I first played the original Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games for the Wii, based on the Summer Games in Beijing 2008, about four years ago; I thought it had some definite promise, but fell flat due to major issues with controls and some unimaginative use of the Wii’s motion capabilities. For the latest entry in the series, Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games for the Wii U, I think Sega Sports has not only ironed out the control problems, but made fantastic headway into really utilizing the Wii U’s unique options for control and display.
The game consists of a series of events inspired by the Olympic Winter Games. From a variety of ski and snowboard events to ice hockey, curling, and bobsleigh, there’s a good mix what you’d expect, mostly well-executed. The game makes use of the Wii Motion Plus controller (which I had to run out and purchase for this review) as well as the Wii U Gamepad; for instance, in the bobsleigh event, the Gamepad is used for control as well as a first-person view while playing. Other players or spectators can watch the TV for a more television-style display of the action — and, in multiplayer, a very amusing view of Player 1’s face, captured using the Gamepad camera.
The Wii U Gamepad does get some use even in events that don’t utilize it, as well. Serving as a screen for the game’s panel of announcers, other players can follow along with the action, along with largely generic commentary that follows with how well the performance is going, provided by Toad, Chao, Lakitu, and Espio. There are also a number of “channels” available from the game menu, showing personal records, friends’ stats, unlocked items, and so on; items unlockable by completing various challenges are mostly limited to a variety of costume pieces to outfit your Mii character, usable in events in the place of the game’s cast.
The cast, the same list from prior titles Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games and Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games, consists of twenty characters divided into four categories – Power, All-Around, Speed, and Skill, as well as the aforementioned Mii character, considered a sixth All-Around type. Of course, some events are better for certain types than others, but it’s not such a large gap that it creates a problem for a player to choose any character for any event they’d like. The only restriction I’ve run into here is in the Figure Skating Pairs event, which requires a male Player 1 and female Player 2 selection.
As much fun as the single-player action can be, where Mario & Sonic really shines is, of course, in multiplayer. Supporting up to four players in most events and offering both competitive and cooperative play, there’s plenty of variety to get everyone involved. Events like Speed Skating and Biathlon pit players against one another in split-screen style, while Snowboard Slopestyle and Bobsleigh Skeleton involve pass-and-play using the Wii U Gamepad. The most ridiculous fun, though, was probably the Figure Skating Pairs, in which two players use Wii Remotes both separately and in unison. The hand-holding portions involve the second player grabbing on to the first’s controller, and swaying together, posing, or even walking circles around the spinning Player 1, which can require some extra room to accommodate.
Another of the game’s high points for me are the so-called Dream Events. These offer variations on the Olympic Games selections in fun, sometimes frantic style, including a golf-style take on the curling competition, obstacle-laden street hockey, and weave-through-traffic bobsleigh runs. Set in familiar levels from Mario and Sonic’s previous titles, these games offer a unique and diverse selection you won’t find in other Olympic Games-themed titles, and supply a different way to play the games without the restrictions imposed by mirroring the real-world counterparts. Personally, as a hockey fan, I thought the Snow Day Street Hockey was one of the real gems in this game, and we had a blast playing it.
The game does still suffer from some control issues here and there, and some things simply take time to get used to, such as making use of the touch screen of the Wii U gamepad during the Slopestyle Snowboard event while using the Gamepad for other controls. I also had problems with some of the Wii Remote controls during the figure skating events, as it can be difficult to judge exactly what’s needed as the camera changes angle frequently throughout play. By and large, though, it all functions better than prior entries in the series, and most of these problems will probably resolve through practice. The final verdict here for me is that the variety of events and the potential for family and party play make Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games (seriously, Sega Sports – can we work on these titles?) a great outing, and tons of fun.
[+Variety of events] [+Improved controls] [+Great multiplayer] [+Online sharing and competition] [+Dream Events] [-Some complicated controls] [-Prolific on-screen instruction sections for all events]