Crispy Gamer

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games (Wii)

Another day, another collection of mini-games for the Wii. This one is Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, a sports-themed party game honoring the Summer Games taking place this year in Beijing. If you put aside your curiosity at just how Sega and Nintendo decided which character got top billing (alphabetically? age before beauty? arm wrestling?) and focus on the game itself, you?ll find an ample selection of sports events, more than a little Nunchuk-shaking and Wii remote waggling, and lots and lots of loading screens.

The mini-games of Mario & Sonic are much like those found in Wii Sports, but instead of bowling and tennis you get more Olympic-minded events like the hammer throw, hurdles, triple jump and pole vault. There?s even some trampoline thrown in for good measure, but sadly, rhythm gymnastics seems to be missing. Pity. I was looking forward to twirling that ribbon with wild abandon.

Combining the worlds of Mario and Sonic yields an extensive, if somewhat bizarre, cast of Olympic hopefuls from which to choose. Besides the obvious plumber and hedgehog, you can play as Princess Peach, Yoshi, Tails, Knuckles, Wario and Shadow, to name a few. The characters are divided into different types -- Skill, Speed, Power and All-Around -- to theoretically make certain events easier, but you can also compete using your Mii. Seeing yourself running alongside Bowser or handing the baton off to Robotnik (sorry, I refuse to call him Eggman) in a relay is delightfully surreal.

Despite the fact that many of the events have the same basic goal -- a race is a race whether it?s in a boat or on your feet -- the control schemes are varied enough to prevent them from becoming too repetitious. Your controls for the swimming events, for example, depend on which character you?re using, and the basic footraces, hurdles and relays on the track all control differently.

Most of the games use some combination of the Wii remote and Nunchuk, usually shaking them back and forth as quickly as possible (forget Wii Fit, Mario & Sonic really gets your heart pumping), but you?ll need more than just muscle to succeed. Events like the javelin throw and the long jump require precision timing for best results, especially in the more difficult circuits. Mario & Sonic does an excellent job of explaining the goal of each event and how its particular control scheme works, but if you know what?s going on you can opt to jump right into the competition.

The game is divided into different circuits that each host a handful of different events. Participants are awarded points based on their performance in each event, with the top three point-earners climbing the podium to collect bronze, silver and gold medals at the end of the circuit. You?re allowed to accept a challenge once during each circuit; if you place in the top three, you earn double the points, but if you don?t, you get no points at all. If, for example, you know that you?re lousy at the epee but fantastic at ping-pong, you can use the challenge to keep your competition from shoving you out of range for medal contention. Play through all of the circuits in a given difficulty level and you?ll unlock the Dream Circuit, which offers more unusual events, like a race through an obstacle course.

If you?d rather not bother with the circuits at all, you can either pick an individual event or try to complete one of the game?s many Missions. Missions are event-specific challenges such as completing the 100 m freestyle in a certain amount of time, or shooting all of the fast-moving skeet targets. Their clearly-defined goals make them sound easy, but don?t be fooled -- some of those Missions will put your Wii remote-shaking abilities to the test.

If you?re the type of person who enjoys playing mini-game collections by yourself (it?s ok, we don?t judge), you?re going to be annoyed by Mario & Sonic?s constant interruptions. Each event is peppered with loading screens, character animations and replays, which are no big deal in a multiplayer setting where everyone has to wait their turn, but which can be maddening when playing solo. You also have to re-pick the character you?d like to use in between circuits, which makes sense at a party when new players want to jump in, but can be a drag if you?re just trying to work your way through the game from start to finish.

With the exception of a handful of events like ping-pong and the epee, the events of Mario & Sonic are very brief, usually just a few seconds long for each competitor. This works well in a multiplayer environment (especially if the players in question are kids) but makes the single-player experience a shallow one.

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games is yet another decent collection of Wii mini-games to bust out at your next party, especially if you get a bit misty-eyed watching the Parade of Nations in the opening ceremonies or enjoy rooting for countries you might have trouble locating on world map. You?ll probably want to avoid this one if you don?t play well with others, however, because as a solo venture it?s just not that fun.

This review was based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.