I would say, "Mario and Sonic compete for the Olympic gold," but I'm not so sure that they even deserve a consolation prize.
London 2012 is the third Olympic-based crossover between these two gaming giants, though this game in particular is an all-new portable version of the Wii game released last year. If you have ever played a licensed game with both home console and portable versions, you might consider the latter as shakier in quality (to say the absolute least). This handheld version, however, is the series’ first outing on 3DS, and Sega Sports Japan shows us that a smooth translation is possible, even if the game itself is not so smooth to begin with.
The gameplay is tough to describe because the system is used in so many ways. If you have played The Rub Rabbits! or Feel the Magic: XY/XX, you kind of know the formula. They’re mini-games that are fast, unique, and occasionally mechanically broken. Each of the fifty mini-games consists of an abbreviated version of an Olympic sport, lasting between one and two minutes apiece. Some events, like basketball, utilize the gyro sensor to add a new depth to the game (specifically, players can flick the 3DS forward to shoot the basketball). Others stick strictly to button presses, and some make full use of the stylus, like badminton. One issue the game does have is that its instruction giving is remarkably poor. Sometimes, games have to be played multiple times to get a grasp of the controls, and some controls aren’t even shown until the game is actually in progress.
Quality-wise, Mario & Sonic varies (which the demo did a great job of showing), though I really enjoyed some of the games. Doubles badminton is controlled using simple flicks of the stylus, but the game gets intense in harder difficulties when birds can be volleyed upwards of thirty times before any mistakes are made. Fencing is the game I had the most fun with, in which you try to jab your opponent before getting jabbed yourself, and missing leaves you momentarily defenseless to a nearby opponent. I felt the need to go back to about ten of the games. Thirty others were fun, but less engaging. Now, you may be wondering where those last ten might be. Those I refer to as the “cream of the crap,” games that are broken, borderline unplayable, and totally devoid of fun. Basketball is a great example. The aforementioned sport has no clear “if I shoot for that spot it should go in,” and becomes a frustrating mess when flicking the 3DS to shoot changes the target shot to a different location and almost always causes the shot to miss. Boxing, a sport that should lead to some simplistic fun, has been degraded into a single timed button-press.
The main draw of the game is the story mode, featuring a cookie-cutter plot involving Bowser and Doctor Eggman (excuse me while I shudder) building machines to fog up London and prevent the games from taking place. This creates an awkward situation when one character challenges another to an event and foggy London briefly turns into a beautiful, sunny arena with thousands of spectators. The plot is presented through cut scenes, which look remarkable, especially since I expected character images with text laid over them instead. The story does a good job of making the mini-games last, as it took me about four and a half hours to get through the main story mode, a number that doesn’t include the large number of bonus missions available after completion.
If there’s one thing I can say about this game, it’s that there seems like a shocking amount of effort was put into this game to make it look and sound like a full-fledged experience. The graphics are absolutely beautiful, and are on par or potentially better than Super Mario 3D Land (I would compare them most to the Mario Tennis trailer released on the eShop a few months ago). Likewise, the soundtrack is excellent, and although unmemorable, it does a great job of scoring the events. Other sounds leave room to be desired: characters in the game speak through text accompanied with grunts or basic words, and while some like Mario or Sonic have plenty of voice clips, lesser characters, like Shadow the Hedgehog, speak using the same few grunts (or sometimes the singular ‘grunt‘) over and over again.
Outside of the main story mode, the selection is unsubstantial. The single-player “Olympic Mode” allows free play for singular events or a medley of events compiled into one (which can then be shared with other players). There is also a basic local multiplayer function allowing (obviously) up to four players to compete with one another. There is also single-card download play, which contains every one of the mini-games, something I don’t recall any other game matching. Multiplayer is very fun, and even the broken games are a hilarious diversion when someone can experience them alongside you. Other than that, there are collectible badges players can obtain and display on there profiles, and leaderboards (which I am dominating as of one week before release), the only online-capable functionality within the game.
There are certain things I am very impressed by in this game. The graphics and sound are generally great, the story content has effort put into it, the controls are interesting, and it feels like Sega put forward an effort to make this feel like a higher-profile release. However, I felt totally done with this game within seven hours of playing it. If this game fell more along the lines of something like Star Fox 64 3D, I wouldn’t mind so much because of the unique, high-caliber experience gained from playing it. Mario & Sonic is no Star Fox 64. Even the best games in this package are fun no more than five times, and anything below that was lucky to be played more than twice. If there was more content, and Sega put more focus into making more of the games fun rather than making more games, I might have viewed the experience more fondly. But if everything about a game is good except for the gameplay, it’s not really that good of a game then, is it?