Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games
Developer SEGA Publisher SEGA Genre Party Platform Nintendo Wii Release 23rd November 2007
- At the end of the Nintendo Wii's life span, we look back upon the little while box and lament the lost potential the system had. I mean, there's many things wrong
with the software lineup on the Nintendo Wii, not that I would paint the whole Wii catalogue as an endless sea of boring, creatively bankrupt, contemptible, money-grabbing, casual-bashing party games with about as much soul as a guitar with no strings... Okay, I went down that line of thought without thinking, but here's the point: There's a lot of "Shovelware" on the Nintendo Wii, there's no two ways about it. And I'm afraid for this game's sake, with no better outlet for me to vent my anger at how much the video game industry is "pulling a Hollywood", releasing games merely to check boxes or to use a vague formula which seems to work and copy-paste it across a whole line of games, Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games is getting the short end of the stick.
On your marks, get set... Money grab!
Truth be told, Mario & Sonic (because like hell I'm typing that title more than once) is perhaps one of the better examples of Wii party games. SEGA, who bought the rights to make games based off the 2008 Olympic games (despite the fact the game was released in 2007) held in Beijing. Believe it or not, SEGA actually made a proper "Bejing 2008" Olympic title for most major consoles, however since Mario & Sonic came out in the "holiday" period of September to December, it got massive attention as a stocking filler
and had a much bigger advertising campaign supporting it, most people only are really aware of this
Olympic title. Funnily, however, SEGA didn't just re-hash Mario & Sonic in order to create Beijing 2008, instead Eurocom created it. Anyway, Mario and Sonic was a monumental success and eventually spawned a "Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games" and there will be the inevitable "Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games" presumably out sometime this year.
So that's all the factual stuff out of the way, time to get all ranty
. When the Nintendo Wii was fully
announced at E3 2006 (games, controller, name), Nintendo promised a world where the conventional controller was no more. A world where you now point at your TV to select things or aim a gun rather than use your thumbs on an unnatural mushroom-shaped plastic thing which you rocked about. Sadly, it turns out that a lot of what Nintendo promised was actually a big lie, since it was soon revealed that the Nintendo Wii controller was incapable of 1:1 motion tracking. Now, that's a bit of a buzz-word, so let me break it down for you. See, the Nintendo Wii controller itself uses "accelerometers", funky pieces of electronics which are able to detect, as the name implies, acceleration or movement. That's all well and good, however the accelerometers which were inside the Wii's controller could only track in six axes... Much like the "Sixaxis" Playstation 3 controller, bet it's been a while since you heard about those
, isn't it? The Wii Remote wasn't just all about accelerometers, the point of the Wii sensor bar was to shoot infra-red light, invisible to the human eye, outwards where the big black bit at the end of the Wii Remote, picks up the lights and reports back to the system. So when you do that neat trick on the Wii Menu where you turn your remote upside down and your cursor also turns upside down... It's actually a trick using the two points of light the sensor bar dishes out. It also helps with tracking screen-pointing. Technical whiz-bang all explained properly? Good.
Don't ask me about the controls for this event. They're all kinds of messed up.
So with the Wii not actually being able to do all the magical stuff we were promised, developers had a hard time trying to find compelling control mechanics which worked with the rather limited set of gestures and buttons the Nintendo Wii Remote could actually use. Most developers just ended up shoving command which would otherwise just be on a button to the swinging/shaking of the Wii Remote. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was a prime example of this, where attacking was regulated to swinging the Wii Remote, perhaps the most loose, inaccurate method of attacking Nintendo could have used. If there was 1:1 tracking this might have seemed a little bit more realistic; if Link's sword could follow your motions, alas, no such luck. Nintendo seeks to solve this problem with Zelda: Skyward Sword later in 2011, but until then, I will just keep dreaming about an awesome Star Wars lightsabre game that will never, ever exist... Ultimately, developers have seemingly just given up
on motion controls. Even Nintendo, the people who should be championing motion controls don't care anymore. New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Kirby's Epic Yarn and Metroid: Other M are all recent Nintendo titles which were played pretty much solely by holding the Wii Remote sideways (a bit like a really clunky NES controller) and any time motion controls were introduced it seemed like they were shoe-horned in. So much for the controller innovation station.
Where motion controls really seemed to stick was in the party genre, party games being a nice way of saying "shovelware". Shovelware being software which has been created extremely quickly, extremely cheaply and then just dumped on the market for game-store clerks to entice parents into buying for their kids or games which you buy in replacement of board games. These games were quite big in the Gamecube era after Nintendo kicked the genre into gear by releasing a hundred million "Mario Party" titles. Once again, Nintendo failed to buck trends with Mario Party 9, the Mario Party's Wii-instalment which basically took everything everyone knew and love about Mario Party, threw it out and dragged in obnoxious courses and cheating AI... Wait, that last one's not changed. Sonic himself even tried his hand at a Mario Party clone, it was called "Sonic Shuffle" on the Dreamcast and the less said about that game the better.
