Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games
3DS | SEGA / Nintendo | 1-4 Players (local multiplayer) | Out Now
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16th March 2012; By KnucklesSonic8
Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games provides a pretty silly Story Mode to tie the ceremonial events you'll be participating in to a more fulfilling purpose. The story goes through multiple episodes with the different teams trying to rectify the city-wide presence of the Phantasmal Fog in time for the opening ceremony. In each episode, you're given one or more challenges to complete before you can move on to the next. Aside from the final set of missions, you only have to clear some of them to advance, not all. SEGA actually went through the trouble of designing story cutscenes for the advancement of the plot with a number of neat camera angles being explored as characters react to what's taking place in the game world, like when Sonic does a Homing Attack on the fog-creating contraption Dr. Eggman set up. Sadly, the only amount of voice acting used to bring the text-based comments to life boil down to signature phrases, grunts, and one-word expressions. This is highly similar to how SEGA approached Sonic Generations' Story Mode on the 3DS. Here, though, it became quite annoying to the point that I grew more and more disappointed that SEGA don't go the extra mile and add voiceovers.
That aside, the dialogue isn't bad at all. In fact, there were two instances where I actually smiled. One was when one of King Boo's underlings was reporting to him on Sonic and Tails and remarked that they had been standing there the whole time. The second took place during the encounter with Bowser Jr., but the subsequent back-and-forth exchanges completely covered over it. And I can't lie; it was kind of fun to see some of the characters interact with one another in this situation. Exchanges between Amy and Daisy, for example, were more interesting than what was seen amongst Sonic and Mario.
Despite all this, I couldn't help but feel like there was wasted potential in the way SEGA's delivered the plot. Whenever the characters exclaim that they should start "looking around", you'll instantly jump to the next episode and watch another cutscene. It would've been a lot better if they instead incorporated an element of exploration whereby the events could appear gradually rather than giving players a list to choose from after a cutscene has run its course. Moreover, I know the whole plot was pretty silly, but I still expected more out of the final battles. I mean, Mario against Eggman in a 100m Dash? Come on now. Following this, you'll see a stupidly positive ending and be left echoing the words of Vector who at one point exclaimed, "That's just pathetic". This may not be how you feel about the storyline at large since, in truth, it's not that bad, but I wouldn't be so quick to give SEGA a pat on the back for trying.
You can be thankful that the Story Mode doesn't make up the core of what this game has to offer; that would have to be the array of Olympic events. But in reflecting on this, you might be surprised to hear about the quality of the missions themselves. I need to be forthright in saying that there are activities in this game that are really gimmicky. For instance, in Hammer Throw, they actually have you continually rotating the entire system to swing the weight around. For those of you who dislike motion controls, I guarantee this will bother you to no end, and unfortunately, this isn't limited to just one event. In the clay-shooting and basketball events, you'll move the camera around by tilting the system, while similar methods will control how you land after a jump in the BMX event. Not all events that incorporate gyroscope controls feel this way. Fencing may not feel like a natural fit for this kind of a feature, but it works just fine. And it's not so much that they're bad ideas, either. It's just that these executions do the opposite of enhancing the gameplay experience and actually present players with a valid reason to be turned off.
I could tell the developers did try to deliver an experience that takes into consideration nearly all angles of the device it's been designed for, in essence validating the game's existence on this platform. But there are times where the so-called "incorporation" of certain features doesn't actually make the most logistical sense from the point of view of the average player. It's actually ironic when you think about it because SEGA seemed to be proud about the fact that they took advantage of nearly every inch of the 3DS' unique capabilities, and it just so happens that this kind of "leave nothing untouched" attitude was to their detriment. The Shot Put event is the best example of this, where the Mic is used to have players shouting to get an extra boost of power. And while shouting at your system during the Weightlifting event may not seem as pointless, it still feels really unnecessary the way they've integrated such a feature. It gets to a point where you really feel like they just shoehorned things in without sound reasons for doing so.
Interestingly though, the extra features don't always give cause for poorly-executed or otherwise mediocre activities. Even with the normal setups, problems still arise. For example, playing a Doubles match in Table Tennis has you switching between the two players on the fly with the +Control Pad before pressing A to hit the ball. Water Polo has you playing in segments or phases where you first use finger taps to get your character to go after the ball, followed by a cut where the player takes a shot on the goalie. And then in the 1500m event, the controls are just constantly changing just for the sake of being difficult. Who thought it was a good idea to have players pressing the +Control Pad to Dash and using the X and A Buttons to move left and right? These three events stood out to me as having systems that felt clumsy and left little room for fun.
On that note, fun factor becomes a concern when you're participating in events that are way too simple to the point of being dumbed down, and unfortunately this is something that becomes a recurring problem throughout. Platform Diving has you pressing A at the specified time, while Beach Volleyball completely disables movement control and simply has you pressing buttons to jump and do spikes. Even in the 100m Dash, you hardly do anything at all. It's kind of nice that they added a beating heart in the background to add to the feel of the event, but once you take off, there's this two-second camera fade followed by a brief moment where players just press A at the right time to spring across the finish line. While I was grateful that the developers didn't overcomplicate controls overall, the fact that a number of events were treated way too casual-friendly brings down the game's appeal considerably for older players.
