"The Illegitimate Child of Mario Party, Mario Kart and Wii Sports"
To start this review, let's establish what exactly Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games is: a minigame suite. Yes, there are things that tie the game as a whole together, like the circuits and the emblems; but overall, the game is about the minigames, called events.
Each event parallels an Olympic event (with the exception of Skeet, which is just cool) and has relatively simple controls. There is no practice mode, only competition. All games support multiplayer, though only some support it concurrently (others allow the players to take turns).
Overall, the game feels like the illegitimate child of Mario Party, Mario Kart and Wii Sports. Like Mario Party, the large focus of the game is on small, simple-to-learn games loosely tied together by an overarching story. Like Mario Kart, larger competitions are formed by chaining smaller ones (events instead of races, in this case) together and awarding points based on placement in the event, then declaring the winner to be whoever earned the most points. And like Wii Sports, it's sports. No kidding.
98% of your game time is spent engaging in the events, so let's take a moment and rate each category. The categories below are the divisions of the events in the game itself.
The track events are all variations on the simple running motion, and thus become sufficiently repetitive before long. There are slight variations between events, though, that sufficiently differentiate the five events in the category - but in the end, these events all come down to an extremely monotonous task of seeing how quickly you can drum. Even more annoyingly, most of the events can be mastered in two or three tries, meaning it only takes a few minutes before you have no reason to play an event again.
The field events are slightly more entertaining than the track events, mostly because rather than executing a single action as fast as you can, many of the events involve mastering timing and balancing power. As a result, these games take sufficiently longer to master and are significantly easier to participate in over and over (whereas track events will destroy your arms after a few run-throughs). But while the events are harder to master, they still are not difficult at all; I personally set World Records in four of them in three tries.
The Gymnastics events both boil down to executing actions as quickly as you can. Unlike the Track and Field events, the balance here is impeccable: the actions are easy to pick up, but getting the higher scores is very challenging. The rounds last appropriate times for the most part, giving you adequate time to get into the round without becoming overly time consuming. The controls are very intuitive in both events, although the Vault has very little depth compared to the Trampoline.
This game harkens back to the original NES Duck Hunt game, and is quite a fitting rehash of the familiar concept. The shooting act on its own is very enjoyable - challenging enough to have replay value but easy enough to not be aggravating. The event expands on the classic mechanics in a number of excellent ways (such as varying crosshair size and multiple shooting angles), adding much-needed replay value to the familiar game.
This game involves the standard quick-reaction button pushing as well as full-motion controller movement, and combines the two with decent effectiveness. The event gets very repetitive very quickly, however, and does not take long at all to master.
Archery suffers from one of the most convoluted control schemes I have ever encountered in a video game. Incredibly poor feedback to the player's input means it is incredibly difficult to learn what actions correspond to what on-screen results, and the controls are overly sensitive to the point that even mastering the pre-firing controls does not result in the intended shot. To make matters worse, the CPU AI on this event is ridiculous - the player needs to basically hit the inner two rings every single time to even have a shot at placing better than last place. Overall, a total failure.
Aquatics really only differ from the Track events in what's displayed on the screen - in the end, both events involve doing as specific controller motion as fast as you can. Thus, aquatics suffers from the same repetitiveness that the track events do, and the events are longer so they're even harder on your arms. Aquatics' only benefits over its land-based partner are that different character utilize different swim strokes, so there's still some variation between runs through the events (if you switch characters).
This game is so deep and thorough that it could almost be spun off into a game on its own. The controls are complete: you control movement, parrying and jabbing. Unlike previous events, this game actually involves a strategy rather than simply doing the best you can at a single action. You can choose to play defensively or offensively, with varying effectiveness based on your opponent and your chosen character. Overall, an absolutely fantastic event.
Table Tennis: 4/10
Unfortunately, the table tennis event suffers from horrible mapping of the controls to the input. In some instances, the controls are over-sensitive - you'll find your character swinging when you were really just preparing for a backhand instead of a forehand, and then you won't be able to swing by the time the ball actually reaches you. Then, when you actually aim to swing a backhand, your character won't even respond unless you swing very, very deliberately. Additionally, the event takes around 10x longer to complete than the next longest event in the game (Fencing or Shooting) - while most events take a minute or two to complete max, the table tennis game can last as long as 15 minutes if both matches are close - far too long for a game that isn't enjoyable in the first place.
Dream Events: 10/10
I won't spoil what the dream events are, but they are as entertaining as any other event in the game. They're considerably deeper than the other events, all involving strategy and more controllers than simple a single motion or button press.
