Released: 9 February 2012
Developer: SEGA Sports R&D/Racjin
Also Available For: Nintendo Wii
During the “Console Wars” of the nineties, there were no truer rivals than Nintendo’s Super Mario and SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog; both went head to head as their respective company’s mascots, spearheading the release of some of the greatest and most influential videogames of a generation, and both company’s went to great lengths over the years in a bid to prove that their consoles were the superior. In the end, though, thanks to a variety of expensive and poorly-conceived ideas and an ever-changing marketplace, SEGA were forced to withdraw from developing home consoles; now developing videogames for their competitors, SEGA’s supersonic mascot began appearing in games exclusive to Nintendo consoles and discussions of a long-awaited crossover began between Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto and Sonic creator Yuji Naka.
Rather than have their two iconic mascots meet in a merging of their worlds for a traditional platform title, however, the two were brought together in the spirit of friendly competition after SEGA was awarded the 2008 Beijing Olympic licence. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games (SEGA Sports R&D, 2007) followed as a result; though little more than a series of mini games featuring Mario and Sonic characters taking part in a number of Olympic events, the game was a commercial success and led to a series of annual titles being released in conjunction with a number of different Olympic events. After many years of putting it off, I finally got around to playing the 2012 edition of the game, which was set in London since we Brits won the right to host the games that year so, since the Tokyo Olympic Games are set to kick off today, I figured this was an ideal time to leech off of that event and share my thoughts about this title.
Sonic, Mario, and all their friends have arrived in London for the 2012 Olympic Games; however, annoyed that they weren’t invited to compete, King Bowser of the Koopas and Doctor Eggman join forces to cover London in the “Phantasmal Fog”, disrupting the games and forcing our heroes to battle against fog-based duplicates of themselves to dispel the fog and allow the Olympic Games to proceed as planned.
I’ve played games in the Mario & Sonic series before so I knew what to expect heading into Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games; while the games do generally have a story mode these days to make the gameplay a bit more involved than just a simple party game, it is still, nevertheless, a collection of Olympic-themed mini games. Because I’ve never been a fan of the Wii’s motion controls (or the Wii in general, if I’m honest), I always opt for the handheld versions of these sorts of games in the hopes that they will be less frustrating to play.
Sadly, for the most part, that isn’t the case with Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games, a game which, seemingly, goes out of its way to use every single button, control, and aspect of the 3DS for its numerous events. The game features twenty playable characters, each of which falls into one of five different character classes (Heroes, Challengers, Girls, Wild Ones, and Tricksters) and, as a result, each character takes part in different events (Sonic, for example, can be used in the Marathon event, Yoshi in Shot Put, Blaze the Cat in Beach Volleyball, Bowser in Wrestling, and Metal Sonic in Hockey) and you cannot mix characters or classes.
The moment you start a new game, Omochao rears his ugly little head to talk you through some of the game’s basic controls; you can then select from a few different customisation options, single or multiplayer events, or the game’s story mode. If you choose the single or multiplayer modes, you can select from all of the game’s many and varied events, each of which comes with an easy, normal, and hard criteria to get bronze, silver, and gold medals, respectively, with different goals, scores, or times to hit for each, as well as a brief overview of the event’s controls and objectives.
I skipped this, however, and went straight to the story mode. The story allows you to take control of all of the game’s playable characters and the vast majority of the mini games and events the game has to offer, all while dialogue boxes and some limited voice clips and effects convey the game’s simple story. Generally, the story branches into two separate paths, one that follows primarily Mario characters and one that follows mainly Sonic characters, with the groups mixing up, overlapping, and interacting as they investigate the Phantasmal Fog, battle their shadowy doubles, and go head to head with Bower, Eggman, and their underlings.
