Nintendo and Sega have teamed up once again to offer fans another take on Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games to coincide with the 2014 event in Sochi, Russia. The new game, lengthily and appropriately titled Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, takes one of the the greatest rivalries in video game history and throws in prominent characters from both universes into all kinds of different games based on the events featured in the Winter Olympics.
Consumers who picked up the original title on Wii will be familiar with the basic layout of the game, featuring a combination of various Olympic sports and original sports. While all of that still makes up the base of the Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, there are a lot of enhancements and improvements that are only possible on the significantly more powerful Wii U. That said, there's a lot left to be desired in the final product and anyone playing solo will find very few redeeming factors.
There are a total of 18 different events to be found in Sochi 2014, and they're all largely based on those that can found in the actual Olympic Winter Games, with a handful of fictional events added to keep the title interesting. In terms of real-world sports, fans of the actual Winter Games will find plenty of trademark sports such as hockey, curling, figure skating, and more to keep themselves entertained, but they all range in terms of quality. Meanwhile, 'Dream Events' — fictional sports that have been included to keep the zaniness of both the Mario and Sonic franchises intact — offer a sillier approach to the action.
As has been the case for past Mario & Sonic games, there are some events that are a lot of fun to play, while others fail to impress or remain engaging. One of the most engaging games to be found is hockey, and it only gets better when more friends join in on the fun. That said, there are a few abysmal romps as well, specifically bobsleigh and speed skating. Both inclusions are necessary but their implementations are mind-numbingly boring and relatively unchallenging. Speed Skating for example, simply requires waggling the Wii Remote Plus back and forth, and the simplicity of this makes the event feel unimportant.
The quality of certain games aside, there is a career mode of sorts for players hoping to participate in a medley of assorted sports. This option, titled 'Legends Showdown', combines stars from both the Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario franchises into teams of four and then pits them against shadow versions of themselves. Once enough shadow characters have been defeated, a "legend" will arrive in the form of a character that isn't playable in Sochi 2014. There's no story to be found in this mode, which wears down on the novelty of the crossover, but the 18 events stir up enough interest to make the mode at least worth checking out — all with the exception of curling, which poses an almost ludicrous level of challenge.
Players who manage to do exceptionally well can earn themselves a spiffy 'A+' ranking, which then in-turn will unlock an outfit for their very own Mii character. Outfits that are unlocked can be worn be Miis in-game, but the real highlight is the music that can be unlocked. Classic tunes from both brands can be earned and played during events, allowing users to have a little more choice in the customization of each Olympic event. A lack of additional content in the form of hidden characters is felt though - which is a shame since character models for additional participants are present within Mario & Sonic.
While unlockable content, despite being as minor as it is, adds replay value to the single player focused 'Legends Showdown', the biggest draw for the series has always been multiplayer and the latest iteration is no exception. Local multiplayer allows gamers to jump in with up to three friends, but for the first time in franchise history those who don't have a house full of people can hop into Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games's online mode. The online functionality surprisingly holds up well, but there isn't a stellar selection of online-compatible events.
There are only four games to choose from in the 'Worldwide VS' (online play) menu out of the 18 present within the game, and the glaring omissions of the title's best sports (with emphasis on hockey) makes for a very disappointing time. Sega did do one thing right however, by allowing users to compete for their nation of residence against others from all over the world. Securing points will move each players respective nation up in the global ranks, giving users a reason to try to their best. Players are also able to compete against scores set by others from across the world — even going so far as to allow faux athletes to download ghost times from other users.
Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games does manage to present a few enjoyable moments, but the game falls far short of being a must-have for Wii U owners. Players looking for a leisure and enjoyable, albeit flawed, multiplayer game will find it within this Sega/Nintendo crossover, but there's just not enough content to keep gamers engaged. Overall, the online features and local multiplayer stand out as a step in the right direction for the series, but like the overall product, falls short of earning a spot on the podium.
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