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Just because Nintendo think that doing Wii-Sports 2 would be too predictable, doesn't mean that the public demand for such a title has subsided. To that end there are a number of developers stepping up with their offerings that look to combine motion controls with various sporting genres. We have had EA's Playground that took a simplified kid friendly approach and then there is the upcoming Sport Island from Hudsonsoft and Konami. But so far no one has even come close to putting the Wii-mote and Nun-chuck through their paces like Nintendo's packed-in sports title.
Hope however is at hand, because today we have in hand a Nintendo and Sega collaboration that provides umpteen sporting events each with plenty of waggle: Mario and Sonic at the Olympics. What could be better than a combination of those Track and Field arcade days of yore and some Wii motion control all topped off with a plethora of franchise protagonists from the big S and N? If you are prepared to swallow your hard-core gaming pride and go with the saccharin visuals then no doubt the bout of preview videos have had your mouth watering for that Olympic goodness.
The game is, as you would expect, themed around a variety of Olympic events. All the favourites are there along with some new comers. There is pretty much something for everyone. The games provide a wide variety of disciplines: aquatics, archery, athletics, fencing, gymnastics, rowing, shooting and table tennis. The different events each make unique use of the Wii's controllers and have their own tricks. As we will unpack below, some provide more depth than others, but regardless they all provide bucket loads of frantic party game fun.
At some level, it seems that there has been a decision not to go head-to-head with Wii-Sports; as evidenced by the absence of Boxing or Tennis from the sporting line up. This is possibly for the best as the majority of the games revolve around a well timed waggle rather than the more nuanced on-to-one movement controls perfected by Wii-Sports. Because of this, the majority of the games feel more mini-game-ish than other games. Once you have figured out how to achieve the different moves it is simply a matter of getting your timing right to ensure a world record beating time.
The majority of the games revolve around a well timed waggle rather than the more nuanced on-to-one movement controls perfected by Wii-Sports.
That is not to say that some events, such as swimming, running or trampolining aren't fun. With four friends competing they offer plenty of frantic entertainment. In fact many happy evenings were past in PlayTM towers as we battled for supremacy in the butterfly or crawl. The snag is rather than these games simply lack the depth and longevity that so surprised gamers in Wii-sports.
Other events have invested more heavily in the use of the Wii's tricksy controllers. These mostly stand head and shoulder above the rest and prove that the Wii really does substantial development time for its controls to really pay off. Long jump for example, requires you to pull off a proportional jump motion that must be both well timed and weighted. The result is an event that really takes time to perfect and feels much closer to the real life sport. The archery is also exactly, using the Wii-mote's pointing ability to great effect. The added requirement to steady your nerve and stop a heart beat at just the right point before hand is inspired. Get it wrong and you only have a tiny pea shooter to aim with, get it bang on and you have a lovely big shot gun with which to shoot (not literally of course).
Graphically, things are pretty slick and have enough panache to carry the game along. It's always a treat to roll out your hand crafted Mii's and see them in action. Sometimes the camera seems to favour the lead player rather than those behind, where the reverse would have been better, but this is not enough to cause too many problems. The sound is also suitably Olympian with lots of trumpets and orchestral instruments adding a sense of occasion to even the minor events.
A low point for the game is some of the menu and selection structure. The party play screens for example: once you have spent five minutes getting the right Mii's selected for each player, you find that to change event you have to do the same thing all over again. This simple missing feature (of being able to take your party to different events) will greatly reduced the number of hours the game will be played, not to mention raising the host's frustration levels to boiling point.
It was also disappointing not to find an online mode. This must-have feature for any Wii-Sports beater seems to elude so many developers, but you would have thought Nintendo's involvement could have helped provide a title to bolster their flagging online offering. As it stands you are limited to four player head to head matches. Not too shabby, but an online mode would have made the game really sing. Failing that online leaderboards, but alas neither of these features made the cut.
Overall we have to conclude that this is more of a distraction until a proper Wii-Sports game appears on the scene. There just isn't enough substance here to keep the committed player coming back for more. It is another game that should be popped in the 'when we have guests over' pile rather than the 'I'll still be playing this next year' sports stack. So again we turn our attention to the horizon and hope that the next contender fares a little better. Come on Sports Island Wii, come on Sports Island Wii (doesn't quite have the same ring as come on England). Fingers crossed then it has more luck with the medals than we do.
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