If there was ever an excuse for a mini-game collection on Wii, then the Olympics surely provide one. However, they're not usually an event you'd associate with the gaming mascots Mario and Sonic, let alone both of them in the same game. Yet, that's what Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games and Mario & Sonic at the Winter Olympic Games brought us, and with 2012 rapidly approaching, it's time to reel them out again for Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Aiming at the party game demographic (which we guess exists as we sit here alone at our computer) a bit more boldly this time, does the plumber and hedgehog's jaunt to London make for a compelling experience?
The focus of London 2012 is the new 'London Party' mode, which as you may have guessed is intended for up to four players, and takes the place of the Circuit and Mission modes from the original. Recognising that the change in location from Beijing to London is one of the primary differences between the 2008 Olympics and the 2012 Olympics, the city of London is featured quite heavily. A stylised version of the town forms the overworld map of 'London Party', which players can run around in periods of 'free time', looking for power-ups such as speed shoes or invincibility, as well as characters who offer mini-games.
These mini-games are more Mario Party fare than the rest of the events included in the game, and they all use the London city map in one way or another. They range from trying to collect coins around the streets, to trying to avoid becoming possessed by Boos or simple Olympic trivia quizzes. They're fun in a very basic way, as a lot of them involve you trying to screw over your friends, but a few drag. Every time Big Ben chimes, the players are sent into an actual Olympic event.
These events are largely similar to the original Olympic Games, although keen eyes will notice the removal of Archery, Shooting and Pole Vault, which have been replaced by Equestrian, Badminton, Football and Beach Volleyball. The remaining events all play fairly similarly to the original's counterparts, albeit with an updated presentation and occasionally slightly different controls. Of the new events, Football is an enjoyable if simple representation of the sport and Badminton can provide some tense matches. London 2012 does not support the Wii Motion Plus, and unfortunately it's not incredibly accurate or sensitive when it comes to most of the motions required on the Wii Remote. In events like Rhythmic Ribbon or Synchronised Swimming which require specific swings of the remote, you can often completely mess up the motion but still win if your timing is correct. Of course, many of the mini-games are waggle heavy, which feel as tired now as they did three years ago.
The Dream events fare slightly better than the standard Olympic events, as they take these sports and extrapolate them into the worlds of Mario and Sonic. Equestrian becomes Dream Equestrian, where four players must co-operate on horses pulling a cart full of eggs, being careful not to spill any as they're attacked by Kamek. Discus becomes Dream Discus and sees players surf discuses in Sonic Adventure's Windy Valley. Some just ignore the Olympics like 'Dream Spacewalk', which is built around Super Mario Galaxy and sees player maneuver through rings to beat a familiar boss. These levels still contain relatively shallow gameplay, but at least offer some nostalgia for fans of these characters' franchises and are guaranteed to be the events you look forward to in the party mode.
The ultimate point of the 'London Party' mode is to earn stickers which you can place in your sticker book. Before you start, you can set the length of the game by choosing how many stickers it takes to win. The game is made 'interesting' by several special random bonus chances in the sticker book, if by 'interesting' you mean 'infuriating'. Let us paint you a scenario where we are two stickers away from winning, when the losing player (who has until now been, and let's be fair, absolutely terrible) receives a 'swap stickers' bonus and takes all of our stickers, leaving us with their measly number and essentially getting a free 'win the game' ticket. Fun at a party? Sure, if your idea of a party includes strangulation.
All of the Olympic and Dream events can be played by themselves in Single Play, although there's no way to chain them together. The roster of characters from both Mario and Sonic universes is unchanged from Winter Olympics, meaning that it is every bit as amusing as you might imagine forcing Shadow the Hedgehog or Bowser to participate in dancing around with ribbons. A rewards system is in place of sorts, allowing you to set records and get achievements (or 'challenges') for performing certain tasks. You'll also receive scratch cards, which can unlock (depending on how lucky you are, which can take a long, long time) costumes for your Mii that can only be used in-game, or music tracks from both Mario and Sonic's past games that can be set to any event (because really, who hasn't wanted to go horseback riding to the tune of 'Sonic Heroes'?). You will also occasionally receive mail from various characters, with similar rewards.
The vibrant colours and enthusiastic depiction of the London Olympic Stadium make for a visually pleasing experience, and old London town has a fair bit of personality in its various appearances. The styles of both franchises meld well into a single cartoony aesthetic, although some of the levels from the characters' past like Sonic Heroes' Seaside Hill look a little worse for wear. The game is buoyed as always by a stirring orchestral soundtrack, and some nice renditions of classical music for the Ribbon and Swimming events. Loading is surprisingly fast and the game's interface is easy to navigate.
Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games is a competent party game, with a fun central 'London Party' mode and a good mix of Olympic and more game-y Dream events. Unfortunately, the game hasn't evolved much beyond the simple waggle-play of so many mini-game collections before it, and the novelty of playing some of these mini-games in levels inspired by these mascot's universes doesn't last long. It's a safe purchase for kids at Christmas, and it's something you'll dig out again when the Olympics start up next year, but it's still not a particularly inspired use of two of gaming's biggest icons.