I guess she... Got the point. What? I didn't do a bad joke in this review so far.
Mario & Sonic, developed by SEGA and for most territories, published by SEGA as well, was the first happy union of what was once two bitter rivals. Mario and Sonic were symbols of division back in the 90's, kids would fight over which corporate mascot was best. Seeing Sonic on Nintendo consoles like the Nintendo Gamecube after the fall of the Dreamcast and SEGA's stake in the console hardware business went under was like watching the Berlin Wall tumble... Only perhaps nowhere near as historically significant. Of course, the main selling point of the game; having a title which features both Mario and Sonic in a game is but merely superficial, since none of the characters involved in the game seem to have any real resemblance to their well known selves. For instance, Sonic, who could easily run circles around everyone in Track and Field could potentially be beaten to the punch by Dr.Eggman or Bowser in a foot race. Although poking holes in the game like this is like poking holes in SEGA All Stars Racing because Sonic was driving a car rather than running.
The game's set to a bunch of events such as Track and Field, Gymnastics, Shooting (skeet), Swimming, Archery, Rowing, Fencing, Table Tennis and a strange "Dream Event" courses. Most of these games work in the same kind of way, Track and Field, Swimming and Rowing are played by shaking the Wii Remote as fast as you can with slight variations as you unlock more types of the same event, Shooting and Archery are very similar "point at the screen" games while Table Tennis is exactly as you think, it's Wii Sports Tennis only table-sized and rather frustrating and Fencing is an odd gametype where you basically keep blocking and watch as the person playing against you slowly goes insane. I wont cover most of these in great detail, for the most part they are rather fun to play on some level. It was, after all, designed to be a multi-player game which you could easily pick up and put down and was aimed at children rather than a cynical, jaded 20-something like myself.
As you may have noticed, yes, Daisy just does stupid facial expressions the whole game.
Perhaps one of the biggest problems the game has is that it never tells you just how quickly you should be shaking the Wii Remote and Nunchuk in order to win. Most the time, caught up in the moment, you flail your arms about like a mad man, most likely regretting doing so in the morning where your shoulders hate you and spite you for the rest of the day. All this just so you can claim dominance over three other friends who are wondering why exactly they're stuck inside on a summer's evening playing video games for the benefit of the internet... I suppose it's where Mario & Sonic comes into it's own, it's a game which only really makes sense if you're playing with friends. Sitting alone, in the dark, playing the game against the AI is a slight-bit maddening.
Skeet shooting should have been more fun. This "heart rate" mechanic made it less so.
As you progress through the events, picking up gold medals, you unlock more events or event variants. Such as the 400m Sprint, which is a slight variant of the normal "just shake the controller as hard as you can" 100m Sprint. Actual skill is required for this event and events like it, where you have a "stamina" gauge in the shape of a heart. For the 400m dash, you have to regulate how fast you run in order to maintain stamina, if the stamina gets too low, you slow down and other players who were being more conservative with their stamina can over take you. Realising that the game is now less about just shaking the Wii Remote and pulling muscles in joints I didn't even know existed, the game actually becomes more "fun" in a traditional sense... But no so much in a "party" sense, see we were constantly frustrated and annoyed as a group when playing the 400m sprint as it always seemed like no matter how hard we tried to maintain speed, we'd always end up going too fast, running out of stamina and losing, it's perhaps because by the time you realise you're going too fast, there's no way of slowing down fast enough to prevent the rapidly falling stamina gauge from hitting rock-bottom. Although the 400m dash was far more fun and entertaining when I later came back to the game and played by my lonesome. It seems that games which require more skill are less fun when played with a group. Of course, I get the feeling that, had we had tighter controls not conducted by gimmicky, loose motion controls, we may have had a better time with it. But whatever.
Oh and Dream Events. How could I forget these? Well, they're basically like running Mario Kart... Only no-where near as fun.
There's not an awful lot more to say about the game. It's a well-built, well thought through game with only one real complaint, the controls. But even then it's a lot of fun when played in a group, you can pick and choose events you want to play and it's a good 10 to 20 minute time-killer. It gets boring pretty quickly and is nearly unplayable alone for many events, but there's a reason why they call these games "party" titles. So I'm in a precarious position. I acknowledge that this game is meant for more than one player and for the most part, well thought-through but... On the other hand, it's a party game. Party games are dime-a-dozen on the Wii, heck, even the Table Tennis event is pretty much a dumbed down version of Wii Sports Tennis, if you can believe it getting any more simple. The visuals are a pretty standard SEGA affair, they look great while music is the most generic sounding, dull soundtrack I've had to endure in a long while. So I'm not entirely sure where I stand with this game. While personal embitterment of shovelware and party games in general tells me to hate the game, the amount of fun you get out of the game is hard to ignore. But I have to come down one way or the other, so I'm going to say that I actually like the game. Amazing as that may sound. Now let us never talk about party games ever again.
I also realise this was actually less a review and more a wildly ranting article about party games. I was going to scrap it, but I decided against it. Normal service will be resumed next week.