It’s a pretty simple story, one that is geared more towards teaching younger players a little about London and the Olympic Games more than anything, and it’s extremely linear. You can jump to a map screen to replay events (or just let the story take you from one episode to the next), skip cutscenes if you’re retrying an event, and are given a number of Challenges to complete to advance the plot. In the story’s early going, you’ll probably only be required to complete one or two Challenges but, as the story progresses, you’ll be asked to more, with each Challenge being comprised of harder or more complex events. Only first place will do here; if you don’t come first, you fail the Challenge and must either retry or choose a different Challenge if you want to see the story through to completion.
As you play, you’ll be required to take part in a number of Olympic Games; it’s kind of weird that characters just spontaneously challenge their rivals to these games, and how the stadiums and arenas and locations and crowds and such just “appear” when you need to compete but…what do you expect? This is the best way, though, to experience a variety of the game’s events and get an idea of what is required of you. Sadly, however, many of the game’s events are an exercise in frustration; as I mentioned, you’ll be given a brief overview of what to do before an event but, sometimes, that doesn’t really help prepare you for the actual gameplay of that event.
Generally, you’ll be rapidly tapping buttons, inputting specific button combinations, shouting or blowing into the microphone (which I can’t seem to find on my 3DS and which makes me a little lightheaded since I’m so unfit…), moving the 3DS about, or using the stylus to complete these events. Some, like the Pole Vault and 100M Backstroke, aren’t too difficult (you must angle the circle stick in a diagonal direction to charge your vault and release before the hidden meter overfills and your pole breaks or rapidly draw circles with the stylus to swim faster) but others, like Archery (Solo) and BMX are maddeningly frustrating (you don’t just aim and shot in Archery, you need to account for wind currents which can screw up your shot, and BMX requires almost perfect hand co-ordination to tilt the 3DS in the right position to give you a much-needed boost).
Almost all of the events have one thing in common and that is that they come down to split second timing as much as skill; if you do not time your inputs exactly right, you’re screwed but, often, the game’s button prompts and directions mislead you and cause you to fail. Take the Triple Jump, for example; it seems pretty easy (tap the touch screen left and right in an alternating pattern and then tap in time with the directions to leap) but if you tap for your first jump when the game/button prompt tells you then you will fail on a foul since you jumped too late! Similarly, Basketball only gives you an aiming reticule in the training mode, which makes landing a shot really difficult with the 3DS’s motion controls, and many games that have you draw on the bottom screen have the directions on the top, which is really confusing as you’d expect to tap targets on the touch screen when playing the Shooting events.
Others seem incredibly random or unfair just for the sake of it; the 20km Racewalk event, for example, has you moving the stylus to a tempo at just the right speed. The game helpfully tells you when to speed up and penalises you if you need to slow down but it’s more annoying than anything to try and get the balance just right. The Canoe Slalom (Pair) event has you balancing with the circle pad and tapping A to pass through gates, which sounds easy but is super tricky as the control stick is overly sensitive, and you’ll be jerking your 3DS around like a moron trying to hit targets in the Double Trap event.
Similarly, in a lot of events are handicapped by poor camera angles; it’s hard to see (or know) what you’re doing in the Sprint event as you’re stuck in a bad position and your opponent just rockets away too fast for you to catch, and it’s very difficult to judge your positioning in the ball-based games like Badminton and Football (to say nothing of the Goddamn Table Tennis (Doubles) event which requires you to switch between two characters but sometimes they swap independently and always right as you think you have the rhythm down). It’s equally difficult to make jumps in the 3000m Steeplechase event as the camera position means you don’t see which sort of button press is required of you until the very last second; the same goes for the Marathon event, where the angle is positioned just annoyingly enough to mean you need split-second accuracy to pick up the water bottle at the right time.
It’s not all bad, though; some events (like 25m Rapid Fire Pistol, Trampoline, and Wrestling) can be fun but there’s very little room for error here; it may take some practice to understand exactly what is required of you but, generally, once you get the inputs down you can usually scrape by to advance the game’s story to the next episode. Other times, though, you’ll have to take on a number of quick-fire events in a row, with no way to restart if you fail one until you load into the next event (and then you have to restart the whole Challenge so be sure to retry before you fail), and by the end of it all you’ll be too burned out to really want to try out the other events in the game’s single player mode.
