What comes to mind when you hear the word Olympics? Glory, sportsmanship, torches, medals, drugs, Nazis, Daley Thompson… Well, now we can add to that hedgehogs racing dragons, Princess Peach holding a gun and sore breasts.
That’s because we’ve been playing Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games. Much has already been written, not least by us, about how it’s the first game to bring SEGA and Nintendo’s mascots together, but who cares. More interesting is the fact that Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games is the best collection of mini-games for Nintendo’s console since Wii Sports.
It’s also a bigger collection of mini-games. There are more than 20 in total, with categories including track, field, gymnastics and aquatics (look out for the lovely bit in the opening cut-scene where Peach floats along gracefully like the mute fish girl out of Stingray). Up to four players can compete and most of the games can be played with the Wii remote alone if you’re out of Nunchuks.
One of M&S’s strengths is the variation in the complexity of the games. If you’re playing with six-year-olds or simpletons you can pick a running event which involves straightforward shaking of the remote and nunchuk. If you’re up for more of a challenge you can try something like archery. This involves lining up cursors using both controllers (fiddlier than it sounds) and taking account of wind speed and direction before you fire your shot.
Other highlights include the trampolining event. You flick the remote upwards to jump, and before your character lands you must perform acrobatics by twisting the remote and pressing various buttons as instructed. It’s frantic and fun.
Fencing is also a favourite. There’s something inherently hilarious about Luigi and Bowser poking each other with pointy sticks, but the game’s real appeal lies in the complexity of the controls. You can parry and dash, perform special moves to leave your opponent open and shake the controllers to recover if they do the same to you. And poke them with a pointy stick.
Many mini-game collections consist of a handful of ideas with a load of different visuals slapped on them, but there’s been a real attempt at variation here. The swimming game, for example, could have used the same controller shaking mechanism as the running event, but they’ve put in a stamina meter and an extra button press to change things up. In the relay, you’ll also need to change how you move the controllers (from up and down to left and right, for example) as the characters in your team have different swimming strokes. Again, it’s highly enjoyable.
For many players, the best bits of Mario & Sonic will be the Dream Events. These are regular mini-games with new twists, in essence, but what twists! Take the Dream Race, for example. The basic mechanic is the same as the 100m track event, but this time you’re racing round a Mario Kart-style circuit complete with sand traps and prize boxes. Red shells, star power, lightning strikes – they’re all here, and they’re just as fun to deck other racers with as ever.
The only problem with Dream Race is you have to shake your arms about really hard for a really long time. It’s absolutely exhausting, and if you’re a lady or a fat man the high jiggle factor can result in discomfort. The just-one-more-go element is therefore missing here.