Platforms: Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS - Nintendo Wii version reviewed.
I know - it's a disappointment. Like me you were probably hoping that the first meeting between the two biggest heroes in video-gaming history would be more like Mario & Sonic at War with Rocket Launchers. Or at least Mario & Sonic at The Pub, Eight Pints Down and in an Aggressive Mood with Pool Cues. Instead we get this: a new sports-themed Wii party game with Olympic trappings and enough Beijing 2008 branding to completely overpower anything Sega or Nintendo have on screen. Weren't Sonic and Mario big enough to carry a game on their own?
Still, I suspect that this one is aimed squarely at those who bought a Wii last Christmas and are looking for something to replace the excellent Wii Sports. The popularity of Wii Sports - and so arguably the Wii itself - hinged on the fact that playing simple sports games using controls that roughly mimicked the real thing was a lot of fun, and that watching them played by little characters who looked like cartoon versions of yourself, your friends and your family was even more so. Sensibly, Sega hasn't departed too far from this formula. Of course, you can play through the various events and championship ‘circuits' as characters from the various Sonic and Mario games, and the line-up is sensibly divided into groups with various speed or power advantages. However, while playing as Sonic, Yoshi or Bowser is undoubtedly fun, I suspect more people will choose to play their own Mii. After all, who doesn't want to see themselves beating Bowser in the 100m or thrashing Tails at Table Tennis).
Presentation-wise, we're talking fairly bog-standard Wii stuff. Neither Sonic nor Mario nor the rest of the cast or the stadium backgrounds seem to have got as much attention as you might have hoped for having seen Super Mario Galaxy or Sonic and the Secret Rings, but it's pleasant enough in the traditional Wii Sports clean style. The music is OK, the sound effects adequate and the game doesn't overdo the cut-scenes or the event introductions. There's a sense of Olympic drama, but Sega clearly understood that what mattered here was the meat of the game: the events.
And typically, they're a slightly mixed bag. You're allowed to play events individually, but to unlock the full selection you have to play through three, four or five events in a preset circuit. Winning a medal in the circuit opens up additional circuits and also additional events. The events, meanwhile, come in Athletics (Track), Athletics (Field), Acquatics, Gymnastics, Shooting, Archery, Fencing, Table-Tennis, Rowing and Dream Event varieties. There's a lot of variety on offer, but not all the events work quite as well as they possibly should. The track and acquatic events, for instance, are fine but a bit repetitive, depending on alternate high-speed pumping of the nunchuk and remote with occasional presses of the B button to take a breath, leap a hurdle or start your next racer going in the relay.