Remember Going for Gold? For our younger readers, and those who have never been unemployed or students, it was a BBC1 quiz show presented by Henry "What am I" Kelly. Contestants from all over Europe competed to answer general knowledge questions before the other competitors. Everyone was trying, trying to do the best that they could, but the British contestants had the considerable advantage of all the questions being in English.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympics for Wii was always going to have a similarly significant advantage over the DS version. We found it highly enjoyable as a party game; fun for all the family on Sunday afternoon, or all the urban family in the early hours of Sunday morning when the neighbours have threatened to call the police if the SingStar continues and you really want to go to bed but two of your guests have had too many disco biscuits and are refusing to leave or keep still.
Apart from having an entirely different control system, a rejigged multiplayer mode and not being as good, M&S DS is pretty much the same game. You play as one of 16 characters from the worlds of Mario and Sonic. In theory their skill-sets vary - some are strong, some are speedy and so on. But in practice (and as in the Wii game) it's hard to notice a great deal of difference between them.
The heat is on, the time is right
There are 16 Olympic sports. Exclusive to the DS version are 10m Platform Diving and Cycling, neither of which are any more exciting than any of the Wii events. There are also five exclusive Dream Events - Canoeing, Boxing, Basketball, Long Jump and Skeet Shooting. Again, nothing stands out.
The visuals in the DS game are the same style as those in the Wii version and look almost as good. The same criticisms, therefore, apply. The contrast between the familiar, brightly coloured cartoon characters and sharp steel girders of the stadia they're plonked in can be jarring. And Princess Peach holding a gun is still weird.
It's the control system where the DS is at a disadvantage, obviously. Instead of pumping your arms up and down to run, you rub the stylus left and right. Instead of aiming the Wii remote like a bow and arrow, you use the stylus to move a cursor around, and so on. Some of the DS games don't even involve the touch-screen; in Table Tennis, for example, you just press buttons.
This means you feel less physically involved with the gameplay and events are less enjoyable. They make for pleasant enough mini-games but none is truly addictive. They're all easy to master within a few attempts. This is fortunate as you have to complete events in single-player to unlock them for multiplayer. The same rule applied in the Wii version, much to our disgruntlement, but at least it was worth the effort; multiplayer Mario & Sonic DS just isn't that much fun.
I'll pass please, Henry
Obviously, there's no laughing at other players waggling their arms or collapsing breathlessly on the sofa. Watching someone move a small stick across a tiny screen is never hilarious. It's hard to see what SEGA and Nintendo could have done to make up for this.
In many of the events you can't even see what the other players are doing. Take Skeet Shooting, for example. In the Wii version you take it in turns. While you're waiting, you can see how the other players perform and what you've got to beat. In the DS version, you play at the same time on your separate screens. You only know what the other player has scored when it's displayed at the end of the round. Instead of shouting abuse at your opponent, you find yourself quietly asking, "Have you finished your go yet?"
It's the same story for events like trampolining and archery. You can see your opponents during races, fencing matches and so on, but the same basic problem exists - being best at moving a stick around isn't as visually or physically satisfying as being best at aiming or waggling your arms. As stupid as feeling satisfied by either might be.
You also can't compete via Wi-Fi Connection, which seems like a missed opportunity. It is possible to upload and download high scores for each event, but this is a tedious process and unlikely to appeal to anyone over nine.
Even if there were no Wii version to compare, Mario & Sonic DS wouldn't be worth a recommendation. The game isn't terrible; it's visually slick, there's a decent variety of events and they're entertaining to play through the first few times. But there's nothing special about it and no long-term value. Going for Gold fans will recall that despite their disadvantage, the non-English-speaking contestants always beat the British ones. Up against the Wii version, however, M&S DS will forever be playing catch-up.
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