Nintendic visits the Wii Flat: hands on with Mario & Sonic Olympics in London - Updated! Exclusive event footage
On Friday this week, Nintendic was lucky enough to gather with SEGA and a select group of other videogaming websites for a sneaky peek and playtest of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games on the Nintendo Wii, a couple of weeks before its European launch. Within an inconspicuous ‘Wii Flat’ in the centre of London occurred much laughter, aching arms and the appearance of two very special guests (what do you mean you’ve guessed who they are already?!). Read on for Nintendic’s story of the day, impressions of the game and lots of snaps and videos to boot.
Much better than our ropey and pixelated videos of the occassion is this effort - exclusive content provided to Nintendic that sums up the event in four action-packed minutes. Gameplay, trailer snippets and opinion galore. Enjoy!
After an early start, a train to London and a short ride on the London Underground, we arrived just minutes from our destination. The invitation we’d been given to the event included an extremely sketchy map to a location that was very much tucked away amongst the hustle and bustle of the city. A silent man invited us in and ushered us up a single flight of stairs into the Wii Flat.
What greeted us was a poky corridor, with a bedroom at one end and a living room and adjacent kitchen at the other. After a few minutes of waiting for any late arrivals, a SEGA representative began a short background history and presentation concerning Sonic & Mario at the Olympics. Did you know that Beijing 2008 is the 24th modern Olympics and that approximately 9,000 Sonic the Hedgehog games are sold worldwide every single day?
“The best way to understand Sonic & Mario at the Olympic Games is to get interactive,” explained the rep. And so, with the help of a volunteer, we were guided through a selection of both track and field events - 100m dash, trampoline and archery. After that, it was our turn to get stuck in.
We managed to get hands on with a number of events in the living room, including hurdles, trampoline, triple jump, pole vault, 4×100m relay and the special Dream Events.
Hurdles involves shaking the Wii Remote and Nunchuck as if your life depended on it, with a quick tap of the B button to tell your character to leap as a hurdle approaches. The 4×100m relay is similar, although key to success is passing the baton over smoothly. Following an onscreen command, you must swing the Wii Remote upwards at the right moment in order to perform a smooth transition between runners.
Trampoline is a test of co-ordination more than anything else. After gaining some height by forcing the Wii Remote downwards as your character approaches the springy mat, a series of button prompts and Wii Remote twists appear onscreen. Players must enter the button presses as quickly as possible, before gesturing downwards to bounce up high once again. Brain frazzling stuff.
The triple jump incorporates the madness of sprinting with the need for a sense of rhythm. After belting up to the line, performing the hop, skip and eventual jump requires you to swing the Wii Remote, Nunchuck and Wii Remote again in three well-timed vertical movements. The better your timing, the more propulsion you gain.
Pole Vaulting was an interesting one. After drumming up crowd support by gesturing a clapping motion, first you must shake the Wii Remote and Nunchuck to gain a run up, then your speed is locked to allow you to concentrate on pole action - first with a well-timed downward gesture of the Wii Remote to anchor your pole correctly, followed by a further flurry of controller shaking in order to urge your character upwards over the bar. Getting the timing to plant your pole is tricky, but ever so satisfying when you nail it.
Out of all the events we played in the first part of our hands-on time, the Dream Event was easily the most tiring and disappointing. It involved a manic 400m sprint around a course plucked from the Sonic Universe, complete with speed-ups, special items, hurdles and other barriers. With 4 players racing at once and the ability to change lanes at will, it certainly got chaotic. However, worst of all (whether it was just our lack of practice) was the difficulty in successfully avoiding sinking sand, bunched up barriers and enemy blockades whilst continuing to concentrate on your running. It all got a bit messy, but you could argue that the ensuing madness of it all helped to make the whole experience more enjoyable multiplayer experience. Constant mistakes from all players meant that no one was ever too far in front, resulting in a tense and exciting finish.
After a short break to catch our breath and take stock of our poor, aching arms we were lead to the opposite end of the flat into the bedroom to experience a little more of what Sonic & Mario at the Olympic Games had to offer - notably swimming, skeet shooting and fencing.
During the swimming event, each player is assigned a different gesture (stroke) to repeat throughout, while you must remember to hold B to come up for air every few seconds. Breathing was occasionally a sensitive timing issue, but otherwise it was a neat little discipline. Interestingly, Sonic has never been able to swim, so he just pelts along the bottom of the pool complete with breathing apparatus.
Skeet shooting is one of the more difficult events we encountered. The size of your crosshair is determined first of all - a heart monitor and pulse is displayed and you must stop it with a press of the B button when your character is most still, between beats. After that, it’s a case of blasting away as many moving targets as possible with only a very limited amount of ammunition. More a case of determining the trajectory of a target rather than aiming for it directly, skeet shooting requires a sharp eye, steady hands and a quick aim.
Fencing turned out to be a close fought battle between everyone who played, much due to a lack of understanding of the controls, we assume. The matches we played ended up being a case of lunging after your opponent had attacked in an attempt to catch them off guard. Players can perform a variety of actions with their sword (including blocking an adversary’s attack to make them dizzy and defenceless), but we just didn’t have the time to get the grips with it.
Judging from the time we experienced with Sonic & Mario at the Olympics, it excels in a way similar to Wii Sports. At face value, the events and their controls seem shallow and basic, but a little while playing proves that there is more to them than initially meets the eye. Choosing the characters from Team Mario or Team Sonic best suited for each event is also crucial, depending on their skill, power speed - or a combination of all three.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games certainly isn’t a title you’re going to want to play alone. It thrives on the interaction and competition between multiple players and positively encourages groans, cheers and laughter from not just those who are playing, but also any spectators. Whether it’s the sight of Wario’s rotund exterior jiggling on the trampoline, Shadow the Hedghog’s complete disregard for the grandiose surroundings or the boastful soundbites from like likes of Bowser and Dr. Eggman, this momentous piece of software that brings together such a varied mixture of different, widely recognised characters, seemingly succeeds in line with the Wii’s primary objective - getting everybody involved and everyone having fun.
As you might expect, the graphics aren’t quite top notch (particularly the lacklustre crowd and the odd glitchy animation), but like so many other Wii titles, this rarely seems to matter.
After a competition and a prize giveaway, the day finished with a visit from two very special mascots who, we were told, were both suffering from “terrible headaches” (i.e. top heavy outfits with a high chance of either’s heads falling off). Sonic was completely blind it seemed – that or intoxicated given the continuous guidance he required to navigate the living room and find a seat. Naturally we couldn’t resist the opportunity to get our photo taken between a pair of videogaming legends and then it was time to leave the comfort of the Wii flat and back out into a busy London that was gearing up for rush hour.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympics, then… given the hype and pressure of such a delicate operation, it appears that SEGA has done a commendable job. Obviously we didn’t have time to plough through each of the 20 events in total (so there might’ve been some right duffers in there that we weren’t treated to) - oh, and single player really won’t be much cop, but as a title to get everyone up and playing at Christmas just as Wii Sports did last year, it’s just about borders on gold medal material.
For more photos of the event, visit SEGA Europe’s Flickr page.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games is out in North America now, and is released in Australia and Europe on November 22 and November 23 respectively.