Summer Olympics tie-in Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games was released nearly two years ago. At the time, it was a big deal because it was the first title Mario and Sonic had ever appeared in together (Super Smash Bros Brawl was released a short time later). With the next Winter Olympics set to take place in Vancouver, Canada early next year, it was no surprise that we would receive another Olympic tie-in. As you may recall from the original Olympic Games, you could take a character from either the Mario or Sonic series and have them compete in Olympic events as a series of mini-games. That concept remains intact here, except of course you'll be partaking in winter sports instead of summer ones
The visuals aren't too bad for a Wii title: the environments are bright and colourful despite the abundance of white snow, the character models are solid and the game's presentation overall is quite decent. The crowd visuals are messy but in general things look clean and competent. Aesthetically the game remains faithful to the art direction established for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, with the logo and imagery such as the mascots showing up everywhere. This game is, like its predecessor, an official Olympics product after all. It also refers to the real-life intended locations of the events in the loading screens, and presumably the game environments are at least loosely based upon them. This air of authenticity contributes a lot to the game, and getting the pompous glory of the Olympics and the more informal Mario and Sonic gangs to actually mesh on some level is an achievement. The music is pleasant orchestral fare and the Mario and Sonic characters all sound like you'd expect them to. Additionally the roster has been upped from 20 to 24, with newcomers including Donkey Kong. It does seem however that Sega were scraping the barrel for more Sonic characters in trying to make both sides even.
Winter Olympic Games immediately suffers next to its predecessor for, well, the same reasons the Winter Olympics are never as engaging as the Summer Olympics. The number of events is smaller, the number of interesting events even smaller than that, and this does not translate well as the foundation of an entire video game. As you might expect you'll be competing in events such as skiing, snowboarding, bobsleigh, ice hockey and the thoroughly intriguing sport of curling. Several of the events have variants, like skeleton, which is a bobsleigh spin-off far less interesting than it sounds. Skiing is divided up into several varieties, including ski jumping. Unfortunately, most of these sports just haven't been translated into fun mini-games. Olympic Games was criticized for being a huge waggle fest, and Winter Olympic Games has seemingly tried to tone that down a bit. But where waggling is absent, flicking and steering is abundant, which isn't much better. For lovers of the waggle, there's still a waggling good time to be had in events like speed skating and curling. Ironically, it's ice hockey, the mini-game with the least amount of motion input, that proves to be the best event in the game. It's played as a basic four-on-four game with the Wii remote held on its side, with the aim being to pass enough times to charge up the puck before attempting to score. It's actually quite addictive.
In the case of skiing, snowboarding and bobsleigh you pretty much just tilt the Wii remote in order to steer your chosen Mario or Sonic character (your Mii's are selectable too) through the course. The major problem is that these events simply aren't fast enough or engaging enough to be fun, and you'll be yawning as you steer your chosen character through the sets of flags down the gentle slope. When snowboarding you can perform tricks, and there's a half-pipe mode dedicated to just that which is halfway-decent in a Tony Hawk kind of way. The figure skating events are simply performing the on-screen prompts with the Wii remote at the right time, ala quick time events. Not fun. (That's not entirely true; seeing Bowser do a pirouette was kind of fun. For about a second). Compounding the game's general sluggishness are long load times, many of which are additionally irritating because of the two seconds of crowd noise that loop over and over and over again. You'd think they could fit at least one ten-second track of sound on the disc to cover the entire load time. But you'd be wrong.
Owners of the Wii Balance Board will have the option to use it in some events. Unfortunately, unless shifting your weight from left to right or front to back as your character slowly coasts down a hill sounds exciting to you then you're probably better off using the Wii remote anyway, which gives you far more reliable control.
Breaking up the monotony of reality are the Dream Events. These essentially take the featured sports and dress them up in either a Mario or Sonic setting. Race-based events take on a kind of warped Mario Kart style of gameplay, complete with power-ups. Actions like performing jumps in the snowboarding events are given more room to breathe, since you'll be flying over large, unrealistic distances that give you plenty of time to waggle out a few tricks. Overall they're much more fun than the regular events, with plenty of neat little easter eggs relating to either the Mario or Sonic universes. There's a certain appeal to snowboarding around Sonic's Green Hill Zone, or skiing around Peach's Castle. The ice skating is especially improved, not by any change to the gameplay, but the fact that you'll be skating around to the Mario theme music with goombas and green pipes all over the place. It's these areas in which Olympic Winter Games is at its best, but though the nostalgic presentation will bring a smile to your face, the gameplay still won't.
The game's single-player focus is called Festival Mode, and it's the ideal way of experiencing the game's events. It takes you through the sixteen days of the Winter Olympics with a couple of events to get through per day, usually in the form of a training event where you'll learn what to do in a particular sport, and a medal event where you can try and fulfill the mode's ultimate aspiration of topping the medal/points count. The aforementioned Dream Events show up here also, as does the occasional showdown with a villain. It's a two-to-three hour affair with the rest of the game's longevity reliant on simply replaying events, earning the large variety of Emblems (equivalent to Achievements) and buying items like snowboard patterns, Mii outfits (which can't be used outside of the game) and bits of Olympic trivia. Once you've given Festival Mode the once over there's little worth going back for, with the exception of the Ice Hockey and the nostalgic kick of the Dream Events.
The game's so called party modes are about as action packed as an ant farm. If you ever actually tried to play this with friends over they'd probably just shake their heads at you, leave and never return your calls again. Such is the terminal boredom and incredible lack of imagination on display here. We won't delve into the poor excuses for mini-games that make up the intervals between events other than to say that they involve pressing A in entirely uninteresting ways. That said the game is definitely designed for multiplayer and it's the most convenient way to put together a group of events.
It's not a game entirely without merit. The presentation is strong, balancing the Olympic spirit with the charm of the Mario and Sonic casts. The Dream Events offer a nifty Mario Kart-esque experience in some colourful and nostalgic environments, and the ice hockey is quite enjoyable. Elsewhere however, the gameplay is overly dull. Sports like snowboarding should have been a treat to play, but they're slow and awkward. But it's not the game's fault that curling and figure skating aren't the most riveting sports to translate to video games, right? If grenade hockey and unicorn ice joust were official Winter Olympic sports this game would have been awesome. But they're not, so it isn't.