Mario and Sonic face off once more, and the results are grand.
When Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games was released for the Wii in 2007, it received a lot of mixed critical reactions, mostly due to some faulty controls and repetitive gameplay. But the allure of two of the world's most beloved gaming mascots competing in an event as historically significant as the Olympic Games was a huge draw for the masses, and thus the game became a massive hit. Two years later, Sega pairs Mario and Sonic once more, choosing the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada as the arena in which the heroes shall compete. The end result is a game that's more polished, more robust in its gameplay, and in general a more complete package than its predecessor.
For starters, all of the Olympic events are unlocked from the start, eliminating the need to tediously unlock them all as seen in the previous title. There are 12 main Olympic events, including bobsled racing, curling, ice hockey, skeleton, and even figure skating. The game does a great job of presenting real world sporting events as fun mini-games. The video game interpretation of these events has been improved in terms of control, even though a few bothersome issues remain. Timing still plays a key role; a flick of the Wii Remote at the right time gives your character a boost, and at times you will have to shake it to build up speed. But the redundancy of the motions has been significantly toned down, meaning that players will not feel tired after a long gameplay session.
In addition to the Olympic events, Dream Events return from the original title, and this time they are more memorable and more fun to play. These events are fantastic takes on their respective events, featuring Mario and Sonic-themed worlds and items, and they are more arcade-style in terms of rules and overall competition. In the original game they felt like an afterthought, but in the sequel they are more refined and definitely more creative. Dream skating alone could make players crack a smile while playing. Unfortunately, these events have to be unlocked.
Characters are once again grouped under several different categories, namely all-around, speed, power, and skill. This is very important as some characters perform better in certain events. For example, Sonic is a speed character; therefore events requiring speed as an important skill will work best for him. This adds a little bit of challenge and strategizing to what is otherwise a party game, and its addition is much appreciated. The original cast from the first game returns, including titular characters Mario and Sonic, as well as new characters from each franchise such as Silver the hedgehog, Donkey Kong, and Metal Sonic. Miis can also be used as playable characters.
The game also features an achievement system. After completing a requirement, it will announce it and award you an emblem. There are a lot of emblems to earn in the game, guaranteed to please competitive type that will try to earn each and every one of them.
Speaking of competition, the game has some online features as well. You can upload your best times to online leaderboards and check everyone else's best scores and times. The game also lets you control the weather! If you have the Weather Forecast Channel on your Wii, the game will alter the weather in the events according to the weather readings in Vancouver, Canada. This might be a small feature, but it's one that adds a compelling amount of realism to what is otherwise a fantastical game.
Like its predecessor, Winter Games features many game modes to choose from. Single Match mode lets you select one event and play, while Festival Mode is Mario and Sonic's main single-player mode. Festival Mode aims to simulate the festivities of the Winter Olympics, lasting 17 days. When you first start the mode, you select a character; this is where the character's skills play a key role, because once you choose that character you will be using him or her throughout the mode. Each day features a series of events; you can participate in a training session, an Olympic event, and a Dream event (once you complete a Dream event it will be unlocked in the single match mode). During some days, a rival will appear. These rivals are boss characters from past Mario and Sonic games, so you'll be facing off against the likes of Rouge the Bat, Bullet Bill, and King Boo.
Festival Mode is a big improvement over the main single-player mode in the previous game. The training sessions help players understand the events in a more insightful manner, and they are simply more fun to play through this time around. The addition of rival matches gives the game even more character, making it an even more memorable experience overall.
Party Games mode puts a Mario Party-inspired spin on the proceedings. There are three main Party modes, and in between each event players will participate in a mini-game that gives them points. When the game is over, the player with the most points wins. The mini-games in this section of Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games make much more sense, as they incorporate the main events unlike the mini-games found in the first game. It’s a fun mode that gives the events an interesting twist.
Finally, there's Shopping mode, which serves as the hub for the game's bonus content. In this mode, players can buy all sorts of items such as music tracks, images, Olympic trivia and more. But the best thing about this mode is that you can buy clothing items and sports accessories for your Mii. There are a lot of clothing items to choose from, and even full character costumes that turn a Mii into a Sonic or Mario character, a great touch fans should really like. The items are bought using star tickets, which are earned after you complete each event and earn achievements.
One of the issues many had with the original Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games was the repetitive nature of its controls, and their unpredictable timing. The sequel fixes these issues, creating a game that's much more fun to control. As previously mentioned, timing is still important in some events. But this time around they are much easier to master thanks to the game letting you know how you're doing. Repetitive motions have also been kept, but they won't tire you out. The title also lets you play with just the Wii Remote or with the Wii Remote and Nunchuck.
As a bonus, the game is compatible with the Wii Balance Board, and it works wonderfully. Sega did a fantastic job in integrating Balance Board play. Selecting the Balance Board option from the main menu will take you through the calibration process, and once this is done, there's no need to calibrate it for as long as your play session lasts. This is a very clever idea, and it eliminates a lot of wasted time re-calibrating the Balance Board for each event. The event controls themselves are great. An on-screen bar lets you know how good your balance is, making the control of your character much easier. Unfortunately, there are no multiplayer options when playing with the Balance Board, but this can be forgiven thanks to how fun it is to play with the peripheral.
The visual presentation has received a substantial upgrade from the first game. While the character models remain a tad stiff, they are more expressive and have more animations. But the real winners here are the locales. Each event takes place in event venues modeled after the venues in the real Olympics, and they are full of tiny details that stay true to the Olympic experience. Dream Events, however, are the most dazzling. Each event has been ripped out of a Mario and Sonic game, keeping the color, vibrancy, and imagination of each franchise intact. Sega knocked one out of the park with this one.
The music is a delight, and really completes the whole experience. It consists of orchestral themes that lend an epic feel to the Olympic atmosphere. There are also many remixes of classic Mario and Sonic songs, as well as public domain songs for the figure skating event. The character voices are just as charming as in the last game, but unfortunately, they repeat a lot of lines.
In the end, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games is a great game. Sega took the solid foundation of the first title, addressed many of the concerns found with it, and made an excellent sequel that does justice to both the Olympic Winter Games and the Mario and Sonic universe. If you liked the first Mario and Sonic Olympic game, don't hesitate to give this one a try.