Preventing the game from being a total disappointment, there's a chunk of events that can be viewed as positive inclusions. I quite enjoyed Omnium, a strategic racing event where you set goals as to the starting position you have in each round. Sprint was pretty fun as well, where you had to move across lanes to prevent the player sneaking past from behind, or vice versa. Just like in the original Wii title, I also thought Trampoline was a fun event with some nice use of 3D as characters are at the height of their jumps. Smooth control with the Circle Pad was the reason behind me having fun in events like Football and 1000m Kayak, while 100m Backstroke used touch controls in a pretty decent way to encourage hand-eye co-ordination. So it's not like there are valid concerns to be had with every single event. But it's a shame that you need to weed through all the shoddy ones on a consistent basis. It's something that's bound to bring down your enthusiasm for and attachment to the game.
In addition to the normal selection of mini-games, you'll also encounter bonus games during any kind of event that goes on for multiple rounds. Such activities can involve players reaching out to grab water bottles in the middle of a Marathon, which is just about as fun as it sounds. It's more than fair to say there's nothing special about these little mini-events, but it's at least it adds a bit of a breather to the mix. Judging by the fact that I've gone this long without mentioning any outstanding mini-games, you've probably pieced together that the 3DS version is missing the staple Dream Events that have marked previous games in this spin-off series. Before jumping to any kind of conclusion, though, the fact that these are absent should not be treated as a scapegoat for the lack of major fun factor. The truth of the matter is that the game design is minimally acceptable at best.
When it comes down to it, it would be truly unwise to mistake quantity for quality. Just because the game contains a large number of events does not make this collection a worthwhile buy, as has been already considered. There are some cases where good integration of the 3DS' features has resulted in a pretty fun activity, but these are way too far in between all the events that stink. It's not so much that they're totally lousy -- though you could make such an argument when you notice the controls for some of these; more that they feel very chore-like. And when fun factor isn't the main problem, certain events suffer from a complete lack of immersion or depth.
The way the entire game is structured ultimately makes it much more suitable as a purchase for young kids who are big on either franchise. Even then, the flaws are somewhat hard to ignore. The entire thing feels highly mission-based with individual segments broken up into mini-events as opposed to a full-fledged competitive endeavour. Granted, this format was originally introduced in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, so it's unsurprising to see it carry through here. But you can't help but feel that the overall structure in this new handheld title feels pretty distant from a strong constitution. The controls as well as the absent fun factor in places both contribute to an experience that's not going to leave you feeling satisfied or refreshed. Quite the opposite, actually. Playing this game to completion, you'll realize just how much of a waste it is to spend $40 on a game that, ultimately, fails to provide any kind of lasting enjoyment often due to wishy-washy design.
One area that definitely earns some praise is the game's presentation. Visuals look great with effective use of colour and easy-to-follow layouts. The game also features very quick loading times, even skipping all the opening formalities typically seen in previous games and getting players right down to business. It's just too bad I can't say the same positive remarks for how it actually all plays. On a related note, the music isn't one of the game's finer points either. The soundtrack is overall fairly generic and not totally representative of the musical styles associated with either franchise. Sure you do have a few guitar riffs here and there to subtly tie things back into Sonic's usual atmosphere, and I did find a couple tracks to be fun to listen to (e.g., the theme for 110 Hurdles and Trampoline). Nevertheless, I was quite surprised at the fact that SEGA weren't able to pull it together in this department.
Aside from the Story Mode option and the ability to play individual events on a whim, Medley Match is another mode of choice that provides you with different themed tournaments you can participate in. These are distributed into the categories of London Games, Variety, and Party Mix. Online rankings have been included as per usual, located in a separate menu as opposed to within the Event Select menu or even within the missions themselves. I personally didn't care much for beating world records this time around, but that's just me. Additionally, having the ability to play this in a multiplayer setting predictably adds a degree of fun factor to places where the single-player experience is especially lacking, though this in itself is insufficient to redeem the game of the flaws that make it a bit of a drag to play. At any rate, that just about covers all the content on offer here. If you're expecting fan service that's anything like the second title in this series, you're going to be sorely disappointed. Again, not even the music does a good job of filling in for the role that unlockables and bonuses would normally serve. At best, you'll see cameos of characters like Cream the Rabbit and Orbot from Sonic Unleashed, but little beyond that.
All in all, the 3DS version of Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games is far from great. A concerning number of events just aren't entertaining, which already throws the whole package into question before you even start to look at how some of these events are controlled. Ultimately, the latest handheld iteration of this crossover has a defining lack of fun factor, which can probably be construed as a sign that the whole series is becoming stale -- if it isn't already. Unless you're a parent who could see your child having a ton of fun with their favourite fictional heroes, I'd really advise against picking this up.
16/30 - Below Average
Gameplay 5/10 - Clumsy or gimmicky execution plagues more events than players will be happy with, some good uses of the Circle Pad or the Touch Screen
Presentation 7/10 - Voice clips can get annoying, surprisingly generic music, 3D is used well in places, nicely laid out with good visuals, silly Story Mode
Enjoyment 1/5 - Really lacking in fun and immersion, older players will be dissatisfied with the dominant casual-friendly approach, controls can turn you off
Extra Content 3/5 - Lots of events but the quality isn't that great, additional single-player modes, multiplayer, online rankings, $40 is too much to ask
Equivalent to a score of 53% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System