Graphics and Sound:
Being that it’s a 3DS game, the graphics are serviceable enough; Mario, Sonic, and all their friends and enemies look pretty good and coexist decently enough thanks to their cartoony aesthetic but it’s a bit weird how some characters (the girls, mostly) are dressed to compete and others are not and how characters like Sonic are suddenly only able to communicate in pantomime.
Otherwise, there’s not much to the in-game graphics; the story mode sees the characters visit a number of iconic British landmarks but they’re mostly lifeless voids or obscured by thick, colourful fog. When you enter the events themselves, there’s a decent amount of detail, with minor Mario and Sonic characters filling out the crowds and the arenas sharing the same bright, cartoony aesthetic of the characters. Musically, though, aside from a few recognisable sound clips and sound effects, there’s nothing really Mario or Sonic about this title as it opts for simple trumpets and fanfares.
Enemies and Bosses:
Outside of the game’s story mode, your choices for opponents are dictated by which character, class, and event you wish to play; you won’t be able to pit Sonic against Eggman in a Triathalon, for example, but you can pit Knuckles against Donkey Kong in a Boxing match.
In the story mode, you’ll mostly compete against evil fog imposters of Mario and Sonic characters; Amy Rose and Princess Daisy, for example, get to take on the imposter versions of Blaze and Princess Peach in Beach Volleyball and Yoshi will have to compete against imposter versions of Shadow the Hedgehog and Silver the Hedgehog in the 1500m and 10km Marathon Swim events. As you progress, the amount of Challenges you have to clear increases, as does the difficulty of your opponents, and you’ll be allowed to choose between different characters to take on different events and imposters.
In the course of the game’s story, you’ll also compete against a number of boss characters; it is only by clearing these challenges that you’ll bring that episode to an end and progress to the next part of the story. The first boss battle pits you (as Mario and Luigi) against the duo of Dry Bowser and Dry Bones and has you frantically blowing into the microphone and awkwardly steering your ship across boost panels in the 470 (Pair) event. This is a pretty ridiculous game as the controls are way too slippery and it’s ridiculously easy to just wander into the path of a whirlpool…yet it’s also stupidly easy to win even with minimum effort.
Next, you’ll take on King Boo and Boo in Badminton (Doubles) as Sonic and Miles “Tails” Prower; this involves sliding the stylus (or your finger) down the touch screen as the shuttlecock comes towards you. Don’t do this too soon, though, or you’ll miss like an idiot; instead, you should aim to hit it when the shuttlecock flashes red but this gets tricky as the rallies get faster and faster and, one time, the ball went between Sonic and Tails and they just stood there like lemons!
Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games sees the welcome return of Jet the Hawk as a boss character who challenges Shadow to a 3000m Steeplechase, and also has you competing against Rouge the Bat as Peach in the 100m Backstroke, neither of which are particularly challenging thanks to these events being two of the more user-friendly games. When you take on Bowser Jr, however, you must do so in a three-stage event that sees Yoshi having to fight with the poor game prompts in the Triple Jump, hold the 3DS like an idiot in the 10km Marathon Swim, and struggle through a 3000m Steeplechase, or Silver desperately try to aim for the centre and time button presses correctly in Trampoline, fumble through Basketball, and press and hold the stylus without messing up in Floor. Your best bet to beat Bowser Jr is to pick Shadow, whose events are much easier to get through.
