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Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games

MarioSonic

Once again two of gaming’s biggest personalities team up to pay tribute to the Olympics. Like the first outing, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games will have players zipping through a collection of mini-games, but new features and a ton of polish promise a surprising level of entertainment from this handheld adventure.

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Yup, I used the term “adventure.” In addition to giving players the option of enjoying each of the individual mini-games one by one, Adventure Tours offers a full-on story mode. Dr. Eggman and Bowser have joined forces to melt away the Olympic dreams of both Mario and Sonic; by kidnapping a group of snow spirits, the nefarious duo have taken winter away from the land. It’s up to Mario and Sonic to rescue the spirits and once again cover the world with winter’s powder.

The story is completely ridiculous, and much of the dialogue will come off as laughably silly, even to the very youngest of gamers. That being said, the adventure itself has a solid pace. The various towns you’ll travel to are fun to explore, and there are lots of little goodies to find and famous characters to hook up with along the way.

Each town is littered with event signs, and by competing in mini-games, you’ll earn crystals; these give power to the snow spirits, which will allow them to break past ice walls that block your path to the next major area of the game. The adventure follows a set pattern, but there are quite a few additional areas you’ll gain access to by adding certain characters to your party or by acquiring specific pieces of equipment.

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The real meat of the game, of course, is the selection of events, and I’m pleased to report that Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games is a whole lot of fun. As one might expect, the events in Adventure Tours are mostly designed to familiarize players with the gameplay mechanics. Most challenges will task you with successfully executing one particular element of an event, allowing you to slowly learn the ins and outs of each sport.

Controls for events either use only the buttons or are completely stylus-driven. There are a couple of biathlon events that take turns between the two control types, but pauses in gameplay make these unique mini-games an easy proposition. What’s really surprising, however, is just how fun pretty much all of the mini-games are. There are no real duds to speak of, though preferences will obviously vary.

Alpine skiing, for instance, uses only the stylus, and you steer by simply tapping on either side of your character to navigate through flagpoles. Similar to Mario Kart, you can gain a boost at the beginning of the event, and there are a few other tricks of the trade that open up a bit of strategy for players. The control feels tight, and the event has a really good sense of speed. Simply put, alpine skiing is great fun.

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Cross-country skiing, on the other hand, uses only the face buttons. You steer with the D-pad, speed up with the A button, and kneel on downhill slops with the B button for a boost. Though the event plays altogether differently than alpine skiing and is presented from a side-scrolling perspective, it’s just as much fun.

The selection of events is pretty hefty. You can experience luge, hockey and ice skating, as well as curling, several types of skiing and snowboarding. Though it’s easy to dismiss the whole Mario & Sonic mash-up as a quick cash-in by both Sega and Nintendo, the fun factor here goes above and beyond expectations. Sure, the story is absurd, but most events are almost good enough to be the focus of their own game.

You also get a lot of bang for your buck. In addition to the story mode, single-player options include party games and a mode called Ghost, wherein you can compete against your own best times or trade times with friends via download. There’s no online multiplayer, but multi-card and single-card options should prove to be a valuable addition for anyone looking for some real, human competition. You can, however, log onto the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection network to check worldwide rankings, and there are a ton of little trinkets and achievements to collect.

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I enjoyed Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games more than I expected, but there are a few weak gameplay elements to touch upon. Party Games do little to add any real value to the overall package, and some of the non-event-related mini-games in Adventure Tours are a real chore to get through – blowing into the DS’ microphone to input commands is never fun. Lastly, though each event comes complete with instructions on how to execute commands, a few of the challenges are vague to the point of making them near impossible to complete.

On a slightly personal note, I wish Sega would have given players the option to switch the camera over to a first-person view during events such as bobsleighing and luge (as shown during replays). Aside from these relatively minor complaints, however, there’s a really strong package on offer here.

The production is everything fans have come to expect from both Sega and Nintendo, with atmospheric environments that show off tons of polish. The character models are excellent, and the framerate never labors. There are 20 playable characters to choose from, each with their own unique stats. In spite of the ever-winter theme, each town in Adventure Tours has a distinct look and feel, and there’s plenty to see and enjoy throughout.

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The audio complements are every bit as entertaining as the game’s visuals – lots of charming themes and lush sound effects. There are quite few voice bites sprinkled throughout the game, and fans will be delighted to hear their favorite characters come to life as they venture through the single-player mode.

It may be hard to take Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games seriously, but the good news is, you won’t have to in order to enjoy this package. A lot of love and attention to detail has been given over to the gameplay, though the actual story falls flat. The character personalities manage to shine through, however, and with so much variety, there’s something here for pretty much everyone to enjoy. The fully realized Adventure Tours makes a great introduction for players picking the title up for the very first time, and the breadth of modes and extras should extend the life of the game for a good, long while.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in August 2008.

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