Review: Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games (Nintendo 3DS)

Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games
Genre: Mini-Game
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 02/14/12

With the 2012 Olympic Games coming soon, and with the 3DS being a fairly good open market for games thanks to a limited release cycle in its first year, it makes sense that Sega would attempt to bring a handheld port of Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games to the 3DS in order to capitalize. While the installed user base of the device doesn’t come close to matching that of the DS, releasing games that are likely to attract attention on the 3DS is something that’s likely to please Nintendo, and with the success of the prior Mario and Sonic at the Olympics titles, that’s certainly a fair possibility. In theory, this is a pretty good idea; the game is an all-ages product that is likely to appeal to a wide audience and attract attention from those who are starting to catch Olympic Fever, making it a good way to generate interest for both the game and the console. In practice, on the other hand, while Mario and Sonic at the 2012 Olympics is certainly full of good ideas, it never quite manages to, ahem, “jump that hurdle” and become a must-own title that showcases quite what the 3DS is capable of doing.

There’s actually a storyline to Mario and Sonic at the 2012 Olympics, and it’s cute for what it is. It seems that Bowser and Eggman were not invited to compete in this year’s Olympic Games, and they take this about as well as you could possibly expect. Instead of attempting any sort of a discussion about this snub, or perhaps attempting to figure out if this was an accident, they create a machine that will coat all of England in magical fog to prevent the 2012 Olympic Games from taking place. This does not sit well with any of our heroes, of course, and it doesn’t take them long to figure out who’s behind this disaster and team up to put it to rest in time for the games to start as planned. As plots go, this one is cute and inoffensive, and while it’s not likely to keep the interest of anyone beyond a certain reading level, it’s fine for kids, all in all. There are a few different play modes available here as well, whether you’re planning to go it alone or play with friends. For solo play, the Single Player category offers the option to play a Highlight Match, which is basically just one session with an event, or a Medley Match, which allows you to play events in sequence, as well as create your own and trade them with friends. You can also play Multiplayer with friends, either normally if everyone has their own game, or using DS Download Play if they don’t, and you can jump into the Story Mode to play a series of competitions against the CPU while advancing the plot. The game also lets you look over your Records, either to see your overall play records, how you stack up in the online rankings, what medals you’ve won or what badges you’ve earned, as well as take tickets you earn through playing to the badge machine so that you can unlock new badges. There’s a good amount of things to do with the game alone or with friends, and while there’s no exotic or weird options here, what’s here will likely keep your interest for a while.

Visually, Mario and Sonic at the 2012 Olympics looks pretty good, and while it’s not a technical marvel, it’s aesthetically impressive enough that it doesn’t need to be. The game environments look great, all in all, and do a good job of recreating the idea of the Olympic feel, though in the instances where fans are shown in the stands and such, the visuals tend to repeat and get a little fuzzy. The characters, on the other hand, look fantastic and are very well animated across the different events they appear in, so fans should appreciate this thing, and the game generally looks pretty good in action regardless of the event on tap. The 3D effects here are also very well implemented, as the game makes use of multiple layers for the interface displays, characters and background elements to generate a more interesting 3D effect than in some games. The interface prompts can be distracting when they pop up while using the 3D, unfortunately, but it’s something that can be adjusted to well enough, and overall, the game rarely needs you to LOOK at the touch screen, so you should be able to use the 3D fine here. Aurally, the game makes great use of the intellectual property, as all of the characters involved have plenty of voice samples they make use of to express their successes and failures, and they all sound great. The music is less Mario or Sonic themed in this game, instead aiming to try and capture the Olympic spirit, and while none of it is especially memorable, it’s all perfectly fine and compliments the game well. The various sound effects are also well implemented and assembled across the different events, giving the experience a certain amount of charm that helps it well.

The gameplay in Mario and Sonic at the 2012 Olympics consists of playing various “events”, which are essentially mini-games themed after different events that are (in theory) part of the actual Olympic Games. Each event makes use of different control setups, depending on the event, so while something like the 25m Rapid Fire Pistol Event only asks that you use the Right Bumper to play, something like Judo will have you use the D-Pad, face buttons, and Triggers, while something like Floor (dancing, essentially) will exclusively use the stylus, and some of the more involved events, like the Modern Pentathlon, will make use of multiple different play styles in the same event. You’ll find that the game does a very good job of explaining each event prior to playing it, however, complete with miniature tutorials before each event so you know what you’re doing before you even get into the game, giving you ample preparation before you get down to business. While the events can occasionally repeat some elements, most of the events are completely different from one another, even when dealing with solo versus team events, so you’ll find there’s plenty of variety to the gameplay, but none of the events are needlessly complex or overbearing in their design.

The objective of any event is to earn a Gold Medal, the highest possible award, by performing either at the required level or by beating the abilities or scores of your competition. There are different ways to do this, depending on which of the approximately sixty events you’re playing at the time, and while the concepts may be the same, the execution is often completely different. Each event also offers multiple different difficulty levels for when you’re playing against the CPU, so you can try to get a Gold Medal in each difficulty if your confidence is high enough by beating the opponents or their associated scores. Story Mode chooses to scale the difficulty as you play along, however, so you’ll find yourself going through progressively more challenging events as you play regardless of what you do. The storyline essentially presents different storyline events that split and converge as the plot goes along, and each storyline event requires you to complete one or more Olympic events or sequences of events to progress with the storyline. There are often more events than there are event requirements, so you can skip events you’d rather not play if you want, but there are badge rewards for completing all of the events, and completing events earns more badge tickets that you can cash in for badges, so there are rewards for doing so. When playing the other single and multiplayer modes, you can choose your characters (from a set group) and difficulties as needed, while in Story Mode you have to play with whatever characters are set to be available at the time, though in reality, the characters are purely for aesthetic purposes and add nothing to the actual gameplay.

