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One of the most successful mini-game collections on Nintendo platforms returns for its third outing...
Mario can outrun Sonic.
And we don't mean in a hypothetical "if Sonic broke his leg, and fell into a K-hole" way, either. According to SEGA, and Nintendo - who co-produced the game - Mario can actually outrun Sonic. In a race.
It's like saying that Jigglypuff could beat-up Ryu, or that Kratos could out-sneak Solid Snake. Running is what Sonic does. Mario's an overweight, slightly thick (let's be honest here) plumber, who - by a fluke of birthright and design - somehow consistently ends up in much better games (we'll ignore Mario Pinball). It's bad enough that Sonic's been forced to prop up a series of embarrassing, mediocre titles for the last decade and a half, watching with forlorn ennui as Mario racks up plaudits and awards - don't take away the one thing he's still actually good at. Nintendo might have castles stuffed full of gold coins now, but they can't just buy the truth - where will it end? Next they'll tell us that Waluigi's the world's most-loved character or something - it's got to stop.
Except it probably won't. Thing is, these Mario and Sonic Olympic cash-ins have sold rather well indeed (19 million copies over the last two titles), and that means - by the inevitable law of the Great British Pound - that more have to be made. So it is that we come to (deep breath) Mario And Sonic At The London 2012 Olympic Games; the third title in the series to be released for Wii, and the first to arrive on Nintendo's shiny new 3D handheld.
And it's a.... mini-game collection. Yes, it might seem like shovelware, but at least it's SEGA developed shovelware with a Nintendo sheen - and that makes it worthy of a preview. Let's start with the Wii version: pick up Wiimote, waggle Wiimote in style vaguely imitating sport, repeat. If you've played a Wii 'party-game' before (just who has parties like this, exactly?!) you'll know what to expect; there's even a competent Wii Sports Tennis rip-off in the form of the Badminton event (with added character-specific special moves rewarding perfectly timed smash shots). Naturally, there's a broad selection of distinguished Mario characters to select from (Donkey Kong, Peach, Wario etc.), and Sonic's rag-tag band of freaks and misfits are also all mostly present and correct (Amy, Knuckles, that two-tailed sycophantic stalker fox etc...).
Badminton is new to the Wii version, along with Football and an Equestrian event which has you vigorously pumping the Wiimote up and down to spur on your mount. There's also a rhythm action canoeing event in which you hold the Wiimote like a paddle, syncing strokes in time with your partner until you arrive together, breathless at the finishing line. Many of the Olympic events take place in digital recreations of the real London 2012 venues (the Equestrian event features an interpretation of Greenwich Park for example), and eleven of the thirty real-world locations appear in the Wii version of the game (compared to twenty in the 3DS version).
Dream Events make their return as well; these are more irreverent interpretations of the Olympic sports, set in fantasy locations from the Mario and Sonic back-catalogue. Dream Discus sees four players fighting to collect coins while flying through Sonic Adventure's Windy Valley, before getting sucked up by a huge tornado and battling to land in the centre of an enormous dartboard. Dream Long Jump takes place in a Yoshi's Island inspired platforming level; this elimination event has players bouncing off clouds in a scrolling 2D sky stage, where a mistimed jump can result in a fatal plummet. Jumping on a lightning cloud shoots out bolts which stun your opponents, and it's possible to nudge and cajole them off into oblivion as you all vie to land that next leap across the cloudscape. Even after you've died, you're still part of the action, returning as a deadly 'bomb balloon' that can be deployed to disrupt the remaining players.
Although the imprecise Wii waggle controls are starting to show their age, their implementation in the Badminton event at least felt fairly accurate, with shots appearing to head off roughly in the direction intended. Clearly, the game has been designed with multiplayer in mind, and while you can play alone against the A.I., it's unlikely that you'd want to.
The 3DS version benefits from the precision of its touch screen and the variety of input options available. There are fifty mini-games in the handheld iteration, including a gyro-tilting balance beam event and a breaststroke race which has you blowing into the microphone every time your on-screen character lifts its head out of the water. A Kayaking mini-game which involves frantically spinning the circle pad to rotate your paddle was probably the weakest event we played, while an enjoyable QTE Judo game has you hitting buttons before your opponent in response to on-screen prompts. Best of show was a rhythm action Race Walk mini-game, in which you sweep the stylus from side to side in metronomic step with Offenbach's 'Can Can' overture. Go too slow or too fast and the music warps accordingly, as your character crawls or puffs along at the pace of your strokes.
While the Wii version is unlikely to be a ground-breaking classic, it's still shaping up to be an above-average mini-game collection, and will doubtless sell bucket-loads on the back of the Mario, Sonic and Olympic brands. Although you're unlikely to bring Mario And Sonic At The London 2012 Olympic Games up in conversations involving Ico or Braid, like it or not, there's a market for this stuff, and it seems as though SEGA's latest offering might turn out to be a preferable alternative to some of the similar dross available for the platform. The 3DS version seems to have generally tighter controls and design than its home console counterpart, but the superior single-player experience obviously comes at the cost of the multiplayer physicality that lies at the heart of the Wii-version's appeal.
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