Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games for the Wii marks the fifth time* the two mighty mascots have come together in competition. Following the last games’ venture into the realm of Winter sports, the series now returns to the warmer Summer weather in which the series began.

The eponymous duo go for the gold once more, but will they instead have to settle for the Silver or Bronze?

* Third, if you count the portable and console games as being the same, which we don’t, as events and modes differ between versions. And fourth/sixth, if you include Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

The gang

One of the bigger draws which sets the Mario & Sonic series apart from other Olympic Games-based titles is, of course, the inclusion of Mario, Sonic, and their wild and zany casts of characters. Split among four categories (Speed, Power, Skill, and All-Around), there is a healthy cast of twenty playable characters, with ten per franchise (plus Miis, which seem to unofficially fit into the All-Around category).

This is an increase of four characters (two for Mario, two for Sonic) over the last Summer outing; however, it is unfortunately the exact same number and roster as what was seen in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games. Those hoping to see new faces in fan-favorites such as Rosalina or Diddy Kong, or perhaps Rouge the Bat or E-123 Omega, will unfortunately come away disappointed.

A number of other characters do appear in other parts of the game; Toad, Cream the Rabbit, and Espio the Chameleon appear as referees, while the aforementioned Rouge the Bat and E-123 Omega join Dry Bones and Birdo as rivals in the London Party mode (more on that in a bit).

Interestingly, despite being separated by class, we didn’t notice a significant difference between characters in some events; not like one would expect, anyway. For example, using Sonic or Shadow didn’t make the Sprint events the shoe-ins one might expect. Of course, for the sake of balance, this is to be expected to a degree.

But even so, the pistol shooting event seemed to highlight this even more. It seems like the sort of event where a “Skill” character should prosper, and we did well with Princess Peach and Waluigi in that regard (and there’s your nightmare fuel for the evening—Waluigi with a gun). But when we decided to try the event again with Knuckles, a Power type, we exceeded our performance with either Skill character.

In fairness, this could simply mean that we’ve gotten better at the event, more than the difference between characters would account for. But on the surface, it seems as though you can simply pick the character of your choosing with little to no serious setbacks (though if you’re having trouble, switching up may still be advisable).

So much to see... so much to do

With 21 real Olympic Events and 10 Mario or Sonic-themed Dream Events, there is no shortage of things to try in this compilation. Better still, this marks the first time that Dream Events are available from the outset—no need for unlocking. As a result, you essentially have the entire game at your disposal from the moment you first put the disc in.

The events feature a mix of gameplay styles, each using some variation of the Wii Remote or Wii Remote + Nunchuk configurations, though in the case of the latter, one can use the Wii Remote just as easily. Minus the Nunchuk, the Wii Remote is used in a variety of different ways, from the “NES” configuration to using the IR pointer for aiming to mimicking a prop, such as a table tennis racquet or rowing oar.

As to how well the controls perform, it really varies from event to event, and even between similar events spanning both Olympic and Dream styles. For the most part, they work well, though one does have to wonder how some might be improved had they included MotionPlus compatibility.

And, while most events feel intuitive and natural enough, others are less so. One particular instance of this that stands out is in the Olympic Hurdles, where running is performed by holding the Wii Remote like a normal remote control, and shaking it up and down in a sort of slashing motion. To jump the hurdles, you must press the B trigger button on the underside of the Remote, which feels more unintuitive than we imagine using the A button would be. Unfortunately, there are no options to change this, so we can’t be sure, but the doubt lingers.

Just for the sake of comparison, the Dream Hurdles event plays much differently. The characters run around a rotating track with Mario Kart-esque “?” blocks appearing on the track, each triggering a different effect. This version requires holding the Wii Remote like a standard controller and plays similarly to a platformer, though the physics don’t really feel like either Mario or Sonic‘s usual fare.

In addition, while the instructions they give you for events are detailed, they tend to leave out certain things like moves you can make to properly finish an event. These appear after the fact as extra tips.

What there is an option for, however, is difficulty. While you can set your default difficulty from the options screen, you can actually adjust it for each individual event before playing. This is most definitely a good thing, and something for which the developers deserve applause. While we found several events to be challenging enough, even on Easy mode, others felt too simplistic. As such, being able to tailor each event to provide a suitable level of challenge is an obvious, but most welcome, feature.

London Party!

While many of the game’s 31 events are fun enough in and of themselves, there is a certain lack of structure to tie them all together. They’re just sort of there, and when you’re playing with friends (or even alone), that can be enough, but sometimes you want more.

Beginning in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games, the portable versions of the game have utilized a story-based Adventure Mode to tie everything together. But following the Circuit and Festival modes of the past Wii installments, this game introduces London Party, a slightly Mario Party-like mode.

The goal of London Party is to be the first of four participants (controllable either by other players or by the computer) to fill your book with stickers gathered from winning mini-games. You can choose whether to go for 16, 32, or 48 stickers, which takes approximately 30, 60, or 90 minutes to complete, respectively.

Toad and Cream the Rabbit act as the hosts in this mode, as players run around the streets of a miniaturized version of London, trying to encounter different rival characters to participate in challenges. Being the one to initiate a challenge can net extra stickers, as will winning a game—or, in some cases, just not coming in last. The map features item boxes and pipes for thwarting other players and getting around quickly, but in most cases, it’s usually better to just race for the nearest rival.

The mini-games you play in this mode are a mix of shortened versions of the Olympic and Dream events (cut down to a single round, usually) and all-new events unique to this mode. Some of these play like you might expect a Mario Party game to play, such as avoiding being haunted by a Boo, or partaking in a quiz.