You’ll also come up against one of the most wasted characters ever introduced into the Sonic franchise, Eggman Nega, and have to compete against him in a 4 x 100 relay that simply asks you to slide the stylus to pass the baton between Luigi, Tails, Mario, and Sonic. Similarly easygoing is Donkey Kong’s encounter with E-123Ω “Omega”, which sees you timing presses of the A and B button and going for a super tackle in the Wrestling – Freestyle event. Unfortunately, when Sonic takes on Magikoopa, it’s in the God-awful BMX event which literally had me tearing my hair out as I just couldn’t figure out how the tilt the 3DS properly to land correctly!
You’ll battle against both Bowser and Dr. Eggman a couple of times in the story mode; you’ll first face Eggman with Wario and then alongside Waluigi to take on Eggman and Metal Sonic, but he isn’t really a challenge (the Hockey game you must complete is really just a glorified version of Pong (Atari, 1972)). Similarly, Bowser isn’t too difficult to get past if you choose the right events (the Hammer Throw, in particular, isn’t too taxing as long as you can rotate the 3DS fast enough) but they both get a significant power boost for the game’s final chapter.
Here, powered up by the Phantasmal Fog, Bowser and Eggman take on Mario and Sonic in Sprint, 20km Race Walk, Judo, and 100m events. Judo isn’t especially hard (it’s just a question of timing your button presses and being a bit aggressive in your attack) and 100m is fine as long as you charge and release A and can tap the button as fast as possible but both Sprint and 20km Race Walk can crawl into a hole and die. Eventually, after much trial and error, I got Sprint down (ignore the onscreen prompts and don’t move or press anything until you’re sure you can dash past Eggman) but the 20km Race Walk mainly came down to luck.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Being as this is a glorified collection of mini games, there’s not much on offer here; some events have you rapidly tapping A to recover stamina or splashing water on you for the same effect, or touching dash panels for a boost, and many reward a perfect finish with a fancy special flourish but there’s nothing tangible in-game to help increase your chances.
There are a couple of extra incentives on offer here for repeat and expansive play; first, when you first start the game, you can customise your in-game name, flag, and Badge (which is a nice touch for when you’re playing online, I’m sure). You can also aim to break world records in each event, win bronze, silver, and gold medals, and complete each of the game’s events and story modes to earn tickets and Badges. You can then use these tickets in a ball machine to unlock yet more Badges, all of which can be viewed in the game’s Record Log along with (obviously) your best times and records.
After you beat the main story campaign, you’ll unlock a series of additional bonus episodes that see you compete as Bowser Jr, Bowser, Metal Sonic, Dr. Eggman, Peach, Blaze, and Amy in some of the toughest challenges yet. Unlike in the Wii version, there are no “Dream Events” to compete in, though you can cobble together custom events to take on both on and offline if you can bring yourself to play a little longer.
When it comes to the Mario & Sonic series, you know what to expect: Olympic-themed mini games involving some of gaming’s most iconic characters. Yet, as inoffensive as these games often are, Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games takes things to the next level by needlessly overcomplicating so many of the events and controls. It’s as though the developers were forced to shoe-horn in everything the 3DS was capable of, which would be fine if there were the option to switch to more traditional controls but, nine times out of ten, there isn’t. Instead, you’re left to fumble about the place, shouting at your 3DS and trying to rotate it while alternating between hitting buttons or drawing on the touch screen and it’s just more frustrating than fun. Because I’m a big Sonic fan, I am kind of duty-bound to own these games wherever possible but I’ve never really been fond of them; I’m sure that for groups of players who like motion controls and unfairly-balanced party games, they’re a lot of fun but it can’t help but feel like Nintendo and SEGA left a lot of money on the table by not also producing a more traditional crossover for their iconic mascots.
Could Be Better
How did you find the 3DS version of Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games? Perhaps you also owned the Nintendo Wii version; if so, which was better, in your opinion? How did you find the game’s motion controls, assortment of games, and story mode? How do you feel about the Mario & Sonic series overall? Do you agree that the concept is somewhat wasted on the Olympic Games or have you enjoyed the series so far? Which country are you pulling for in this year’s Olympic Games? Either way, feel free to leave a comment below.