Overall, Fencing, Shooting and the Dream events basically carry this game. Without them, there'd be very little value in the game as a whole. But there's more to the game than just the events. Sure, if the events sucked, nothing else would be necessary; but since they don't (well, not all of them at least) let's analyze some other parts of the game.
The graphics aren't going to stun anyone with their realism (nor are they meant to), but they're definitely solid. There isn't even a hint of polygonal nature in anything, and the environments are expansive and thorough. The depictions of all the characters are extremely clean and complete, and the movements are incredibly dynamic. Graphically, a worthy member of the Mario franchise.
Visual Expression: 7/10
What's the difference between graphics and this? You can have the best graphics in the world, but if you can never see what's going on it won't help you. In this game, the expression is quite good, though there are moments when it becomes a bit confusing. In general, the camera remains excellently oriented and pointed to show the action; but there are some events that involve instant camera changes that definitely are a bit disorienting. One example is the Vault event, where the camera angle changes right before you hit the springboard, an action that needs careful timing. The Table Tennis event is also a bit annoying at times, as the camera changes right before the player needs to hit the ball. But beyond some of these isolated errors, the expression is quite good.
The sound in the game is not noticeable - 15 seconds after turning the game off, you likely won't remember a single sound effect used in the game, with the possible except of the excessively loud claps, and maybe some of the voice clips. For the most part, though, the sound doesn't get annoying either, although it gets very old hearing high pitched voices mutter the same monosyllabic expression 11 times in one Table Tennis match. For the rest of the game, though, the sound stays out of the way.
The music is like the sound in the game; when you turn off the game, you probably won't remember any of the music. That said, it also isn't annoyingly over-the-top like some Mario game music tends to be, although the trophy presentation music is a bit overdramatic.
By immensity, I mean how expansive and flexible the game is - namely, how much is there to do? Considering the game is really just 24 minigames they actually do a decent job of making the game more thorough. Circuits give reason to participate in events more than once, as well as give a bigger, more rewarding objective. The Missions, while mostly aggravating as all get-out, are at least something to do, and unlocking all the Emblems proves to be an adequate objective for those obsessed with fully completing a game. Overall, though, it still doesn't get around the fact that the game is 24 simple minigames.
This game's saving grace lies in its multiplayer functionality - even normally monotonous events are made substantially more enjoyable by competing against other humans rather than computers. Parents will love this considering some of the events, namely the running and swimming ones, really do require some substantial physical exertion.
Overall Gameplay: 5/10
We analyzed the gameplay of individual events above, but overall the events are 'easy to learn, easy to master'. None of the events' controls are all that difficult or complicated in themselves, and often the player can compete adequately the very first time through the event. The low rating for this category comes from how easy the events are to master. Of the first 12 events, I broke World Records on 8 of them on my second try; in my opinion, it should take longer to master an event.
Overall Presentation: 5/10
By overall presentation, I basically mean what's going on when you aren't playing - the transitions between events, between rounds of an event, before and after events, etc. Here is one of the places the game really drops the ball; oftentimes getting through to the event is far too difficult. I won't overanalyze, but a prominent example of this problem is that it takes far too long to compete in one event over and over. If, for example, you want to go through the 100m Dash multiple times, you select the event and run it once. Then you are given a replay, your individual results, the overall results, another replay, another reaction screen and then finally a menu to choose to do the event again. And then when you choose the event again, you go through the introductory screen, the lineup, your character's view and another character view before the race finally starts again. Overall, nearly 45 seconds pass from the end of one race to the beginning of the next. There's also the issue that switching events involves a load screen, the event select screen, the number of players screen, the character select screen and another load screen - even if you don't change anything but the event. Overall, oddly poorly executed in this area, an area where Nintendo usually excels.
Overall Rating: 5/10
Don't get me wrong, the game is entertaining... for about 3 days. Maybe. After three days you'll master most of the events and give up on the rest, given that the ones you haven't mastered are more aggravating than challenging. If you're a completionist, you'll spend another 3 or 4 days finishing all the Missions, but it'll be the end-goal, not the process, that you enjoy. The game simply has even less depth than Wii Sports (considering that Wii Sports had some advanced tactics, like spinning in tennis, that could be mastered), for a much greater price. It's worth renting once, then renting again 4 months later when you're bored on a rainy day - since even if you own it, it'll probably take a boring rainy day to get you to play it again. Overall, you simply won't play it often enough to have rental costs exceed the $50 cost to buy the game - although if you see it drop below $20 or $25, it may be worth the investment.
Given the narrowness of the overall gameplay, the relatively small number of events (and even smaller number of entertaining ones) and the various aggravating aspects of the game, I must give this game a slightly generous 5/10 rating.
Reviewer's Score: 5/10