Ah, the Olympic Games--what better way to embody the spirit of international goodwill than with formerly bitter console mascots having a friendly cross-cultural competition? That’s been the idea behind the Mario & Sonic at the Olympics series since 2008. Unfortunately, the games themselves have had a rather tough time living up to our childhood crossover fantasies, and are, to a one, best described as “mildly entertaining.” With new hardware and a new controller comes new opportunities, however, and Mario and Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games brings, if not a record-setting run, at least a bronze medal effort to the Wii U.
There’s a good variety of events on showcase here--Alpine skiing, speed skating, bobsleigh, ski jumps, figure skating, and curling, to name a few. The Wii U's GamePad is used to great effect, especially in events like Bobsleigh, where the controller's screen lets you see your sleigh ride from a first-person perspective as you tilt and weave your way through the icy tubes. Other modes, such as the ever-mysterious sport of curling, use a combination of the GamePad and Wii Remotes for aiming and placing shots. It’s not too tough to get the controls down for the majority of the events (the long and droning tutorials are altogether unnecessary). And while the variety in controls is nice and keeps players on their toes, the constantly changing input methods can be a bit of a hassle to manage if you’re playing through several different sports in a series, especially in multiplayer sessions.
The GamePad is generally the preferred control method because it’s easier to balance and precisely tilt compared to a Wii Remote. But, because only one GamePad can be connected to the Wii U at once, some players will be forced to settle for less accurate methods of input, putting them at a disadvantage when playing game modes. Ice Hockey springs immediately to mind.
Mario and Sonic 2014 excels at putting a creative spin on traditional winter events. Besides the standard-issue winter games, there are “Dream Events” that add some distinct flavor to sports from the respective Mario and Sonic franchises. Hole-In-One-Curling is a nifty mix of curling and golf in the Green Hill Zone, Snow Day Street Hockey puts Mario power-ups into play in ice hockey, and Snowball Scrimmage is a wholly original event that combines a third-person shooter and Super Mario Galaxy’s ball rolling sequences. There’s even series-themed figure skating with epic boss battles at the end.