There's something to be said for a game that has Bowser performing a triple Salchow in figure skating or Dr. Eggman sweeping the ice in curling. I'm just not sure what that something is, though. Exciting? Surreal? Blasphemous?
Whatever the case, such sights are possible in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games, a title that's notable for a couple reasons: It again pairs two of the most iconic characters in video games (and their supporting casts), and its juxtaposition of the words "Olympic" and "winter" seems strangely off-putting (why not Mario & Sonic at the Winter Olympic Games, hmm?). Regardless, the premise, which builds on 2007's Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, remains simple: Take 10 characters from Mario's world and 10 from Sonic's and let them compete in two dozen or so events from the Winter Games. Players can take part in a Festival mode—either alone or with up to three others—that walks you through two "weeks" of events (two or three per "day"), or they can compete in stand-alone single-player or group matches.
And now, the judges' scores.
Loved Dream Events: While progressing through Festival mode, every so often you'll have to participate in a Dream Event, which takes one of the main events, puts an arcade spin on it and transports it to a Mario- or Sonic-themed environment. In Dream Ski Jump, for example, you glide on skis through the Good Egg Galaxy from Super Mario Galaxy, collecting goodies for points along the way. They're nice diversions, especially when you nail a triple axle while leaping a Goomba, as in Dream Figure Skating. I found many of the dream events to be preferable to their reality-based counterparts.
More than Mini-Games: Though some events got annoyingly repetitive, there were a few worth the extra play-throughs. Hockey, with its one-minute halves (they're called "periods", but there are only two of them) was face-paced and fun, as you control the four-on-four action by pressing the A button to pass and flicking the Remote forward to shoot or body-check. Another was curling, which was surprisingly intricate and made for a decent primer on a sport I knew little about.
Balance Board: Unlike the previous Mario & Sonic title, which was released before Wii Fit came out, this game supports the Wii Balance Board. I included it here simply because it makes the sledding events more enjoyable, allowing you to sit to steer. (Hey, when they're appropriate, I'm a sucker for alternative control schemes.) However, the Balance Board is not without its drawbacks. It's compatible only with a handful of events, and it's debatable whether it makes those sports—skiing, snowboarding—more enjoyable. Moreover, anyone with a Balance Board should also have Wii Fit, which also includes ski slalom and ski jump games. Finally, the Balance Board is not supported in Festival mode; it's a separate option, alongside Single Match, Festival and Training.
Hated Rival Challenges: In Festival mode, after about every other day, a rival will challenge you in one of the events, which you must win in order to advance to the next day. Some rivals are ridiculously easy; others are more difficult. (Of the latter category, I seem to recall jotting something down in my notes … oh, yes, here it is: KING BOO – GIANT SLALOM – DIE! DIE! DIE! This was in reference to how, in order to beat King Boo, you must ski a nearly flawless giant slalom race while surviving the multiple times that the grinning bastard bumps you on the way down the course, including the many instances when he would knock me off balance a few feet before the finish line, causing me to lose and igniting an overwhelming desire to rip that flailing red tongue out of his ghostly freakin' throat. See also: BIG BULLET BILL – SKELETON RACE – MUST … NOT … PUNCH … TV.) But back to the point: Overall, the challenges seemed little more than an artificial way to extend the Festival mode by making you repeat something over and over again until you get it just perfect.
Movin' and Shakin': While the controls for some events seemed intuitive (or, like skiing or snowboarding, were already familiar from similar games), others were less so. In the speed skating 1000-metre short track, for instance, you must shake the Wii Remote on the straightaways and tilt it around the curves. But your time on the straightaways or curves lasts maybe a second or two, so your motions end up a jumbled mess. Furthermore, some of the motions just aren't that responsive. In the ski cross or snowboard cross events, for example, when approaching jumps, you're supposed to jerk the Remote and Nunchuk upward to make your character jump. It worked maybe a quarter of the time for me (and, making me feel doubly dumb, I kept whipping myself in the forehead with the Nunchuk cord).
Length: You can sail through single-player Festival mode in as little time as a few hours (or more if, like me, King Boo or Big Bullet Bill trip you up). In order to unlock all the Dream events, you'll have to play through Festival mode, but, after doing so, I'm not sure there's much incentive to keep repeating it.
Aside from the novelty of seeing Mario, Sonic or their acquaintances competing in winter sports, there's just not a whole lot to Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games. The various iterations of skiing, snowboarding and speed skating events make the game seem too repetitive, and the few noteworthy sports—hockey, curling—don't justify the full cost of the game. The game does provide a "shopping" area where you can use in-game cash to buy music from the game or outfits for your Mii, but, again, are you going to get the game just for that? You could probably rent this one and get what you need.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games was developed and published by Sega for the Nintendo Wii and DS on October 13. Retails for $US49.99/AU$69.95. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Completed Festival mode and tested the game with the Balance Board on the Wii.