The Olympic Games fanfare is second-to-none. The roar of the crowd and the overwhelming pressure that’s bestowed on athletes of every race, colour and creed create a spectacle that billions around the world relish every four years. While the Winter Olympic Games is a more niche affair, there’s no disputing the real-life drama that will occur in Russia next February.
Mario & Sonic have been battling each other in various Olympic events since 2007, with this entry being the second title focusing on the Winter Games. Naturally aimed at the family market, kids will lap up the chance to see Bowser own Tails on the ice, but once they get their hands on the controller, they’ll see flawed motion controls and a party game that doesn’t offer much more than your standard fare.
Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games obviously sees a cast of notable (and some, admittedly, unremarkable) characters within both franchises face off in a host of Olympic regulated events, as well as some more ludicrous games. Along with the Wii U GamePad, Wii Motion Plus controllers are required to witness everything on offer. From downhill skiing to curling and bobsledding, developer Sega Sports Japan has ticked numerous boxes for fans of the series. Additionally, there are some sports that are more akin to something that may take place in the Mushroom Kingdom or the Green Hill Zone. For example, the Bullet Bill Sledge Race has two teams of two, racing across a Mario themed landscape in chariots drawn by the infamous projectiles.
In a somewhat appropriate turn of events, things begin to get shaky once you realise that the majority of the mini-games are controlled using both the GamePad and Wii Motion Plus capabilities. Ah yes, flailing around your front room like it’s 2006, all over again. That’s not to say that every instance of arm-flapping isn’t enjoyable, but for the most part, it’s just not a great exhibition of what can be achieved via Nintendo’s unique controls. There are certain games that require the GamePad, and others that ask you to sync up your dusty WiiMote and Nunchuk combo – the latter seeing more success with regard to responsiveness. The Ski Jumping Large Hill, as the name suggests, has you hurtling down a ramp, ready to jolt your Wii Motion Plus controller in the air for the perfect lift-off. The minimal amount of input in this particular sport makes it one of the more enjoyable ones because when you’ve full control of the Plumber or the Hedgehog, it’s not such a pretty sight – especially in relation to the Wii U-exclusive peripheral.
The snowboard events are a prime example of things going horribly wrong. Controlled using the GamePad, players tilt their way down the slopes, weaving in and out of the flags on the course. The controller becomes a cumbersome piece of tech when used in this fashion. Nothing feels natural and the on-screen characters delve into a pit of lackadaisical behaviour. The responsiveness of characters becomes atrocious and makes this specific event a real task. On the other hand, the speed skating and figure skating are more fun because, once again, you’re not in total control of the character’s movement and you simply act as an aid in their efforts to capture gold. The figure skating requires the WiiMote wielder to simply waggle and wave every once in a while, rather than putting you in complete control. There’s no doubt that the most effective game, though, does in fact use the GamePad – and that’s ice hockey. However, in a title that prides itself on movement, ice hockey works because it’s played using the analog sticks and face buttons – shock, horror. But that’s the exception to the rule here, as button presses aren’t common practice in Sochi.
Like all good Nintendo-published games that feature characters from different worlds, the single-player story mode is deliciously outrageous. Arriving at some Disney-like Russian castle, the two titular characters and their merry band of hangers-on must compete against shadowy versions of themselves that appear out of nowhere, in order to bring home the gold.
Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games is the first in the series to include online multiplayer, but it wasn’t accessible at time of review. Out of the numerous sports, disappointingly, only four made the cut in the Worldwide Versus Mode. That said, the Action & Answer Tour mode adds some replay value for those looking for games tailored to a more party game atmosphere.
VERDICT: Motion control has its detractors and its advocates, but both parties should be able to see that Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games is not one to fly the proverbial waggle flag. The awkwardness of waving a large GamePad around and unresponsive controls make this one of the less enjoyable party offerings available on the system. The events that don’t have you breaking much of a sweat are the better ones and in a multiplayer atmosphere, they can be quite decent. Overall, however, this is one that fans of both mascots will soon forget.
AVERAGE. The epitome of a 50/50 game, this title will be unspectacular but inoffensive, charmless but amiable. We aren’t condemning a game by scoring it a 5, but we certainly aren’t championing it, either.