We were allowed to play the game behind closed doors at GC and to shoot a little video too.
Developed in collaboration with Nintendo, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games is undoubtedly the key title at Sega’s booth. Sometimes taking up more than half of the company’s floor space, the game also appears on a giant projector screen, gets played in huge competitions, and turns up in countless banner ads. These ads show a certain pair of characters standing on a red and blue background.
Instead of fighting each other, they compete in various Olympic events. The game carries the official Beijing 2008 Olympics license, which enables authentic logos and stadiums to be included. However, this is where the realism ends. Everything else is inspired by the bright and zany worlds of Nintendo and Sega’s most popular franchises. The spectators constitute a giant mob from the Mushroom Kingdom, the physics behave in exaggerated ways (though still convincingly), and the screen display is almost entirely made up of primary colors. And in case you didn’t know, the playable characters aren't straight out of the real-world games, either.
The two newest members, Yoshi and Amy, join the previous cast of Mario, Sonic, Luigi, Bowser, Knuckles, Peach, Dr. Eggman, and Tails. Each one has unique stats, measured in four areas; speed, acceleration, dash, and skill. Unsurprisingly, Sonic has maximum speed, the Mario Brothers are balanced, while Peach boasts high skill levels. With the setup, Sega clearly intends to make the different characters excel at different events.
This mechanic is particularly meaningful in the Circuit Mode, which was briefly explained. Up to four human players choose a character that they keep throughout multiple events, and, at the end, the overall scores are tallied and the winner is declared. The setup actually bears resemblance to the Grand Prix mode in the Mario Kart games, in which you control a character for multiple tracks, accumulating points in the process.
Other modes were mentioned, including Single Mode, which throws you into a single event, Mission Mode, which sets you up against a series of competitors, and a more dedicated single-player mode, yet to be revealed.
Sega demoed four of the five events present in the build and then handed over the controllers to people from the press to play the remaining one; the 110m hurdles. This event prompts you to hold down B, and then let it go when the gun goes off for a turbo start. To run, you furiously waggle the Wii remote and nunchuk up and down as quickly as possible, and to leap, you press B. I found the controls to work rather well – especially for short term play. Not only do they provide a physical workout, they also demand that you get into a rhythm in order to get over the hurdles. Plus, it’s a blast to watch others play. For longer play sessions, the controls might get tiring, though. Hardcore gamers may also complain over a lack of depth, because - in terms of complexity and subtlety - the controls are definitely more in line with those found in Wii Sports than those in Camelot’s Mario sports titles, for example. A video of the event can be watched here:
Among the other events were the 100m dash – just a simpler variation on the 110m hurdles – and the triple jump, which plays very differently. Before starting, you can opt to do a clapping motion with your Wii remote in order to get momentum with the crowd by your side. (Whether this action has any real effect was unclear.) Then you start doing the running motion until your speed suddenly locks halfway down the lane. This gives you ample time to prepare for the hop, skip, and jump, performed by lifting the Wii remote, the nunchuk, and then the Wii remote again. Some practice is required, because if you lift the controllers too much, your jumps become too vertical. Not lifting them enough translates into a weak jump.
The hammer throw is the only event that uses the Wii remote exclusively. Players swirl it akin to a hammer throw movement in real life. The B button throws the hammer – as long as you don’t step over the line.
The archery has an equally intuitive control setup but feels more relaxing. Drawing the arrow is simulated by first positioning the nunchuk in front of you and then holding both the A and B buttons. You then pull back the Wii remote, after which two cursors pop up. One of them is controlled by tilting the nunchuk, the other by aiming with the Wii remote. Preferably, they need to be aligned in the middle of the screen within thirty seconds. If that happens, you release the buttons for a perfect shot. The further the cursors are apart, the more inaccurate the shot becomes. The whole process gets even more complex once the need to compensate for the speed and direction of the wind comes into play.
In addition to the aforementioned events, table tennis, judo, gymnastics, swimming, and other track and field based events are in development, but Sega couldn’t comment on those at all.
The art style - reminiscent of Camelot’s games - is simple, colorful, and cartoony. Animations not only move remarkably fluidly, they also capture the personalities and movement traits of the characters very well. Everything from Mario’s flailing arms as he runs to Bowser’s extreme weight as he hits the ground after a long jump is beautifully depicted. The sheer amount of cheering spectators appearing on-screen is also noteworthy.
I came away confident about Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games. It seems that Sega is making a visually attractive game with plenty of events that genuinely take advantage of the Wii remote in unique and varied ways.