Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games (Wii U) Review

The 2014 Olympic Winter Games are going to begin in less than two weeks in Sochi, Russia. For all the controversy and potential threats that location contains, the Sochi, Russia in Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, the subject of our latest review, is a far more forgiving place. Here's our review.

The Latest Mario & Sonic Finds a Place on the Podium

When it was announced that Mario and Sonic would be appearing in a game together, it was like a dream come true for retro gamers-- especially those of us who grew up in the Nintendo VS. SEGA console wars that exploded on playgrounds across the world. When the game was revealed to be a mini-game collection centered around the Olympics, then there was much less excitement. It pretty much let out all of the air in everyone's proverbial tire. However, barring the very first Wii entry and several handheld offshoots, the Mario & Sonic series of Olympic titles have a fair amount of fun in them. The latest, and the first to hit the Wii U, is Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Unlike the real Olympics that will occur in the real Sochi, Russia next month, the only potential conflict here is if Mario and Bowser don't get along...

Take a bow while you're at it, Mario.
You've certainly deserved it.
Like past Mario & Sonic games, there's a nice number of events to be enjoyed by your lonesome or with friends and family. They're categorized as either Olympic or Dream events. The former events follow the general rules of their real life counterparts, with some fine-tuning to make them accessible for all players. That isn't to say they've been dumbed down; achieving new records and beating the AI is rather tough if you haven't fully mastered a particular event. From skiing down an alpine slope to surviving the death-defying Skeleton, to performing a colossal ski jump for the highest score, to participating in the all-new Biathalon (a mix of long distance skiing and target shooting), Mario & Sonic offers plenty of event variety to engage and entertain players.

Manage your stamina well!
The all-new Biathalon is an endurance race!
Dream events are fantasy events that could not be done in real life. These are things like riding a bobsleigh down a roller coaster-style track, playing a game of golf while riding on a giant curling stone, snowboarding down the colorful setting of Mario Kart: Double Dash's Mushroom Bridge, become a part in an extravagant three act figure skating show, or participating in a race where as you pass through specially marked gates, your means of racing changes (i.e. going from using a snowboard to skis). The Dream events are very fun, so I was a bit disappointed that the number of them wasn't larger than I was expecting.

Bowser Jr.'s got big air!
Gnarly, bro!
Seeing as the Wii U currently only allows one GamePad to be used per system, there's a discrepancy in how the various events are played between players. For events that can use the GamePad, it always goes to player one. Everyone else is required to use the Wii Remote Plus. This can become problematic if you have a bunch of kids each wanting to play with the GamePad. Regardless, this is the first Mario & Sonic title to fully incorporate MotionPlus technology, and this Wii U iteration is better for it. Gestures are read more easily, but some events still feature movements that the remote cannot track successfully 100% of the time. Take Figure Skating, for example. In order to do the Step action, the game tells you to move the remote as if it were a conductor's baton. However, all you really need to do is give the Wii Remote Plus a shake, as if you were hitting a drum. Sometimes a gesture isn't even read, such as in Freestyle Skiing Moguls, a new event in the series, where launching off a ramp and flicking the Wii Remote Plus to make a high leap from it doesn't always work.

Even Luigi is getting on the
big air locomotive!
From something that doesn't always work to something that just doesn't work in general, the added modes of this Sochi 2014 edition of the Mario & Sonic Olympic series feel as if development time was wasted on them. For one, there's Legends Showdown, a single player mode that has you playing as five different teams of four, progressing through multiple events against AI clones of your characters. Each tower (set of events) concludes with an event against a boss, such as Birdo from the Super Mario series or Omega from the Sonic series. The main aim of this mode is to complete all the events, but this takes so little time to do so that Legends Showdown is short lived. Even getting all of the A+ scores for each set of events is relatively easy, and once that is done, there's really no reason to return to this mode.

Face carbon copies of your team
in the short lived Legends Showdown.
However, by far the stinker of the new modes is the Action & Answer Tour. Made up of multiple rounds where you compete in altered (see: worse) versions of Olympic events, the goal here is to win the most points by the conclusion of all rounds. This is done by properly answering questions asked at the end of each round. For instance, one event has you snowboarding down the slopes, requiring you to be observant of the character that is standing on one platform on either side of the course. At the end of the race, you need to go through the correct gate that corresponds with that character to earn points.

Maintain your balance, Blaze,
or else you won't nail this grind!
That's one of the fun ones, and let me just say there is a minute number of ones that are actually fun. If that doesn't sound exciting, then there's the luck-based aspects of the mode, where in the final round the event might be worth 30 points. It doesn't matter if you're a comfortable first, because one loss could mean that your opponent leapfrogs over you to win the entire game. Action & Answer Tour is one of the most idiotic modes in a Mario & Sonic game to date. Okay, okay. It's the most idiotic mode in a Mario & Sonic game, and coming off London Party in the last game, it significantly disappoints.

A portion of Mario's Figure Skating Spectacular.
What doesn't disappoint, though, is the great amount of replay value Mario & Sonic's Sochi outing gives players. Well, that is if you think collecting new gear, outerwear, and costumes of Mario and Sonic characters appeals to you. There are 248 individual challenges to complete. These require you to board a bobsleigh in under six seconds, hit opponents with a certain number of snowballs in the Dream event Snowball Scrimmage, earn a perfect boost a set number of times in Snowboard Cross, or even small things like uploading your results to the net. I've played Sochi 2014 over 20 hours now, and I've still not completed every challenge-- though I'm close!

It's very gratifying to see a
full screen of unlocked goodies.
Outside of posting your best times and ghosts online, for the first time in the Mario & Sonic series online multiplayer is an option. Unfortunately, this is narrowed down to a paltry four event types. Perhaps that is a blessing, as it's difficult to always find opponents, much less ONE opponent. It would be much harder to find someone if you had more events to choose from. Still, Miiverse is an option for setting up online multiplayer sessions.

Put your body into it, Peach!
The Wii U debut of Mario & Sonic is a technical showcase. It's one of the better looking Wii U games with totally amazing character models, lighting, and background assets. The frame-rate seldom lowers, as it usually stays locked rock solid. Sound-wise, many (if not all) voice clips from the cast have been reused from previous games, as is some of the remixes. That said, the new content music-wise is simply put, splendid. Hearing remixes of Sonic 3D Blast's Diamond Dust Zone, Mario Kart 64's Sherbet Land, Sonic Rush Adventure's Blizzard Peaks, and a medley of remixed Super Mario Land themes made me giddy as a fan of both franchises. You can put down Mario & Sonic's latest as "just another mini-game collection", but I'll be darned and fight you until you cry if you say the presentation of the game was phoned in.

In Wario's case, perhaps it's a good idea
for him to take his face off.
Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games is one of the better games in the biannual series of character-driven Olympic titles. Its presentation is top-notch, the majority of events (particularly the wacky Dream variety) are a blast to play and continually try to get better at and master, and there's replay value there in the form of challenges for those who want it. I did not expect to enjoy this game as much as I did, and with some alterations (better solo modes, no Action & Answer Tour, enhanced online), Nintendo and SEGA's next offering could be absolutely sensational. For now, Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games will have to settle with the silver medal.

[SPC Says: 8.0/10]

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