We’ve long since passed the point where Mario and Sonic appearing in a game together is a weird or confusing thing and moved to the point where it’s… not an uncommon occurrence whenever the Olympics are coming up. While the prior two games, focusing on the Summer and Winter Olympics of 2008 and 2010, were released to the Wii and DS, this time around, Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games features not only the associated name of the venue where the actual Olympics are being held… but also a handheld release on the 3DS over the DS. While a change over to the 3DS assures some technical upgrades and a visual facelift, it doesn’t specifically mean that there will be any changes to the formula on its own, and while Sega is promising fifty plus events will be incorporated into the game, that means little if the gameplay hasn’t been changed up a bit, as the prior games have had their issues. Given the chance to check out a demo of the upcoming release through the 3DS Store, this is as good a time as any to explore what Sega has in store for us, so without any further ado, let’s get down to it.
1.) The demo gives you a default team of characters, consisting of Waluigi (for the 25mm pistol event), Bowser (for the football event), Shadow (for the trampoline event), Blaze (for the swimming event) and Luigi (for the BMX event), and aside from saying “YAY WALUIGI AND BLAZE” because I love less popular characters, there’s not much to say here. The characters have no bearing on or impact on how the events will go down as near as the game implies, so for the most part it doesn’t matter at this point. As you play sessions you change teams, so the second team you see is Waluigi, Donkey Kong, Silver, Amy Rose and Mario, for example, and the game is functionally identical. This demo only offers thirty chances to access it, as did the Resident Evil Revelations demo, so apparently this is just a Nintendo thing above anything else, which makes it no less silly in concept.
2.) As noted, the events are divided into five categories: 25mm Rapid Fire Pistol Shooting, Football (AKA soccer for US players), Trampoline, 100m Backstroke, and BMX racing. None of the events are terribly hard to adjust to, mechanically, and the events are quite diverse in function and design, giving a solid idea of what’s in store in the full game. The demo also makes it fairly simple to get into the experience by defaulting the demo to Easy, and while the demo doesn’t seem to offer a way to upgrade the difficulty in any way, that’s not a terribly big deal. You’ll find that the game is simple enough for younger players to get and gives a good indication of how hard it might be for more experienced players, if nothing else.
3.) The 25mm Rapid Fire Pistol event is basically Target Shooting, and you’ll play the event using the R Trigger exclusively. You’re given five bullets and five targets, and the aiming reticule will scroll to the left for you. Your objective is to press R Trigger as the reticule passes over the target, and shots closer to the center are worth more points. The event consists of three passes, each faster than the last, so you’ll have to adjust your timing each time. On the Easy difficulty it’s not hard at all to win the event, and the speed adjustment between rounds is actually pretty reasonable, though on harder difficulties one expects there will be both speed increases and better performances from the marginally damaged CPU opponents.
4.) The Football-nee-Soccer event basically all about the Analog stick. You pull back on the stick to arm your kick, then release when the ball is in range to kick the ball towards the net, in hopes it will go in. The ball will change colors at different points during its travel toward you, allowing you to get up to fifteen points in a round if you kick at the right time, but the game also forces you to get around CPU goalies that will block your shots. The game indicates that moving in a circular motion also allows you to kick a curve shot for evading block attempts if you can manage it. Of the five events, this is easily the hardest to learn and make sense of, and some type of an actual tutorial or practice session would have been ideal here to get a feel for the event. As it is, after three tries at it I still honestly don’t understand it and don’t feel it will be an event that many will enjoy in general, as even after managing to sink five kicks in a row I still had no idea how I managed it.
5.) The Trampoline event makes use of the Analog stick and the A button, though it’s a bit less complex than it might seem. Basically, your character will bounce toward the screen, and you’ll have to do two things: use the stick to line yourself up in the center of the trampoline, and press A as the larger blue circle lines up with the smaller blue circle as you land. Timing and aiming this appropriately allows you to get better jumps and more points, but also throws off your position for the next bounce, so you’ll have to adjust for each bounce while in the air. You’re given ten bounces to get the best score possible, and on the tenth bounce your character will pull off a trick bounce, just for giggles. This is one of the easiest events to get the hang of, and it’s fairly simple to adjust in the air, though one could easily see the ring size or launch angle changing on harder difficulties to compensate, which could make things hectic.
6.) The 100m Backstroke event is a swimming competition that asks you to use the stylus to play, and it’s the only event in the demo that does so. It’s also the only event that offers you a practice session to start off, which would likely be of benefit for all of the events, so hopefully something like this is an option in the main game. You’re tasked to draw circles inside of the circular path required to swim, but there’s a catch: the line is only visible on the top screen, and you have to draw on the bottom one. You can see a dot on the top screen where you’re tracing, and the line you make, on the top screen, however, so you can use this to determine how close to the correct line you are. Speed is also a factor, as the pace picks up the more successful you are at following the line. The line is hard to trace effectively at first, and at higher speeds can be a bear to follow, but the event itself is interesting in concept at the very least, though some practice is certainly ideal to get the hang of it.
7.) The BMX event is, SURPRISE, a BMX race against other competitors, and it seems like the most complex of the events, as it makes use of the face buttons, analog stick, and gyroscope. Hoo boy, right? Thankfully, though, it’s actually no more complex than any of the other events, and it’s actually very easy to adjust to if you follow the directions. The analog stick steers the bike left and right through turns, the A button jumps to give you a boost at the tops of hills, and the gyroscope determines your landing posture for when you need to land a jump. This is actually fairly simple in the race provided because holding the 3DS horizontal, as told, makes landing jumps easy to adjust to, and the steering and jump timing aren’t hard to figure out at all. As such, this isn’t a bad event to show off the more involved controls, as they’re not hard to figure out, but show how they could be with some minor adjustments.
8.) The game grades your performance on a total earned point value, similar to how the Mario Kart games grade your races. Each event won gives you so many points toward your total, and at the end of the events, whoever has the highest total point score is the winner. The events also have record times or scores to beat, and while there’s no offer of leaderboards or multiplayer in the demo, such things are almost a certainty in the final game, if only to allow people to set and show off awesome times and humble friends as applicable.
9.) The presentation in the demo is very solid, as the environments look like Olympic courses with the odd Sonic/Mario touch here and there, and the character models look and animate very well. The 3D effects are also handled well, and while the 3D seems like it might be a detriment in events where monitoring the bottom screen might be a good idea, none of the events here required that, so if none of the events in the final game do either, the 3D effect might be viable as a long-term option through the game. At this time it’s hard to know for sure how that will end up, but hopefully this is a trend that follows through the entire game.
10.) Assuming Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games manages to pay off the promise in its demo, it seems like Sega might be starting to get a better handle on what can be done to improve these games and make them something enjoyable for all players, not just franchise fans. While the Football/Soccer event could stand a little tweaking and some more explanation, the remaining events in the demo are easy enough to understand and learn, and show promise in thought and deed. Assuming the final product holds closer in design to the four solid events in the demo rather than the one less than solid event, this might be one to watch out for when it drops in a few weeks.