Early as it is, sports lovers are already abuzz about next year's Summer Olympic Games. With tickets harder to come by than a tea-time chat with the Queen, the closest most of us will ever get to the event is Sega's newest title, Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Unfortunately for us, this half-inspired, half-humdrum sequel offers an experience of the Games that's more bronze than gold-medal-worthy.
As a reminder, this isn't Mario and Sonic's first trip to the rodeo. The two friendly rivals have met twice previously in other Olympic Games. While four years ago it might have been exciting to see the two go head-to-head, today the matchup is nothing special. On top of this, aside from the addition of a few new sporting events (including soccer and equestrian jumping), the Olympic portion of the game plays much the same as did the in first M&S summer Olympics. To be fair, in addition to the events being retreads, the controls are still pretty good - responsive and easy to use - and you can choose to play with either a horizontal Wii remote or Wii remote and Nunchuk combination (although since some games require you to disconnect the Nunchuk, the latter's more trouble than it's worth).
While the game's ease-of-use is a definite plus, it does nothing to alter the fact that the straight-up sporting events are something of a yawn. Granted, it never gets old seeing characters like Bowser or Wario performing a “rhythmic ribbon” gymnastics routine or taking part in synchronized swimming, but in the end even those instances of out-and-out silliness just aren't enough. Where the game's true interest lies is in its surreal Dream Events and its newest mode, London Party.
Dream Events add bizarre elements to real life sports, turning a trampoline event into a dizzying leap from an increasingly high platform or a long jump into an extended bouncy race across fluffy clouds. These fanciful events have little or nothing to do with actual Olympic sports but because of that they’re a lot more fun. Also fun is London Party mode. Taking full advantage of the 2012 Games' UK setting, this new mode takes place on a board-game-like depiction of London, complete with landmarks like Big Ben and the London Eye. Here, up to four players compete in sporting events and special minigames (anything from answering trivia questions to collecting coins) in hopes of winning enough tourist stickers to fill up a book. This cool and chaotic mode represents a refreshing departure from the run-of-the-mill sporting event side of the game.
Whatever mode you play, after every event Scratch Cards are earned which can then be redeemed in the game's Bonus Mode for prizes like Mii costumes and additional music. The game's cartoony graphics are done well as befits Mario and Sonic, and include many custom intro cinematics and animations. Sound too is mostly good, characterized by the energetic and ethereal themes of the Mario and Sonic titles, but could do without some of the monotonous, over-repeated voice lines.
Thanks to the strange combination of one diverting new mode with a slew of rehashed sporting events, Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games disappoints as much as it entertains. Multiplayer ups the fun factor of even the less-inspired sections of it, but the game as a whole is a middling affair players new to the franchise might enjoy, while likely causing boredom in Mario and Sonic veterans.