii edition. 50 games will be included in the final 3DS release. The 3DS games seemed to focus more on quicker and shorter challenges, which makes sense for the portable version. The first game I tried was judo. Players compete against each other to see who can more quickly perform a random combo that appears on the screen. When executed properly, you or your opponent will flip the other to the mat, and if you’re victorious, you’ll move on to the next mode. Another that I tried was a gymnastics event that had Daisy balancing on a balance beam. This mode incorporated the 3DS’ tilt functionality to perform stunts on the beam. Essentially, players move a ball through a path from point A to point B. The paths became gradually more complicated, requiring twisting in every direction for Daisy to complete her final dismount.
It might be easy to dismiss this game as a collection of mini-games, but walking away I felt that this was at the very least a competent and thoughtful collection of games that seek to make decent use of the respective system mechanics. On the 3DS version, you’ll be tilting, swiping at the touch screen, spinning the analog stick – basically, anything that they stem can do is incorporated into a challenge. On the Wii, the motion controls were incorporated in logical ways and the roster of 20 different characters should mean that everyone’s favorites are included. Look for the Wii version this fall and the 3DS version in the spring.