You can basically blow through the main storyline, completing the minimum number of necessary events as you go, in around five hours, though if you stop to complete every event offered this will take longer, and the Story Mode offers extra storylines once you’ve completed the main plot to go through, just for fun. You can also play around with the single player modes to try and earn different medals, or play and build Medleys for others to play or for your own amusement. You can also jump into the game with friends, whether they have the game or not, and play around, and while playing the game against those who do have the game is the ideal choice, it’s always nice when developers incorporate this feature so that playing with friends is still an option. You can also try to collect all of the badges in the game if such a thing appeals to you, as well as try to set high scores on the online rankings, so there’s a decent amount of variety and longevity to the game if you like what it does. If nothing else, as noted previously, there are around sixty events to play around with, each with multiple difficulty levels, giving you plenty of reason to come back to the game if you’re looking for a challenge, and there’s a good amount of variety to the events on top of that.

Having said that, Mario and Sonic at the 2012 Olympics doesn’t really take advantage of some of the more interesting elements of the 3DS console, which would be great for adding long term value to the game. It’s great that the game takes advantage of the gyroscope, touch screen and 3D effects in interesting and well designed ways, but the game doesn’t do anything with online play, SpotPass or StreetPass, which is unfortunate, as these sorts of elements could potentially have added more to the experience. Also, while the characters are mechanically identical across all of the game modes, it’s a shame that you can’t really pick whatever character you want for an event, and are instead relegated to set groups when choosing who to play as. Granted, the idea of Bowser and Robotnik participating in a Ribbon event is bizarre, yes, but there’s no reason to limit the more gender and size neutral events to one character, especially given the fact that there are a lot of characters to play as here. It also doesn’t help that some of the events, at the highest difficulties, either present themselves as being impossible or actually are impossible, such as Hard mode Kayak, which requires you to spin the circle pad to a level where the majority of players will find this frustrating at best and impossible at worst. This further becomes a problem when the game actively forces you to take on such events as a normal course of the story, and while you can get past them, it makes for an annoying situation when you realize you’ll basically be shut out of completing the storyline as a side effect of this. Finally, it also bears noting that, at the end of the day, this is little more than a mini-game collection, and as such, there are more than a few nonsensical events here and the ultimate replay value of the experience is limited to how much you enjoy the mini-games, no matter how many Medleys you play or friends you have.

As a cute, franchise-themed tie-in to the London 2012 Olympic Games, Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games is generally a pretty good effort, offering a good amount of variety and theme faithfulness, though it lacks somewhat in options and longevity. The plot to the game is cute enough, and there’s a decent amount of mode variety to jump into. The game looks solid for the console, the 3D effect is generally very good all around, and the audio is interesting and convincing if not exceptional. The game mechanics for all of the different mini-games here are easy to understand and include pre-game tutorials each time that give the player a good understanding of how things work right out of the gate. There are also some really neat elements, like being able to trade Medley sets with friends and being able to play with local friends who don’t have the game via DS Download Play that make the game more enjoyable, and there’s a decent amount of variety, between the multiple difficulties and different modes available. The game doesn’t take advantage of the 3DS abilities like SpotPass, StreetPass or online play, unfortunately, and you don’t get a lot of character options for the different competitions, as you can only pick one of four characters based on “type”, which is unfortunate. It’s also frustrating trying to complete some of the mini-games on Hard, if not outright impossible, and the game is still only a collection of mini-games and has a somewhat limited appeal out of the gate as a result. Mario and Sonic at the 2012 Olympics makes some good and bad decisions throughout, and the end result is a fun game that’s good as a time waster or for fans of the franchise or the Olympics, but it’s not going to spend a lot of time in your 3DS outside of its initial acquisition.

The Scores:
Story/Game Modes: GOOD
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: MEDIOCRE
Balance: MEDIOCRE
Originality: POOR
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Appeal: GOOD
Miscellaneous: MEDIOCRE

FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games is a fine meshing of two franchises with an Olympic theme, and offers a solid amount of variety and a conceptually accurate Olympic presentation, but its lacking of play options and long-term value hurt it a bit. The plot is fine for kids and those not looking for a complex narrative in their mini-game collection, and there are a fairly decent amount of modes available for the player to enjoy. The visuals age generally technically solid and do a good job of representing the franchise players in an Olympic theme, the 3D effects are generally well implemented, and the audio is well designed and implemented. There’s a good amount of effort put into differentiating the mini-game events from one another that makes each event feel unique, and the game does a good job of explaining the mechanics beforehand so as to make sure nothing is too confusing before you get started. The game also makes a good effort to add in novel and useful features, such as the ability to trade custom Medleys of events and use DS Download Play to play multiplayer with those who don’t have the game, that are encouraging and add excellent value to the experience, and there’s a decent amount of variety to the game overall. Sadly, the game doesn’t take advantage of 3DS features like SpotPass, StreetPass or online play, which is a bit limiting considering what could have been, and the game doesn’t allow you to choose your playable characters, instead relegating you to set groups of characters you can pick from, even though character choice has no impact save aesthetic change. The game also can feel absurdly difficult on Hard, to a point where it’s nigh impossible, and in the end, this is only a mini-game collection, which limits its long-term value somewhat. Mario and Sonic at the 2012 Olympics is the kind of game that will be worthwhile for franchise fans or fans of the Olympics, as it’s a pretty good effort in all of the right ways to appeal to those groups, but for the gamer looking for a more long-term experience, it can’t quite deliver in a meaningful way.

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