When Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games was announced and later released in 2007, the game experienced a sizable amount of attention for it being the vessel in which the first meeting between Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog took place. This was later overshadowed by 2008’s Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which pitted the two in a more appropriate and desired setting. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games has continued on as a franchise since then, with games released to coincide with each of the official Olympic games since Beijing 2008.
Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games will be the official game of the Sochi 2014 games, and the first of the series released on the Wii U. Despite the fact that the franchise has been around for over five years and seen three prior installments, its growth feels minimal. The addition of new games and gameplay may not be enough to push the series forward in a positive light in its Wii U debut, overall it looks and feels dated, and may not be the iteration of the series that will attract new fans.
Mario & Sonic will contain a plethora of over 20 games; ice hockey, curling, and snowboarding among them. The first event that we took part in was Figure-Skating (pairs), a staple of the winter Olympic Games. This event solely utilizes the Wii-mote so that players can enact classic figure-skating maneuvers that appear on the screen. It is very physical and requires movement similar to what is required of the player in Wii Fit. Players are even required to hold “hands” (a synonym for simultaneously holding on to one of the Wii-motes) so that the characters on screen will hold hands and spin in unison. The spectacle of this small event is a sight to behold, simply because it is your favorite Nintendo and Sega characters figure-skating. Silly and out of their element, but otherwise very endearing.
One other event that was showcased was Slopestyle Snowboarding. Much like figure-skating, this was a very straight-forward event, the only difference being that it incorporated use of the Wii U Gamepad in lieu of the Wii-Motes. Players shoot down a slope on their snowboard and try to hit every ramp possible. The Gamepad is utilized to control the direction in which the player is going, in addition to causing the character on screen to perform a jump when at the edge of the aforementioned ramps. When in the air, the touchscreen is utilized to spin the character. A lot like the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games; more rotation means more degrees, which means a higher score and more of a chance at obtaining a gold medal. Unlike the the figure-skating, this mode felt very bare-bones, lacking a personality. The Wii U Gamepad was utilized in the most basic sense, and overall this mode dripped with simplicity.
Unfortunately, this is all that we were shown of Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. It handles like a Wii U game, but looks and feels like a Wii game. The new events are not enough to take my attention off the fact that the Wii U’s Gamepad and the console’s power overall both feel like they have been underutilized. However, it should be noted that this is only after seeing but two events out of over 20, and only one of which we saw utilized the Gamepad. An event like curling for example, would benefit greatly from the vast, untapped potential of the Gamepad, and for this game’s sake, let’s hope it does just that when Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. releases later this year.
Nintendo, Sega: you have the entire catalogue of both the Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog franchises at your disposal – along with all of the power-ups, thematic elements, and stories that come with them. Use these things; do not let them go to waste.
Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games is being developed by Sega Sports Japan and will be published by Nintendo for the Wii U on November 8th, 9th, 15th, and December 5th, 2013 in Europe, Australia, North America, and Japan, respectively.