It’s hard to believe now, but back in 2007, the idea of a Mario and Sonic game was seen as a landmark moment in gaming. Just over 4 years on and the pairing of the two series for the Olympics is now a gaming staple, one that is expected to be released in the same way that we expect to see a new FIFA every year. Last year saw the somewhat early release of Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games on Wii, and this year it is the turn of the 3DS to take the baton of the series forward, and after a lacklustre display on Wii, the 3DS version has a lot of pressure on it.
The most obvious distinction between the two games should be apparent to anyone who has played one of the previous games on both platforms, with this year’s entries seeing the biggest gap in the target audience yet. While the Wii version stripped out most of the single player experience in favour of a more party orientated gameplay, the 3DS version plays to this system’s strength as a single player system, pulling most of the modes from the Winter Olympics DS game, including a full story mode and around 50 unique events.
What You Need To Know
The set-up of Mario & Sonic 2012 will be familiar to anyone who has played these games in the past. The game offers over 50 different Olympic themed events to compete in, combining characters from the Mushroom Kingdom and Mobius at the London Olympic Games.
But despite all this, the first thing you notice won’t be the relative plethora of modes and games available to you, but instead how impressive the presentation is. The character models and graphical quality is on par and in some cases better than the Wii version, with the 3D effect adding a subtlety to the characters that improves their appearance slightly. On the whole, SEGA have taken the graphical presentation of the Wii version and somehow put it onto the 3DS, although this does mean that some of the corner-cutting measures have made their way across, with the lazily animated 2D crowds becoming even more apparent in 3D.
The rest of the presentation is also just as slick as the Wii version, with intuitive menus and some enjoyable audio tracks. The option to change audio for a given event has disappeared though, most likely to conserve space, and the characters remain silent, except for various sound-bites that you will hear over and over again. Essentially what we have here is a portable version of the Wii game in terms of presentation, showing that whatever the Wii can do, the 3DS can do as well or better. Which is why the poor quality of many of the game’s events needs to be questioned.
Events are more like micro-games
Mario & Sonic 2012 on 3DS features over 50 events, but rather than being full events that you would expect in the Olympics, the events are largely more akin to WarioWare mini-games, offering up a slice of the event for you to complete using various control methods. That’s not to say they are all bad, but for the handful of truly enjoyable events there are, you will have to play through a lot of mediocrity, while the Dream Events oddly fail to make the cut. What makes this worse is that each event is designated four characters only – want to take Yoshi onto the football pitch? You can’t, it has to be one of the arbitrarily assigned ‘Wild Ones’.
The 100m sprint in particular comes up for criticism, with you taking control of the race only at the start and finish, cutting down a 10 second event to about 3 seconds of actual gameplay. Other events such as the combat sports are reduced to simple quick-time events that require very little skill on the player’s behalf, and then there are the events that barely even resemble the Olympic sport they claim to represent – the marathon in particular asks you to simply press A when your character runs past a water bottle; the player with the highest scoring water bottle wins. That’s it.
Varied usage of the 3DS
But for the numerous mediocre events, there are a few enjoyable ones, and these are usually when Mario & Sonic 2012 actually replicates the event in question. Football is an interesting and enjoyable mini-game, with your character volleying in balls played to you, while BMX sees you hurtling around a track while landing jumps using the gyro controls of the system. Archery and shooting events also make good use of the gyro controls, but as with many of the events, these are over far too quickly.
The scope of what SEGA have tried to achieve here is clear to see right from the start as there is a lot of content to find, and thanks to some clever control choices which allow the use of the gyro, buttons, circle pad or microphone, they are a diverse bunch. The problem lies with the execution of the events; the microphone controlled events are simply terrible and unplayable in public, and the gyro events forget the key feature of the 3DS – moving the system disrupts the 3D effect. Other events just seem ill-conceived and watered down versions of what they could have been. Events such as tennis as badminton which could have been great are cut down to simply swiping on the touch screen as you try and win 3 points, a total which cannot be changed, and events such as boxing are over far too quickly. With SEGA going to the trouble of creating bespoke arenas for all these events, it’s difficult to see why most of them have a one try mentality to them. Essentially, the game is always pushing you to finish what you’re doing and try something else.
Relentless pacing strips a lot of the fun out
This relentless pace would be ideal for a multiplayer game, but for a more single player orientated handheld version you always feel rushed. This is balanced out slightly by the medley event mode, which allows you to select a group of events to play through in one go, with the highest overall score winning. This reduces the rush somewhat with the knowledge that there is more to come always present, but the velocity at which you pound through events still means that you spend more time setting it up than actually playing the game.
Story mode is particularly troubled by this, with the pre-event cutscenes lasting as long or longer than the actual event it leads up to thanks to a heavy use of trivial dialogue. The story leaves a bit to be desired too, with the two groups of characters teaming up the day before the Olympics (despite the fact that all the events take place in a packed Olympic Stadium) to prevent Bowser and Dr Eggman stopping the event thanks to their fog generating machines. It’s hardly a memorable plot, but seeing the characters interact is fun enough, and it provides a nice way of playing through all the events in sequence without having to set-up medley events. The story mode lasts about 4 hours and is extended once complete with a prequel story, but it leans heavily on the fact that the heroes are in London, and I’m not sure how that will translate around the world. For me, seeing Mario and Sonic outside places I have been was a really unique experience, but for people who haven’t been to London, some of the charm and attention to detail will be lost.
While this is arguably more fun than the Wii version thanks to a more coherent structure and single player focus, Mario & Sonic 2012 3DS once again fails to recognise what made the previous games in the series enjoyable. This version is quite simply a mini-game compilation, taking ideals from WarioWare in terms of speed and diversity of controls. The watered down games don’t help either, and this is compounded by the fact that the presentation shows that the 3DS can produce anything the Wii can, and better. That’s not to say there isn’t fun to be had here; a few of the events are enjoyable and the speed at which you go through the game brings with it a one-more-go factor that is often missing from these titles, but if you’re looking for a complete Olympic sports game, this is not for you.
Review copy of the game provided by SEGA
All events and modes completed