If back in 1990 you had told either a Nintendo or Sega fanboy that both Mario and Sonic would be appearing together in a game in 2007, they would have told you that you were completely insane. Well, the unthinkable has happened, and the once-fierce rivals are now together for the first time in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games. It's too bad that this isn't the great platforming game an entire generation has been dreaming of since the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis days. Instead it's a collection of minigames, some of which are good, and many of which are not.
One of the game's big draws is that it lets you use characters from the Mario and Sonic universes. From the Mario side you can select Mario, Luigi, Wario, Waluigi, Bowser, Daisy, Yoshi, or Peach. From the Sonic side you can play as Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Blaze, Vector, Dr. Eggman, or Shadow. You can even use your Mii if you so choose. Each character is rated in a number of categories, but these ratings don't seem to matter much, if at all. Though there's no online play, the game tracks records for all events, and you can even upload your best scores and times online to see how you stack up with the rest of the world.
Mario & Sonic lets you play 20 real Olympic events, as well as a few of the fantasy variety. You can play single events; a circuit, where you compete in four events and try to finish first so that you can unlock new sports; and missions, where you compete in multiple events but have specific goals such as finishing in a certain place or throwing the javelin a particular distance. Why you'd ever not want to throw the javelin as far as you can--and instead try to toss it between 40 and 50 meters--is anyone's guess, but it's something you'll have to do here. All of these contests use motion-based controls, and some of them require both the Nunchuk and the remote. Others require only the remote. Athletic events include: 100 meter dash, 4x100 meters, 4x100m relay, 110 meter hurdles, 400 meter hurdles, long jump, triple jump, high jump, pole vault, hammer throw, and the javelin throw. These events are really basic and require little more of you than to hold B and move the Wii Remote down to start, after which you alternate moving the Nunchuk and the Wii Remote up and down to run, and then wave the remote up to jump or press the B button and wave the remote down to pass the baton.
There's more to the game than track-and-field events. Rowing places you in a single scull where you must press a button shown onscreen and then pull the remote toward you. You can take a dip in the pool for 100 meter or 4x100 meter freestyle races, which are performed much like the foot races except you have to hit the B button at specific times to keep your stamina going. If you're into gymnastics, you can hop on a trampoline, where you have to wave the remote to jump and then press buttons you see onscreen to perform moves. You can even do the vault, where you run up to a springboard and then jump across the horse while doing tricks in midair. Another event is skeet shooting, which is really tough because of the lame, timed minigame that takes place beforehand. You're shown a heart, and you have to press B when the heartbeat is right in the center. If you time it properly, your aiming reticle gets bigger; if you miss, it gets smaller and makes the event near impossible. On the other hand, archery is one of the better games. Here you press A and B, pull the Wii Remote toward you, and then line up two pairs of sights, one with the remote and the other with the Nunchuk. This isn't too tough on its own, but when you start having to take wind speed into account, it gets pretty tricky.
One sport that should have been good, but isn't, is fencing. You basically move your character back to dodge an opponent's attack, and then move forward to stab when he or she misses. You can parry shots, but you'd have to have lightning-quick reflexes to do so, and there's no point in doing so aside from when you have to parry to pass a mission. Another event that fails to be much fun is table tennis. The big problem here is that you have no control over your character's movement, so even if your timing is spot-on, you might be two feet away from the ball when you swing...and miss. Some of the more interesting events are the fantasy stages, where you do things such as run around a track while shooting weapons at your opponents like in Mario Kart. Another pretty fun diversion is 10,000 meter diving.
The big problem with Mario & Sonic is that the mechanics for most events just aren't much fun. The game requires some precise timing and movement to pull off certain maneuvers (you get penalized if you wave too hard when you jump), and the instructions are poor, which means that you'll spend a lot of time yelling at the TV because you just can't do the triple jump properly. Even if you aren't having trouble with an event, you probably won't have much fun--unless you enjoy waving your arms to pretend that you're running. There's also very little depth to any of the events. Other than a few sports where the controls really get in the way, it's not difficult to win gold on your first attempt. In fact, you'll probably set world records on your first go at a sport on more than one occasion. Consequently, though you might have fun for an hour or two, you'd be hard pressed to squeeze much more entertainment out of the game, even when playing with up to three other friends.
The visuals are probably the best thing Mario & Sonic has to offer. You can't go wrong with the character designs, and they're nicely animated, right down to individualized celebrations. The game supports widescreen and progressive scan, so everything looks crisp and clear on a high-definition display, particularly the colors, which really stand out in HD. The frame rate is solid, even when eight characters are displayed onscreen at once--it's a very technically solid visual presentation. The audio isn't bad either. If you use the same character over and over, you'll likely grow weary of the repetitious exclamations, but there are plenty of characters available should you tire of one. The music isn't anything exciting, though you can unlock classic Mario and Sonic tunes by playing some of the trivia games, which oddly enough have you do things such as count goombas or match cards instead of actually answering trivia.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games probably isn't the game you envisioned when you imagined the once-fierce rivals finally getting together, but that's not its biggest problem. Instead, the trouble lies in the often uninteresting and occasionally frustrating motion controls combined with some events that are too similar to one another, as well as shallow gameplay that brings the game down.