Like the big events, these have their ups and downs as well. One example is a game which has you count the number of a certain object on screen; you aren’t able to move the individual number boxes (instead of choosing a “one” and a “six” for 16, you have to press up on the counter 16 times). Another is a simple chase through the streets, where you can even jump, yet you’re completely thwarted if you run into the curb, and you really have no idea of these limitations until they happen.

In all, London Party isn’t bad– it felt a little cramped and thrown together when we first played it for 16 stamps. However, after familiarizing ourselves with what it’s about and how it works, we had much more fun when we played again for 32 stamps. But even so, we still preferred the Adventure Mode of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games, which was a simple but joyous affair as we watched many of our favorite characters interact for the first time. We just hope that the 3DS version of this title can uphold that enjoyment.

Bonuses!

At the top of the review, we said that you “essentially have the entire game at your disposal from the moment you first put the disc in,” with the key word being “essentially.

Now, this isn’t like Super Smash Bros. or Mario Kart, where you have to unlock half of the characters, the stages, or whatever else before the real party fun can begin. But there are still some fun things to unlock, just the same.

As you play through the other modes, you’ll gain tickets, which are basically scratch cards. By scratching off two matching squares, you can unlock various things, such as attire for your Mii, or new music. If you lose, you can still trade in the used “blank” cards in varying increments to unlock the content anyway.

The music is the highlight, as a number of songs from Mario and Sonic’s respective histories have been gathered, and most of them are remixed for this game. You can also reassign the music in different events to these tunes. With one exception from Sonic & Knuckles, the Sonic music is all from Sonic Adventure and games released after.

Meanwhile, it seems the entire history of Mario was combed for tracks: from Super Mario Bros. to Super Mario Bros. 3, World, Super Mario 64, Sunshine, Galaxy, and New Super Mario Bros. Even a couple of Mario Kart installments have their music featured, as well as inspiring some of the Dream levels.

A variety of attire for your Mii can be obtained, from different shoes and track outfits to crazier clothing, such as tuxedos, pirate wear, and ninja garb. The bigger prize outfit are full costumes of characters from both series, which include– strangely enough– characters you’re playing as, along with some other faces. Though some of these costumes must first be unlocked, you can dress up as normal Mario, Fire Mario, the Penguin and Propeller Suits from New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Super Sonic, and the Werehog.

Perhaps more interesting is that those “other faces” include characters we might have liked to have seen in the regular roster: Espio, Rouge, Omega, and Cream are some of the faces on the Sonic side, while Diddy Kong, Dry Bones, and Toad are on Team Mario’s side. More impressive, however, is that there are actually costumes for all seven Koopalings, though these are all unlockables.

Out of the bonuses here, the music is the clear winner for us, but you might feel differently about the opportunity to dress up as Ludwig von Mii, so your mileage may vary.

And the winner is...

Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games is a solid offering, if not the most daring. As noted, the lack of new characters is a little disappointing, and we’re still wondering what could have been with the Wii MotionPlus– that’s less a mark against the game, as it controls well the majority of the time, but we still wonder if it couldn’t perhaps be even better. Maybe the likely (if not inevitable) Wii U sequel will tell us for sure.

The game is fun solo, but as one might expect, is more fun with friends along– especially in London Party mode. On the bright side, you aren’t penalized for playing alone by having to watch all the other competitors take their turns.

The use of the Nintendo WiFi connection is also lacking, as they’re for leaderboards, and nothing else. And while we fully understand why you wouldn’t want to rely on it for some events– direct competition events like fencing or cooperative events come to mind– but other events in which each player takes turns should be handled easily enough.

When all is said and done, it’s a good game, maybe even a little better than those which came before it. And if you’re a diehard fan of the previous entries, nothing should stop you from getting this one. But on the other hand, it doesn’t do enough to branch out from those, and if you’re looking for something a little fresher, this may not be for you; it takes a solid foundation, building and improving on it without revolutionizing it.

…with the possible exception of London Party. But with Mario Party 9 just around the corner, we’re not sure how compelling that argument will be, or for how long.

Hopefully, we’ll soon be able to bring you a review of the Nintendo 3DS version and see if a fresh console injects any new blood into the portable side of things.

Here’s The Rundown:

+ A large ensemble of characters from across two legendary gaming franchises…
- …but no new faces if you were here for the last one.
+ Plenty of events to keep you busy
+ Difficulty levels adjustable by event make fine-tuning a snap
+ Lots of unlockables, including classic themes remixed and Koopaling costumes
+ Said unlockables really are extra bonuses, and none of the main content is gated off
+ Multiplayer is fun…
+ …but you’re not punished for playing single
+ Puts characters in crazy, funny situations– try playing the ballet-like “Rhythmic Ribbon” with Bowser or Eggman
+ Waluigi is the character chosen to demonstrate the pistol-shooting event– that is both awesome and scary– we love it!
+ Controls work quite well in some events…
- …but not quite so well in others.
- Could use something more cohesive, like the portables’ Adventure Mode, to tie the events together
- No online, save for leaderboards
- Character classes don’t feel very distinct
- Sonic’s smile is in the center of his face– and it looks kind of weird and creepy. What’s that all about?

7 and 7.5 represent a game that overall manages to be worth a playthrough, just not worth the full price at launch. These scores are for games that are relatively good or even really good, but generally worth waiting for a sale or picking up as a rental when possible.

Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games was developed and published by SEGA Sports Japan for the Wii.  The game was released in North America on November 15th, 2011 with an MSRP of $49.95. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of review, and many, many gold medals were won. It’s true! It’s True!