The Olympics are nearly upon us, so SEGA are hoping to cash in on our four-yearly interest of watching anything that has a medal associated with it (Brazil got gold in the paint-drying contest? How did I miss that) by releasing another Mario & Sonic Olympics game.
The concept is simple; a series of sports re-imagined as short videogame events - with a bunch of bonus events tacked on for laughs - all wrapped in a shiny Sonic and Mario theme.
In theory, it's a great move - there's a lot of interest in the Olympics and most of us aren't likely to compete in the real deal anytime soon; there's also few in the cashed-up crowd that want to play a simulator. So a party game version of the real games that lets us compete with our living-room buddies? As plans go, this has the makings of a goodie.
It works, too, albeit in a somewhat underwhelming manner.
In a nutshell, if you're after something to enthrall the kids or entertain a party of fun-loving adults, you could do a lot worse - especially once the actual Olympics actually kick off and interest in the event reaches its zenith.
But it's not perfect.
The core game features an awful lot of waggle; you know, the old jiggling-the-remote-about stuff that was so common when Nintendo first unveiled the Wii to developers back in 2006. This occasionally works OK (see: Badminton) but all too frequently the combination of imprecise controls and the lag inherent to complex movement recognition result in frustratingly poor performances at events.
Complexity is something else we didn't expect; some of the events have genuinely deep mechanics that will take a few attempts to get the best out of (don't expect to be able to compete on even footing if playing against someone who has played the game before).
There are a few modes on offer, including the favourite ability of choosing preferred events and competing (or co-operating, in some cases) directly at them. This is a good way to sample what's on offer - including the "exaggerated reality" Dream Events - before diving into the party mode.
In London Party, you'll spend time running around London in a map-like mode, during which time you can interact with your fellow competitors or chase down characters to trigger special events. The goal of this mode is to compete in those events to win stickers, with the winner of the mode being the first person to fill their sticker book.
There's more to it than that, too, and to be honest the whole thing is a bit convoluted - with a vast array of explanatory pop-ups to click through. With presentation and gameplay mechanics that (mostly) appeal to the casual or the younger set, it's weird that the game is so verbose.
There's a bunch of minigames that are unique to this mode and therefore cannot be played anywhere else; for some, that's a huge relief - chasing invisible things randomly around a map is about as much fun as throwing knives into the air and trying to catch them with your face while blindfolded.
Of the various types of games on offer - being simulatory of real events, exaggerated but still based on real events, and completely unrelated to real events - the most succesful would have to be the middle set. Known as Dream Events, they have a loose association with a real Olympic Sport but they throw out realism and replace it instead with videogame fun. In comparison, many of the "simulation" events are a bit dull, while the totally made up stuff varies too much to be too heartily recommended (regardless of the fun to be had from some of them).
It's a good looking game, no question - the characters look amazing for the most part and the environments are suitably colourful caricatures of London, which itself takes a starring role in proceedings. Audio is similarly well done, with solid renditions of familiar sounds, including a huge pile of unlockable favourites from Sonic and Mario games of old.
Should you buy it? That's a tough question to answer. It's genuinely entertaining and kids will have the patience to persevere and learn the advanced techniques of some of the games, or can at least skip the less enjoyable ones altogether if they prefer.
It's also a fun game for adults to play in a party situation, and is likely to provide some level of entertainment to people of all ages - just keep in mind the high waggle factor and the convoluted controls; this will definitely lead to frustration for some.