Every four years the World waits in anticipation to see what will happen, who will win, and what clever additions will be made to the inevitable button-mashing game that SEGA will release before the Olympics. But this is not Mario and Sonic At London 2012, this is the serious version. With seriously recreated athletes who move only in one particular way, that might have you grumbling about how they ever got to the Olympics in the first place.
The menus and graphics are actually quite impressive. Bold colours and lettering give you some idea of what we can expect from our TV broadcasts during the real Games. You will want to kill the music though, as it is a tad repetitive. Danny Boyle’s official music list for the Games is absent here.
The game modes are: Games, Events, and Party Mode, with online play available in events.
The Games mode lets you control a country of your choice through a series of days at the games. Each day you get to choose two events to attempt from a menu that’s laid out like TV listings. Actually a lot of the game feels like you’re watching a broadcast of the Games rather than playing a game, including tracking camera shots and commentary.
Each day’s sports have qualifying in the morning and finals in the afternoon. Depending on the sport (one-on-one vs. individual performance), if you fail qualifying in the morning, in the afternoon you will either be playing for bronze or sitting twiddling your thumbs. Do well and your athlete will be atop the podium waving flowers and listening to God Defend New Zealand (assuming you pick New Zealand).
Events mode gives you the chance to select a number of sports to play in a row from all of the available events. As you play through, medal counts are taken, but there is less of a cinematic feel. Don’t expect to even see a podium, let alone hear a national anthem. You can make “playlists” of events to play (you might love swimming, and create a list of only water-based sports) and then save them to play later. They do say that practice makes perfect...
Events mode also lets you play against (and with) friends. Team sports, like beach volleyball, can be played cooperatively, while some sports - like archery - are required to be played with another player.
Finally, Party mode lets you compete against friends in some of the more fun, less button-mashing events, while also adding a few more arcadey games like “Archery Blitz”, where two accurate shots in a row will actually perform a Robin Hood-style arrow split.
Swimming and rowing are very timing dependant and require you to pull the triggers in a constant motion. Go too slow and your athlete with be just having a leisurely swim; too fast and your elite athlete will be flailing like shark bait in the middle of the pool.
When my girlfriend and I first played this, she beat me by using the technique of pulling triggers as she rolled her shoulders like she was actually swimming. This makes me think that some of the events would be easier using motions controls on Xbox Kinect or Sony's Move.
The last few events play pretty much as you’d imagine, though do expect to curse at your beach volleyball partner (in single player mode) as the ball bounces off her head.
The athletes are customisable to a small degree, so you can create the actual New Zealand Olympic Squad if you want (though you can only make two athletes per event). And as there were no recognisable athletes (though I am not up on the latest kayaking news), if you want to row as Mahe Drysdale, you’ll have to make him. I understand that getting the licenses for the more famous athletes would be incredibly hard, but I would love to race against Usain Bolt (or at least tap A repeatedly from my couch while he ran.)
Not that realism seems to be high on the list of priorities for this game. While seeing New Zealand at the top of the medal table is something you’d play the game for, you may wonder why Norway is second on the table and why the US hadn’t won a single medal, let alone gold. The commentary team gives helpful tidbits during the game like “Eastern-European countries do well at this event”, before the list of qualifiers show Jamaicans, Chinese, and Australians. Perhaps it’s because there are only 30 countries to choose from, compared to the hundreds that will actually be at the Games.
Overall, a good game, but not one you’ll play for hours and hours (unless you want it as part of your exercise routine), and just tough enough that you’ll feel guilty for occupying the couch while our real athletes compete in London.