Still, the Dream Events are highly entertaining. Which begs the question, why aren't they accessible the moment you boot up the game? Why are they only available once you've played through a load of circuit challenges? These are groups of three or four events (you can't choose which ones, so if you're rubbish at the javelin or hate hurdles it's tough luck) where you compete against all the other characters. Finish in the top three and you'll unlock stuff, perhaps a Dream Event, or perhaps a regular event, such as the high jump, which was inexplicably inaccessible to begin with.
If ever a game was made for multiplayer it's Mario & Sonic. So why aren't all the events available in multiplayer from the start? Even worse, you only win stuff for completing circuit challenges if you're playing solo. You can play through them with a partner if you want, but you won't get any rewards for your efforts. So to get access all the content of the game you've inevitably purchased with multiplayer in mind, you have to unlock them in single player mode.
True, you can do this in under four hours. But that's four hours of standing alone in your living room shaking small white things at the television and getting sore arms. Some of the events are quite tricky and the level of difficulty goes up as you advance. It's hard to believe that many eight-year-olds will have the skills and/or patience to play through all the challenges and unlock all the games.
Keeping it real
That's the biggest problem with Mario & Sonic, but there are other nits to pick. The visual style of the game isn't quite appealing enough. As it's endorsed by the Olympic Committee the event venues are based on the actual stadia, but blue hedgehogs and talking mushrooms look wrong in real-world environments. Many are just plain ugly; it would have been better to abandon any pretence of realism and create a new kind of fantastical game world based on Sonic and Mario's home towns. Similarly, there's something fundamentally wrong about seeing Princess Peach or Luigi holding a gun, even if it is for skeet shooting. It's like seeing Darth Vader in Threshers. Buying Pimms.
At least the characters are well-rendered and there are some great animations. It's great to watch Dr. Robotnik (or "Dr. Eggman" as he's blasphemously titled) cross the finishing line with his John Cleese-style silly run. There are some odd additions and omissions - what's the stupid crocodile from Sonic Heroes doing here, and where is Donkey Kong? You can always import your Mii, a nice option to have if you've ever wondered what a cartoon version of you would look like fencing Bowser.
Extras include a selection of mini-mini-games, simple affairs which involve things like counting the number of Koopas on screen or using the remote to flick balls around. They're only for one player and they're dull. Complete them and you'll be rewarded with tedious trivia about the Olympic Games. For example, did you know that the Olympic flag is raised during the opening ceremony of the Olympic games, and flies for the duration of the games, and is lowered at the closing ceremony? Chances are you could have guessed this without having to spend four minutes counting koopas.
Medals of honour
Mario & Sonic's biggest flaw, however, is undoubtedly the unlocking nonsense. Challenge and reward is, of course, a key part of what makes games enjoyable. But with a game so obviously suited to multiplayer, why not allow players to share the experience?
Perhaps because one player could deliberately perform badly to boost the other's progress, thereby "cheating". However, anyone paying GBP 40 for a game should have the right to cheat if it's the quickest way to access all the content. Who cares if you cheat anyway? Are SEGA and Nintendo going to start going round people's houses to conduct random drug tests?
Anyway. There are plenty of enjoyable mini-games here and they're nicely varied. There are some stinkers but that's to be expected. Most of the mini-games are well-balanced, and some have enough depth to make you keep playing again and again. Many of them will make you laugh out loud. It's a shame you can't play all of them without having to complete hours of single-player challenges. But if you're willing to put the hours in, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games is a highly entertaining party game.