Nov 6, 2007
All right, we're going to give this the benefit of the doubt. Because to review Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games properly, we'd have to invent a cloning machine, build it, feed ourselves in like photocopier paper, then distribute our army of clone-twins across the country to find out how many laughs (or tears) the game delivers at every party and family get-together in the country. And the problem is that we're too fat to fit inside the cloning machine.
All we know is that our deadline-addled little family - the one we can test without a PhD in cloneology - has been doing a lot of what you humans call laughing. We've been giggling at Dr. Eggman's gangly legs scissoring over hurdles; chuckling as a couple of our editors take things far too seriously during one-on-one fencing; and doubling-over at poor souls actually grunting in pain during the wrist-numbing 4x100m swim.
Perhaps we haven't had 80% of the fun involved - because we weren't playing in a living room filled with Pringles, Miniature Heroes, fizzy sodas and central heating. But we think you will.
Big plus point: the developers have worked their little Sonic socks off to make this a multiplayer-friendly Olympics. The nunchuk's optional for most events. There's a custom "Add Remote" screen that might help Sega avoid going to hell for the Banana Blitz abomination. And if you ignore the intimidating 11-page instruction screens and rely instead on the perfectly serviceable on-screen prompts, the game's properly granny-friendly - the buttons are barely used. Mario & Sonic is better in single-player than you might expect (as long as you've got an ambulance on standby for the more punishing tests). But it knows it's a party game at heart - and gets it right.
The events are brilliant. We've actually got a little list in our notes: ten of the 20 you'll find scribbled under "GREAT!"; only four appear under "BAD!" For the record, it's almost always the controller-flicking sports that fail: having to judge your leap off the long-jump board with an arbitrary lift, or tilt the nunchuk to get Mario's "pasta ass" over the high-jump bar just doesn't work. The triple jump needs three jerks of the wrist - the bewildering randomness of it all sucks the life out of a party like James Blunt turning up.
But the rest? Great fun. Trampoline knocked us backwards with its unexpectedly addictive A-B-twist combos. Javelin (A+B to grip, then pull back and hrrumph) is exactly as competitive as it should be. Skeet Shooting just works. Archery - where you draw two crosshairs together by tilting the nunchuk and remote, and have to cater for wind speed - gets a big thumbs-up.
And then there's the track events and swimming bits. If you've ever laughed harder while playing a videogame, someone must have been tickling you. They're all based on waggling like crazy for the duration, and, because Sega care not a jot for your rapidly-tiring muscles, they're the most face-reddening, mouth-grimacing, scream-out-loud, up-off-your-chair bursts of hilarity on Wii - both to play and watch. The ten-second 100m is funny enough; watching four players enduring the 4x100m swim relay, a two-minute marathon of relentless "strokes" like pushing left and right or shunting forward and back, will bring tears to your eyes. Forget all that rubbish about people sweating over Wii Sports: this is a proper workout.
The odd thing is that Mario & Sonic's biggest "thing" - having Mario and Sonic - barely registers. Partly because the game's so lacking visually, with Mario Party levels of tiresomely repeating animations on shiny polygon dummies. But mainly because, quite rightly, you're able to play as your own Miis (and your own leotarded Miis at that), which, in many ways, makes Mario & Sonic the Wii Sports 2 we've been waiting for. There's not the depth of tennis, boxing, and golf - and there are some odd decisions by Sega, like splitting the screen for table tennis and the 100m. But when it's your face on characters stumbling over hurdles, passing batons in the relay and stabbing each other with pointy metal sticks, the Olympics really comes alive.
It's bigger and better than Wii Play. It's more fun with friends than Mario Strikers Charged. Yes, some of the events are a pain; others drag on way too long. We can see someone on one side of the country detesting M&S like baked bean sandwiches, while someone else on the other side happily plays it until the real-life Olympics roll around. But if Pictionary and cheesy rolls aren't doing it for your party, there's a good chance Mario & Sonic will.