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Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games GamesCom 2009 Preview

The second Mario & Sonic game follows the same approach as the original: a sports game revolving around the use of different control methods to participate in various events at the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver 2010. This Mario & Sonic title boasts all the official arenas, locations and events of the 2010 Winter Games, but warmly forgoes all other realism with a showcase of the Mario and Sonic characters and visual chic.

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games

All of the characters from the first Mario & Sonic game return, but with the addition of Donkey Kong and Metal Sonic, and officially announced at GamesCom, Little Bowser and Silver the Hedgehog. The biggest new gameplay addition to Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games is the optional support of the Wii Balance Board, which happily opens up new potential methods of playing. The player can also use their Mii's in the game and there will be a new Festival Mode, whereby the entire Olympic Games is played from start to finish. 

Demonstrated to us first was the downhill Skeleton event. Here the Wii Balance Board was used to show how balance and weight can be used to move the Skeleton board from left and right, with the aim being to match up the perfect and thus fastest line down the track. It was also shown how the Balance Board can be used in whatever way the player desires. In this case the presenter first sat on the board, and then lied down in a more realistic position. This control method looked well implemented and provides a unique level of realism to the experience despite the graphical style.

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games

The Wii Balance Board was then used in the Half-Pipe event, where the player directs their weight to generate air and then pull-off tricks. This looked a little difficult to get the hang of and performing tricks looked like a dance mat game, however again this seemed to give the player a greater level of interactivity which is going to be fun to try in a party scenario.

This being a Mario & Sonic title means there are the usual distinct cartoony graphics style and different gameplay elements. For starters, the various characters have different qualities like in Mario Kart, so essentially Donkey Kong is big and strong but lacks speed. There are also a number of additional Dream Events, which are normal Olympic sports, such as Skiing or Snowboard races, but with an extra layer of special Mario and Sonic bonuses thrown into the mix. For example, there are box power-ups which can be used in the same way as Mario Kart, whilst picking up Sonic rings will give the player access to a special ability, for example a speed boost for Sonic.

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games

A 4 vs 4 snowball fight was the last event shown to us, after which I played a game of Mario & Sonic hockey. While both showed how well the Wii motion sensor controller was adapted to all shapes and forms of events, there seemed to be less in-depth gameplay to keep the player hooked and more focus on quantity. The snowball fight mainly involved making a throwing motion with the Wii remote for one minute to score points, while the hockey match I played involved only simple gameplay mechanics. At least the two Dream Events I played, Skiing and Snowboarding, showed more promise of being a fun interactive gameplay experience, but learning the different controls for each event could lead to problems.

While there is still some fine tuning and optimising to do, it is pretty clear that the Mario & Sonic formula will once again succeed in being a massive commercial success. Whether or not the game will address the shallow gameplay criticisms of the original remains to be seen, but it appeared that the controls will be interactive and unique while remaining fairly easy to grasp. The multiplayer and party element of the game will once again be where most fun is to be had, but I still generally had a good laugh whilst playing solo. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games will also be making an appearance on the Nintendo DS, though it will instead focus on an Adventure Tour mode which adds a single player RPG element to the game. Both versions are to be released on October 16th 2009.

POBmaestro | 22nd August, 2009

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