Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games (Hands-on Preview)

After a brief panic of thinking I’d spent a full year queuing for games at Gamescom I stirred myself awake to remember an early Olympics title would of course be released the Christmas before the event itself. Especially after the previous games on the Wii sold by the tonne. It’s still heart breaking to see Sonic standing next to archrival Mario with no signs of murderous intentions though.

Our hands-on session with some of our German cousins was in the form of a multiplayer party with laughs and smiles hiding the pride of wanting to win at all costs. Wiimotes at the ready then.

First up we tried the pistols event, a simple shooting game that soon became surprisingly tough. You have to hit multiple targets in a time limit over numerous rounds. The targets change size, rotate, move and sometimes need to be hit in a specific sequence. It’s good to see a game that we can’t perfect within minutes, although we expect there’ll be easier settings available to the casual crowd. Your character choice can also have an impact, as picking one with a high ‘skill’ rating can make your aim better (despite you being the one doing the physical aiming). Either way, it felt dirty picking Shadow just for his stats.

Dream events enjoy escaping from the reality of real Olympic events to focus on the fun and the bizarre. The Equestrian race is a four-player co-op experience. All four characters are riding the same four-horse-drawn carriage, with the Wiimote held sideways.

Onscreen prompts encourage you to steer in the same direction or jump together. Giant boulders must be dodged too to reach the finish line intact. As the game was being explained to us there was no denying the sense of ‘urgh why’ hiding behind the eyes of every writer in the room, but once we were actually playing it, we realised it was actually great fun. Its appeal won’t last forever, but as a quick break from competitive events, it will probably be enjoyed a lot at home, especially as an icebreaker to non-gamers.

A rotating track is home to another Dream event where players must try to stay ahead by jumping over hurdles and other players. You can even jump on the heads of your rivals to briefly stun them. It was a bit repetitive, as it seemed that we were just taking turns on jumping on each other’s heads and taking the lead. The ability to change lanes adds some variety and a touch of tactical play though.

The final event we tried was a football match using either a solo Wiimote or one combined with a nunchuk. It proved to be a bit fiddly to move around, especially with the nunchuk. The button controls for passing, shooting and tackling were functional enough though, as I found myself more than capable of performing multiple off the ball fouls while taking the approach of ‘if you can’t beat them, break Mario’s legs.’ Home advantage eventually led the Germans to a 4-2 victory.

Despite that familiar defeat, my overall impression of Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games was very positive. The athletics and aquatic events will probably be very similar to the last game, but the Dream events we played today should make the game worth another look upon release. Admittedly, my Wii has recently been packed away, in favour of my PlayStation Move controllers (now gathering dust in the Wii’s place) but there are signs that the little white box might not be ready to roll over just yet. We wouldn’t be surprised to see a Wii U version in the future, whenever the console decides to turn up that is. Expect the standard Wii version to be hanging around the charts from November 18th until long after Olympics themselves have been and gone.

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