Following the phenomenal success of the Wii incarnation of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, SEGA's DS version has finally arrived in stores, but without the Wii Remote and Nunchuck should gamers be excited to see the rotund plumber and blue hedgehog starring alongside each other?
In a kooper shell, yes. On offer are 16 real-world events, including favourites such as 100m, 400m, 400m Hurdles, Long Jump and 100m Freestyle. Additionally there's also a selection of Dream Events, which range from variations of existing events to all-new disciplines not found in the first 16. The bulk of the events require some form of speedy touch screen motion (side to side for sprinting events, circles for the hammer), while others such as Table Tennis rely on traditional d-pad and button controls.
Players also have 16 characters to choose from, each falling into one of four ability types: Mario is an all-rounder, Sonic speedy, Peach skilful and Bowser powerful. This means there are some events each character is especially good at and some in which they perform not so well. Sonic, for example, is really fast and therefore great at the 100m, but his lack of strength doesn't aid power events such as Javelin and Hammer.
As a lone player you have the option to participate in individual events or compete in Circuit and Mission modes. The Circuit mode presents an increasingly difficult collection of events, with new events being unlocked for the successful completion of each circuit. In addition to being awarded points for your position in each event, players also have the option to play one Circuit Chance per circuit, doubling the points earned on the event. You'll need to play through and win all the Circuits in order to unlock all the regular and Dream events.
Mission mode gives each character in the game a set of missions, ranging from finishing an event in a specific place to beating a certain character. Further missions will be unlocked once earlier missions are completed and completing all the missions will win you a prize.
Mario & Sonic does a commendable job at offering something for the single player, but it's not really until you get together win friends that things really get going. The AI opponents don't offer much challenge, but playing with three mates can make for some photo finish moments. With a single copy of the game, you're able to play the 100m, Long Jump, Archery, Trampoline, Basketball and Canoe events. The lack of events on offer is a real disappointment, but you can still get quick-fire fun. When each player has their own copy of the game you get a much more complete experience, with all the events available and the option to play circuit mode.
You'll also notice the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection stamp on the front of the box, although this doesn't mean you'll be competing against other players online. What you do get is the ability to check the best times and scores that other players have uploaded, seeing where you place on a global leaderboard. It's a nice touch, but the lack of integration with the main game and the slowness of the process - you need to connect to Wi-Fi Connection, download the records, then disconnect for each event - make it really cumbersome to use.
Visually there's nothing special to report. All the characters are recognisable and events are certainly colourful, but it's certainly not pushing the handheld. Likewise, the audio is more functional than spectacular, but this doesn't detract from the gameplay.
What first appeared to be a shameless money making coming together of two of gaming's most famous icons has actually turned out to be a fun collection of Olympic events presented with a simple and fun control scheme. The only real disappointment is the somewhat lacking single-cart multiplayer. We don't expect the complete multiplayer experience from a single game cart, but such a cut down roster of events which lacks major track and field favourites is a big let down.