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Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games
Written by James Hobbs

It's not long now until Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games is released, marking the first time that the two iconic stalwarts of gaming appear alongside one another. To be honest, before playing the game, I was just as sceptical as everyone else - despite the characters, it's still ultimately a franchised mini-game-based button masher, and as such precisely the start of title I'm beginning to loathe. Wii has plenty already - why make more?

Reservations aside, the first thing that struck me about the game is the charming way in which it's presented. We were playing on final release code, and there's a definite shine to the proceedings - an Olympic glow, perhaps. Menus are functional and well-presented, and the stadium itself is a replica of the actual Beijing stadium in which the Olympics are to be held, which is a nice touch.

The events themselves are divided into a number of glaringly obvious categories, such as gymnastics and track events, with all the relevant activities within. This is where the franchised nature of the game begins to become more apparent - all of the events are exactly what you'd expect, albeit with occasional twists. Obviously it'd be difficult for a game based on the Olympics to innovate greatly in terms of the events themselves, but thankfully the control system is generally enough to make the proceedings interesting, and initially rather difficult.

James beat a load of other journos to win the tournament, with prizes presented by Mario and Sonic. Yep. Seriously. Ed with.. Mario and Sonic. Oh, the shame.

That's really what surprised me the most - there's a considerable learning curve to most of the events, something I didn't really expect. Despite the somewhat fluffy exterior, lurking underneath is a grizzled button-masher that might well inspire some traditional gamers to go back and try to beat the world records listed in-game, or just to beat personal records. Many of the events seemed practically impossible in the 5 or so hours we spent with the game, particularly the Skeet ( shooting ) event - you'd need to be seriously quick on the draw to get 100% accuracy.

The events themselves, then, are generally well put together, challenging, and fun.

That's not quite it, though.

The game's menu is possibly among the most irksome I've ever encountered, suffering a similar blight to that of Rayman Raving Rabbids - it's so sodding slow. There's reams of uncessary screens you have to trawl through before being able to play, punctuated by loading screens, and all too often the game isn't quick enough to skip them immediately, which interrupts the flow of the game. I'm exaggerating slightly when I say reams of screens, but there's certainly enough to become an irritation. Admittedly instructional screens and so on are important, at least initially, but a bit more responsiveness and snappy reaction to skipping screens would've gone a long way.

That's hardly enough to write off the game, however. It's gloriously physical, more than Wii Sports, and definitely a lot more complex. Some of the events, such as trampolining, require you to tap in moderately complex button presses in quick succession alongside waving around like a lunatic, and it really does feel quite excellent when you pull it off. There's also a selection of 'Dream Events,' which provide a much-welcomed escape from the traditional Olympic events - sadly we didn't manage to unlock many of them, but from what we saw there's more than a hint of Mario Kart-esque racing around on foot.

Graphically the game is somewhat similar aesthetically to something like Mario Strikers Charged, but perhaps slightly less polished. There's certainly a lot going on, and the frame rate was solid throughout our play. If Nintendo didn't insist on using god-awful LCD screens to display their games I'd be able to evaluate the graphics in more detail - as it stands, I'll have to wait until our copy arrives and I can play it on a good old CRT.

Sonic and Mario at the Olympic Games, then - a lot more complicated than it looks.

Stay tuned for the review.

James with the Sonic & Mario tracksuit.

We'll have screens & media very soon indeed, along with some prizes...

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