If there's a genre that appeals well to the casual players, it's mini-game collections. It's worked well for Mario Party, then Carnival Games, and the most recent success has been the Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games series, which has two of the most famous gaming mascots meeting and competing. And with another Olympic games comes another entry in the series, appearing on the Nintendo 3DS for the first time. Is Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games another worthy entry in the series, or is the third time not the charm?
Unlike previous series entries, the 3DS version of London 2012 has an actual story. The game takes place in a bizarre universe where all the world's greatest athletes are apparently all the main characters from the Mario and Sonic series. The two main villains, Bowser and Dr. Eggman, are upset about not being invited to the games, and they intend to ruin them by covering London in even more fog than usual. Our heroes band together to save the day, stopping the evil plan by defeating their enemies in Olympic events, which is the only way disputes of any kind get settled, apparently.
The story is basic and fairly ridiculous, truth be told, but the game's charm is undeniable. London 2012 has a colorful aesthetic and a highly upbeat feel, and you forgive the story's shortcomings because the concept is just plain old fun. The idea of these two game universes coming together in the real world at all, let alone the Olympic Games, is undoubtedly bizarre. In practice, though, it works well; it gives the game creators license to simplify the individual events into a digestible form and still have it feel reasonable. Everyone has seen the Olympics and dreamed of competing at some point, and playing through the events, even as highly unrealistic characters, is still oddly satisfying.
While the concept and presentation are solid, the mini-games themselves are a bit less so. There are 50 events here compared to the 22 in the Wii version, but nearly all of the games are vastly simplified compared to their real-life counterparts. Sports like tennis and volleyball will always be to three points, longer events will be shortened to the last few seconds of them, and you'll rarely have the ability to actually move your character even if it makes sense to be able to do so. The most grievous example of this is the Marathon event as a 26.2-mile run is boiled down to grabbing a single water bottle with a single button press.
Usually, a mini-game's quality is directly correlated to how much control you have, and how complex it is. One of my favorite events is the 1500m race; you're required to keep hammering one button to dash while moving left and right, but the buttons you need to press keep changing, in a rather clever twist. Other good events are the 100m Backstroke, which requires the player to draw perfect circles with minimal reference, or Rhythmic Ribbon, which is a rhythm-based tapping game. The better-designed mini-games are definitely fun to play, and had the title had more consistency to it, it could be an excellent gaming experience.
Unfortunately, consistency is not this game's strong suit. As mentioned before, some of the mini-games are insultingly simplified, and are far too easy as a result. Other games don't control as accurately as they need to, especially those that require the microphone or moving the 3DS itself; Weightlifting and Show Jumping come to mind. Still others are mind-bendingly difficult, which is surprising. Near the end of the Story Mode especially, where you're competing in events on the hardest difficulty, some of the accuracy and speed required makes the events game-chuckingly difficult. While it's good to see the game has some actual difficulty to it, the overall inconsistency of the events makes the experience more frustrating than it needs to be.
On top of the basic mini-games, there's the Story Mode to go through, which has specific events interspersed between cutscenes where the characters try to solve the mystery of the fog. If you're in the mood for just mini-games, you can play individual games by themselves, or play up to five games together in a Medley; the game has numerous pre-determined medleys, but you can also design your own and share them with your friends. Beating mini-games give you Olympic medals, and playing through the game also gives you tickets, which can be exchanged for various badges that will display next to your name. Your top scores can be uploaded to the global online leaderboard, where you can see how you stack up against the best in the world.
The game's presentation is overall rather polished. The graphics won't be winning any awards, but they're colorful and fun to look at, and it feels comparable to a high-end Gamecube game done in the standard Mario art style. The menus are well-designed and pleasant to look at, and the aesthetic is similar to the London 2012 Olympic Games logo. The only real complaint to be had is with the Story Mode cutscenes; in stark contrast to the rest of the game, when viewed in 3D, these cutscenes feel mostly flat 2D, just sunken into the screen so it's harder on the eyes.
The music is mainly orchestral, and feels like a mix of contemporary and classical; it's a great fit for a game with an Olympic theme, and the tunes are just passive enough to be complementary and to not interfere with anything. During the Story Mode cutscenes, characters will utter a number of audio cues, which could be grunts or short phrases, on top of their dialogue. Characters are mostly voiced by their standard voice actors, so the audio clips are of fairly high quality. What's bizarre about Story Mode, however, is how almost every character has dialogue except for Mario, Luigi and Sonic. The Mario brothers are historically mute, so this makes sense, but Sonic has been speaking for 13 years; to not have any dialogue to be seen is a bizarre move, especially when we can see what Yoshi has to say.
The inconsistent mini-game quality is the major fault in this 3DS game, but it's really the only major fault in what is otherwise a well-designed package. A less discerning gamer will probably have a lot of fun with Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games, as the presentation and theme are excellent, and competing in Olympic events is generally fun. If you're looking for the best bang for your buck, you're probably better off with more substantial offerings like Super Mario 3D Land, but this game definitely has its moments, and younger players will probably disregard its shortcomings completely, making it a decent choice for a younger Mario fan.
Final Game Guys grade: C+
- by Jim Avery for news10.net's Game Guys
(SEGA provided a copy of this game for review.)