There are sad schoolyard bets about childhood heroes, and then there are sad schoolyard bets about childhood heroes. Two years ago, Sega inched Mario and Sonic’s rivalry from Tom and Jerry levels of animosity to Tom-and-Jerry-with-bowties levels of friendly competition in Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games. The title let gamers determine who would prevail in a round of Summer Olympics events like archery, fencing, and high jumping. But the world wasn’t satisfied: We demand to know whether plumbers or small spiny mammals are superior at ice hockey and ski jumping. And we demand it now—a full five months before the non-videogame Winter Olympics kick off in Vancouver. In short: Olympic fever dictates Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Winter Games.
Joining Mario and Sonic again are plenty of characters from their respective worlds (including, shockingly, Donkey Kong, who was famously disqualified for doping in 2008), but they’re bringing with them the core problem that dogged the game’s predecessor: The unevenness of the events themselves. Since using the nunchuk controller to just skate forward would make the competition dull, Winter Games leans heavily on shoulder-straining Wii-mote wagging—ice skating, for instance, is accomplished by convulsing your arm as if it had just been shut in a car door. (The balance-board option on some events doesn’t fare much better.) And yet, for every irritating event like speed skating or alpine skiing, there are surprisingly captivating ones, like curling (shuffleboard on ice, basically) and figure skating (which here involves triple salchows over goombas). But too many of the 27 events fall into the annoying pile, where the thrill of snowboarding is reduced to trying really hard to keep your Wii-mote level, and tilting your wrist slightly to steer.
Winter Games comes alive most effectively in Dream Events, where it breaks free from the Olympics as they exist in real life. These are Olympics events run through a zany Mario Kart filter: For instance, dream bobsleigh lets you take the gravity-powered sled on a winding track bearing a strong resemblance to the Doctor Who intro, while collecting power-ups and coins, and avoiding fireballs. These events would truly be stellar were they not marred by the occasional slow-down. But that, at its heart, is the other main problem with Winter Games: So much of what’s here has been done before in other games, and better, faster, and stronger.