November 06, 2009

It's not even the New Year yet so you may not be feeling Vancouver 2010. But it is not too early to tune up for the downhill, the luge, the bobsled, and all those other sports you wouldn't be caught dead watching in a non-Olympic year.

Strength in numbers: There's lots to play in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games, with the full slate of Olympic standards such as skiing, snowboarding, ice hockey, bobsleigh and curling (surprisingly one of the most engaging experiences in the game). Everything is unlocked from jump street -- an attentive response to one frequent criticism of its Beijing Olympics predecessor -- with the exception of the bonus "Dream Events" (more on those below). Yes, the 27 total events included in the game are less in-depth sports simulators and more sports-themed mini-games, but the sheer volume ensures there's plenty to enjoy.

Creative controls: What sets this game apart from its Summer Olympics counterpart is, with several glaring exceptions, the creative and intuitive motion-based control systems. In the skiing and snowboarding events, you hold the WiiMote and Nunchuk like ski poles and make your way down the slopes, tilting forward to speed up and flicking rapidly for a quick jump. Figure skating is a rudimentary rhythm game -- think Guitar Hero Lite on Ice -- where you pick one of a half-dozen classical standards like Swan Lake or The Four Seasons for your routine and perform movements with your WiiMote to the beat. Our favorite innovation? If you've got a Wii Balance Board, you can take a seat on the peripheral and use your gluteus maximus to navigate your way to the bottom of the course, tracing your character along the ideal racing line to pick up speed.

Nice Dream: The "Dream Events" may seem like gimmicky tackons, but they're actually some of the game's most engaging experiences. These are simply the traditional Olympics events played in alternate Super Mario Galaxy-styled spacescapes with Mario Kart-type freneticism -- and they're very fun to play in both single-player and multi-player modes.

Mii compatibility: One of our favorite touches was the ability to play as your own Mii avatar instead of one of the 20 characters from the Mario and Sonic universes. It's not a feature you'll find on the back of the box, but adds a dimension to multi-player competition that more experienced gamers will appreciate.

Check out Mario & Sonic in action:

Inconsistent gameplay: For all the activities that are fun, plenty of others fall repetitive and flat. An event like speed skating, one with so much potential on the Wii, is reduced to a waggle-fest (this generation's answer to button-mashing). Many of the events -- among them skiing, snowboarding and ski jump -- have already been done better in other first-party Nintendo offerings. The all-in-one controls of ice hockey, which should be one of the most engaging events on the slate, are a letdown. Many of the events also require exaggerated tilts of the WiiMote and lack a finer touch, which makes you wonder why there's no ...

... Wii MotionPlus?: The game is not compatible with the Wii MotionPlus accessory, another huge disappointment to those who made an investment in the expansion device that allows the WiiMote to capture more complex motions. Grand Slam Tennis, which hit stores months ago, made perfect use of the MotionPlus. Why couldn't this game?

Artificial Incompetence: The degree of difficulty in single-player mode is modest, to put it charitably, and compromises the game's replay value. Even younger players will experience little resistance plowing through the game's core Festival Mode -- the 17-day Olympic simulation from opening to closing ceremonies -- like a Sno-Cat through powder. The lack of a difficulty setting is a conspicuous absence here.

Character flaws: The game's 20 playable characters may seem a superficial strength. But unlike the Mario Kart series where heavy characters like Bowser and Donkey Kong play very differently than petite options like Toad or Peach, there's very little discernable difference in gameplay between a brawny character and a slight one.

Online tease: You can compare your records with other users around the world, but the inability to compete against other players online is a major disappointment.

2007's Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games -- the first-ever official crossover title to feature the two video-game icons -- was a major commercial success in spite of its tepid critical reception. Given the first game's robust sales figures, a Winter-themed edition was inevitable. But at least Sega took the time to address complaints and make improvements. Controls are still plenty loose for the sake of younger players, so hardcore gamers might not get much out of it. But then again, you can't exactly claim false advertising: a game called Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games doesn't exactly scream true-to-life simulator. If you're looking for a family-friendly, Olympic-themed game to get you in the spirit for Vancouver 2010 -- one that just about anybody who can pick up a controller can have fun with -- Mario & Sonic is worth the price.

Gameplay: 7

Graphics: 6

Audio: 6

Online: 3

Overall: 6

You May Like

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)