Mario and Sonic used to be mortal enemies at the cash register, each plying their particular brand of console superiority. Now that SEGA's pulled out of the hardware game, however, they seem to be best of friends. The proof? The now-expected sports mashup titles that coincide with some sort of Olympics every couple of years.
The latest title, Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games, was well received when it released on the Wii in November, so Nintendo 3DS owners are no doubt looking forward to the February release of the 3DS version.
We had a chance to play with a (very limited) preview build of the game, which had just five events enabled (the full version will have "more than 50"). Check 'em out:
The way this one works is pretty simple; it's effectively a competitive quick-time event. The opponents face off against each other and then slam into a grapple - at which point a random combination of buttons is presented on screen. The first to enter the sequence correctly wins! If there's a tie, a button-bash tie-breaker ensures there's a guaranteed victor.
It's a fun minigame, and a great way to present what could otherwise be a very complicated sport. It probably won't excite proponents of this particular martial art, but it's hard to imagine a way by which the code could be made more accessible to people who are just in it for the competition.
Despite the similarity of the game to the much-computerized sport of tennis, this one doesn't play out anything like a 3D version of Pong. Instead, your goal here is much simpler: as the shuttlecock heads over to your side of the court, you simply need to decide if it would - unmolested - land "in" or "out" of bounds. If it's going to be "in", hit A; if "out", press the D-Pad to dodge. Get it wrong three times and the game ends - the one with the most points, wins.
Continuing the theme started by Judo, this dramatically simplified presentation of the sport significantly lowers the barrier to entry and enables people who have never even heard of it to have a good time and - more importantly - to be instantly competitive. It's a clever ploy.
A marginally more traditional conversion of the real sport, this one at least has you resembling the action you might otherwise see on television. Presented side-on, you must spin the circle pad as fast as you can (the game recommends you place the 3DS on a flat surface to facilitate this) in order to paddle faster than your fellow kayakers.
The Kayaking is definitely fun, and still easy to understand - although we have our concerns over the potential damage that could be inflicted over time or by more enthusiastic / younger players. Unlike with Hyper Olympics on the Commodore 64, which this plays much like, you can't just replace your joystick should you break it.
Another non-literal translation, this one sees players tilting their 3DS in order to move a ball around a simple maze as quickly as possible. Each completed maze results in your character on the balance beam performing a trick - do as many tricks / mazes as possible in the time limit to increase your score.
Speed's important with this one, although - unlike the others - it wasn't immediately obvious how to go about getting a "perfect" score. Still, it's another good example of delivering a solid but simple mechanic that enables armchair sports people to get in on the competitive action without being forced to replicate reality by way of cumbersome simulation.
The Race-Walk event is one of the more interesting implementations - not least of which because, let's face it, race walking is a pretty dull event in reality. Here, you need to slide your stylus back and forward on the bottom screen in time to the music - much like a metronome. Doing so at the right rate will ensure maximum speed without accidentally going too fast (which, believe it or not, will see you penalized in this Walk! Don't Run! event).
The combination of sports, while certainly carefully selected by the publisher, highlighted both the variety of input options on offer and the willingness of the developers to sacrifice simulation for mechanics that are actually fun. A perfect fit for the Sonic and Mario licenses, we have high hopes for the final game, which releases in early February - still in plenty of time for the actual games which start in July.
The Good: Fun mechanics that don't rely on simulation.
The Bad: Simultaneous motion control and parallax barrier 3D.
The Ugly: Race walking in reality. Mesmerizing!