The year is 1985. Super Mario Bros. takes the video game world by storm, and puts into motion the single most recognized character in video games. This pudgy little plumber named Mario enjoys several years of success, accompanied by several sequels and licensing agreements.
In 1991, SEGA released Sonic the Hedgehog, a game starring the titular blue critter with the power to run faster than any living being on Earth. Over the next several decades, Mario and Sonic would be fierce rivals in video game fans’ eyes. It wouldn’t be until the 21st century that the two would finally meet on the grandest athletic stage of them all, the Olympic Games.
True, it’s not quite the crossover that fans had hoped for over the past 20 years, but it’s a start.
The Mario and Sonic games are nothing new. There’s currently three different titles on the Wii. This marks the first time, however, that the two crews have been brought to the portable side of things on the 3DS. Minigame compilations have definitely been brought to the smaller platforms before (Mario Party on the DS comes to mind,) but how well do the full Olympic Games translate to the handheld?
For those unfamiliar, Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games is exactly what it sounds like. Mario, Sonic and their respective friends and enemies all put aside their differences and compete in races, fighting matches and other Olympian competitions rather than duking it out. They do it like gentlemen. Or…whatever the heck Knuckles is supposed to be.
The different events, of which this version has more than 50, are played out by utilizing the various features of the 3DS. That means simple things like running a race will be performed by mashing the A button over and over. Conversely, throwing your opponent in a judo fight is done by whoever pushes the correct combination of buttons first. Some events get creative, like using the stylus and touch screen in order to draw circles to swim faster, or physically moving the 3DS to aim your gun in trap shooting. My personal favorite happened to involve “rotating” the 3DS in order to build up speed for the hammer throw event.
Much like Mario Party, the game gives the player a brief overview of how the sport is played and which controls to use. Some events even give you a brief few seconds before a round starts, in order to orient the system for how it will need to be played. That tactic comes into play when you need to lay the 3DS down on a surface or change your hands’ positioning. Sometimes the game even goes as far to allow you a few practice rounds before actually competing.
While many of the controls work okay, there are many others that are just infuriating. Rowing, for example, has the player place the 3DS down flat and rotate the circle pad furiously until the race is over, almost to the point where I thought I might accidentally break my system. One of the versions of fencing puts a shape on the upper screen, and tasks the player with tracing that shape on the bottom screen without any sort of guide to at least to show where to start. You’re just slashing blindly. Also, the long jump is performed by holding the 3DS perfectly horizontally and tilting it up in an attempt to get as close as possible to a pre-determined angle. Controls for many of the games range from dangerous to confusing to just plain painful.
The greatest tragedy facing the game is the removal of the Dream Events from the other versions of the games. These were Olympic events with a bit of a spin on them, like a high dive that lasts for a long time and you’re tasked with falling through rings for points, or a hurdle race that takes place in Green Hill Zone. These were one of the coolest parts of its console predecessors, and it’s a real shame they aren’t in this handheld version. As a result, the game is a little on the ho-hum side, since there’s no excitement of something extraordinary. It’s as realistic as a set of humanized animals and unlikely ethnic stereotypes competing in various sports can get, and it doesn’t exactly produce the feeling of needing to play it.
Besides the usual single event and up to 4-player local multiplayer, there’s surprisingly a story mode as well. Bowser and Dr.
Robotnik Eggman have teamed up because they were both denied the ability to compete in the Olympic Games. Taking an, “If we can’t compete, no one can” attitude, the two hatch a plan to ruin the Games for everyone. Acting upon an ancient prophecy involving some magical fog, they coat all of London with brightly colored fog in order to stop the opening ceremony from happening. Even worse, the fog seems to have the ability to create copies of the crew that are somehow incredibly athletic. The only way to get rid of them? By beating them in Olympic events of course! The objective quickly moves to finding all the machines spewing fog across such famous London landmarks as the Thames River, Stonehenge, Hyde Park and of course Big Ben. This ultimately leads to players attempting to stop Eggman and Bowser, in order to save the Olympic Games.
The story is surprisingly long (for a game like this at least) and is a cute way to get kids interested and have nerds like myself overwhelmed with fanboyism. Donkey Kong taking on Omega? Sonic, Knuckles and Vector all taking down Bowser? Yoshi racing against Metal Sonic? That is awesome.
Towards the end of the story, the difficulty ramps up significantly, as expected. However, combining this with the aforementioned awkward controls makes for a very bad formula. The game alleviates some frustration by presenting you with a set of challenges per episode, and only needing to finish a few. Though, in the case of the second to last episode, all of the challenges are enough to make gamers angry. I seriously had to replay a simple hurdle race almost a dozen times because both myself and the computer opponent were perfect at the event. Somehow, my opponent always gained some miraculous burst of speed upon approaching the finish line, allowing it to secure the win.
It should also be noted that there are hundreds of badges and medals to collect for your accomplishments. The medals are earned by performing well in the events across three different difficulties, while the badges are earned by redeeming tickets received just by completing events. The badges don’t do anything, but you can upload your medals and your best times to online leaderboards to see where you rank across the world.
Look, chances are you already know if Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games is something you’ll pick up. If you’ve got a kid that would love it, ARE a kid that would love it, or are just a sucker for minigame compilations, you’ll want to pick it up. The game isn’t a system seller and (hopefully) won’t be the sole reason someone looks into a 3DS, but the game doesn’t do anything overly wrong minus a few control issues. It’s simply that many gamers who would be interested in Mario and/or Sonic probably aren’t looking for a game where everyone gets together and has a nice friendly race. If you were convinced that Mario and Sonic wasn’t for you, this one won’t change your mind. Meanwhile, we’ll all go back to hoping the two will meet up and have a true platforming crossover instead. You hear me, SEGA and Nintendo?
This review is based on a copy of the game which was provided to us for review purposes.
Mario and Sonic are back in the Olympics again, but there's not a ton here that breaks any new ground.