Sunday, February 12, 2012

Review: Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games (3DS)

It’s a tough gig designing a minigame compilation. Game developers need to find a balance between variety of events, and find some way to encourage players to come back to play each minigame multiple times.

Previous Olympic Game compilations staring Mario and Sonic have done a reasonable job of that. Mario and Sonic at the London Olympic Games fails. Dismally.

There’s some 50 events in the game, but you’ll be lucky to find five that are worth playing more than once. The problems the events face are varied. Some are, as expected, a simple matter of mashing the ‘A’ button to run fast. Some have clunky, unnecessary controls; thrown in to make you do something different. There was no need to force people to blow into the microphone to make the sailing boat sail, for instance.

Others could be fun, but are crippled by a lack of variety. I remember that Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympic Games had an ice skating event which played out like a basic rhythm game, where you could choose between different music tracks before hitting the ice. In the London games, in the gymnastics floor event, there’s one song, and it’s over very, very quickly.

And then finally there’s the minigames that could have been interesting, except they last for no time at all. The various racket and ball sports (tennis, beach volleyball, badmitton) finish when a player wins just three points. Fencing is over in much the same time, and Judo is over the first time a player scores a full point. Their brevity does a good job of hiding how utterly limited the games are in terms of depth, but it doesn’t make them more fun.

Couple all of this with an incredible lack of challenge, and you’re over the game in almost no time. Going back to the gymnastics floor event, I missed getting a 100 per cent perfect rating by just one beat on just my second attempt.

In other areas, the game truly excels. It looks great in 3D, with vibrant colours popping out at you. The characters are a little homogenised with little of their usual character, but they’re all there. In an absolutely spectacularly unintelligent move, each event only allows for players to choose between a handful of characters. Characters are broken down into “groups” (Heroes, The Girls, Trickers etc), and each event is associated with one of those groups. Want to do the 100 meter sprint with Yoshi? Bad luck. What wisdom made the developers think to restrict which character you could use in a game that relies on its characters to succeed boggles the mind. Could you imagine a Mario Kart game where you could only chose from two characters for each track?

The focus of the game is all off too. The story mode is full of cutscenes, and I suspect that no one wants a sports game that focuses on the story mode. Because the sports games are so short in execution, most of the story mode is literally cycling through dialogue, and let’s face it, the writer of this game won’t be working on the next Elder Scrolls game.

Because the sports games are so short, there’s no point whatsoever in going through all the menus involved to play the events individually. All that’s left, then, is local multiplayer (this game badly needed online play) and the medley events, where you’ll play ten or so in a row with the winner being the person that accumulates the most points by the end. This is where the strength of the game lies, but even then it’s limited, thanks to how weak the AI competition is.

The online leaderboards don’t help, since it’s quite easy to 100 per cent the game, and in the end London Olympics becomes Mario Party without the board, and with even less reason to come back to it for more.

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