This month, the game that, until now, only existed in a thousand unverified playground rumours finally hit the shelves. A game that you hadn’t seen, but your cousin’s friend’s dad who worked for Nintendo had a copy of, and no-one else was allowed to play it or take a photo of the box. A game that featured both Mario AND Sonic.After Sega pulled out of the hardware war and its titles started showing up on Nintendo systems, the meeting of two of gaming’s biggest icons was pretty much a done deal. It was only a matter of time before it happened. Even so, there was immense pressure to make it special, and so they chose a special event to base it around – the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Packed with a huge cast of characters taken from the Sonic and Mario series, Sega has shoved them into a sporting tournament, following the pedigree of other spin-off games like Mario Tennis, Mario Kart and Sonic Spinball, it should’ve pretty much sold itself, right?
You can probably see where this is going.
The first thing that springs to mind when “playing” Mario and Sonic is that since it’s settling playground arguments from the 80s, then it’s very thoughtful of them to have transplanted the gameplay from that period as well, in a wonderful moment of retro pastiche. At least I assume that was the idea behind it, because it’s incredibly hard to believe they put out a game this painfully shallow without knowing what they were doing.
Let’s just do a quick history lesson – back in the early days of gaming, there was a series of sporting titles called Track and Field. To play these games, you basically hammered buttons and waggled joysticks to fill up power bars on the screen that made the characters run faster or jump higher, and you did this until either the controllers shattered or your hands did. Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games (to use its official title) on the Nintendo DS has, for some godless reason, brought this style of gameplay right into the present day, only now you’re going to be wearing a hole in your touchscreen by frantically rubbing your stylus over a power bar, and just like the games of olde, you have to do it at such a speed that either your console or your wrist is going to end up broken as a result.
There’s a huge variety of events, but when the control interface is so uninteresting, it’s hard to care. Pretty much any track event will play the same as any other. The field events show some variation, but it’s hardly a respite because their interfaces are almost as bad – unintuitive and unresponsive, rather than simply monotonous.
There are a few good points – as you’d expect, it looks fantastic, and if you can actually stomach playing it, there’s a lot to do and tonnes of things to unlock, whether new events or classic soundtracks, so it should keep you engrossed. While the Wii version is largely the same, the DS doesn’t have more events, including its own exclusive ones. Events such as Cycling, Shooting and Archery are genuinely fun because they involve some skill and strategy, but getting to them is a real slog.
Hampered by a shallow, outdated and generally tedious control system, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games certainly falls far short of expectations. If you’re really eager to play a game that has Mario and Sonic in it, you are advised to wait for Smash Bros. on the Wii later this year.
Platform: Nintendo DSPublisher: Sega