Two years ago, Mario and Sonic joined forces for the first time to compete at the Beijing Summer Olympics. The result was a middling collection of sports-themed minigames that failed to deliver on the potential of that once-forbidden union. Never ones to give up, Mario and Sonic have reunited to hit the slopes and skating rinks of Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Games. The result is an occasionally enjoyable but very inconsistent assortment of events that improves a bit on its predecessor but still falls short of earning a medal.
The game boasts 27 events, which are divided into two categories: actual Olympic events and zanier dream events. Some of the dream events are inspired. Skiing at breakneck speeds through a Mushroom Kingdom environment filled with ridiculous jumps and Mario Kart-style items you can use against your opponents is fun. But this and all of the ski and snowboard racing events, Olympic and dream alike, essentially control and play the same way, so there isn't nearly as much variety to the game as the number of events might lead you to believe.
Those skiing and snowboarding events are the best of what Mario & Sonic has to offer. These are played by holding the remote (and, optionally, the nunchuk) like a ski pole, turning it from side to side, tilting forward to crouch for better speed, and flicking up to jump. It's an intuitive control scheme that works well, and there's a good sense of speed to the visuals that contributes to the excitement. The bobsleigh and skeleton events also deliver thrilling speed, but because your course is predetermined, they aren't as interesting to play. Your only task is to tilt the remote to stay along the best line down the track, which is clearly marked onscreen. Bobsleigh does offer a bit of enjoyment when playing with friends as a team, because you'll need to coordinate leaning left and right as a group to achieve the best speed, but these events are too simple and straightforward to stay interesting for long.
Ice hockey lacks depth but makes up for it somewhat with over-the-top arcade action as you constantly bodycheck members of the opposing team to knock the puck away from them. Games last for only two short periods and don't overstay their welcome. In curling, you use a bowling-like motion to throw the stone and then rapid thrusts to sweep the ice and keep the stone sliding. The strategy of the sport, which can involve using stones to protect your other stones and to knock your opponent's stones out of the scoring area, can make it fun for friendly competition.
Figure skating is more interesting to watch than it is to play. Characters perform predetermined routines, leaving you to just flick or twist the remote at set times to jump or spin. While the dream figure skating performances are elaborate and entertaining routines, the actual gameplay is too passive to be involving. Then there are a couple of real oddball competitions: dream snowball fight and dream gliding. These awkward, clunky affairs have you running or flying around, hitting your opponents with snowballs or turtle shells. They feel out of place among the other events and are too slow, shallow, and repetitive to be any fun. Perhaps the worst events of the bunch, though, are the speed skating competitions, which have you vigorously waggling the remote to accelerate. Speeding through Dr. Eggman's futuristic, sinister egg factory should be awesome, but the repetitive, painful task of constantly shaking the remote makes it a real chore.
You can either play single events or go through the game's Festival mode, which takes place across 17 days, from the opening to the closing ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics. The object of Festival mode is to emerge with the highest overall score, which isn't difficult. The AI is a real pushover in most events, visibly slowing down when you fall behind in races and not posing much of a challenge in other competitions. A difficulty level setting would have been welcome for those looking for an exciting competition. As it is, you'll need to round up a friend or three if you're hoping for a real contest. While the DS version, with its story-driven Adventure mode, is designed primarily as a single-player experience, the Wii game is certainly at its strongest when played with friends. It's just too bad that you're limited to either single events or the whole festival and can't create a multi-event competition of your own choosing.
There are 20 characters taken from the worlds of Mario and Sonic, and although the statistical differences between them in terms of speed, power, and skill have little noticeable effect on how they perform, they all look good and exude a lot of personality in their animations and in their character-specific special actions. You can also play as a Mii and live the dream of sharing a bobsleigh with Donkey Kong, Vector, and Metal Sonic. On the whole, Mario & Sonic is not the most visually impressive game on the Wii. The environments use simple textures and generally lack detail, though you're usually speeding through them so quickly that you won't have much time to take notice. The music mostly consists of orchestral performances befitting of the Olympics. The game could have benefited from a wider variety of comments from each athlete. As it is, Mario says "It's-a Mario time!" before each event and "I'm the winner!" every time he takes the gold.
There's balance board support for the skiing, snowboarding, and bobsleigh events, and it works just fine. You shift your weight left or right to steer in that direction. Unfortunately the balance board has its own area on the game's main menu, and it can't be used during Festival mode or in multiplayer, limiting the use you're likely to get out of this option. Some events have a good party game feel to them that makes them fun to play with friends for a little while. But unfortunately there are way too many misses in this hit-and-miss collection to make it easily recommendable.