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Mario & Sonic at the London Olympic Games Review

Old medallist.

If there's been a sillier silly-season date for major new releases than 18th November 2011, I can't recall it. But, suicidal congestion stupidity aside, it does offer a fascinating snapshot of Nintendo today.

On 3DS, Super Mario 3D Land arrives, a flagship title the console is in dire need of, seven months into an unexpectedly sluggish debut year. Meanwhile, Wii receives updates to two of its most successful series: one, a towering 25-year veteran, the other a 20-million-selling mascot menagerie.

The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword is seen as the final, definitive realisation of Nintendo's motion-controlled Wii dream, the irony being it's taken until the system is ready for the knacker's yard for faith in the MotionPlus add-on to be justified in a gamers' game.

Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games, on the other hand, perfectly symbolises the type of gaming that has come to typify the Wii experience over the past five years: simple, accessible, family-oriented, bite-sized gaming.

After the massive success of previous Summer and Winter Games instalments, a London tie-in was never in doubt. But while the chirpy, charming, inclusive formula that's provided so much fun before has been preserved (including no support for MotionPlus), Mario & Sonic's third outing ultimately lacks the creative stamina to make it into the medals.

London Party is the game's Mario Party-esque mode, but its nicer ideas are undermined by confused implementation.

That was always going to be the case to an extent, of course. Following the first game with a winter sports spin-off made the game feel fresh by definition. Here, for obvious reasons, we see the return of the majority of events from the four-year-old original, with a smaller number of new additions like "Soccer" (ugh), Badminton, Beach Volleyball, Equestrian, Canoeing, Synchronised Swimming and the fantastically camp Rhythmic Ribbon.

These are, as you might expect, a mixed bag. Horse-riding plays out like a zig-zagging hurdles race, frantically waggling to pick up pace and pressing a button to clear fences . The only other thing to worry about is balance - tilt into corners if you don't want to end up on your arse. It's not a highlight.

Badminton plays like table tennis with shuttlecocks, would you believe, with the limited control of movement that implies. And canoeing is pretty dull in anything other than co-op - but add in friends or family and there's a sudden flash of hilarious brilliance as you all "row" in tandem with the Wii remote.

Similarly, football and beach volleyball are better than you'd expect in multiplayer. While hardly FIFA lite, it's fun to get Sonic to kick chunks out of Mario, while powered-up shots fly in from all over the place.

The CPU offers human opposition a stiff challenge in volleyball (difficulty, I should point out, is all over the place throughout), with just enough depth to the controls to keep you engrossed for multiple plays. Of the 'straight' events, it's the one I found most engaging.

While there are new events, like Equestrian, Mario & Sonic's London outing is unavoidably similar to the 2007 original.

The mechanics of Rhythmic Ribbon, meanwhile, are simplistic in the extreme, but it's all done with such irresistible silliness that only the bitterest soul could fail to raise a smile at Dr. Robotnik mincing around the mat like a fat Billy Elliot.

And that's a great example of what the series has always done so well. It's a fundamentally inclusive experience, catering for all abilities, ages and controller options. If you're limited in nunchuks or your kids are too young to deal with a controller in both hands, every event can be played with the remote alone.

Some events still err towards fiddly over-complication, but the sheer simplicity of others means that a child (or clueless parent) can waggle the controller haphazardly and still receive a rewarding response on-screen. Which, history may conclude, was the true achievement of Wii.

What made earlier Mario & Sonic titles stand out from the crowd were the Dream events, fantastical twists on Olympic sports, freed from the IOC rule book and released into the video game wild.

Sadly, it's here where the series' creative decline is most evident. A feature that once housed the real highlights now plays host to a flimsy roll call of half-formed ideas and missed opportunities.

Of the nine included (all, sensibly for once, unlocked from the off), the frenzied button-matching of Dream Trampoline and chaotic teamwork of Dream Rafting raise themselves above the general mediocrity, whilst others feel too wonky and incoherent to be genuinely enjoyable.

One of the best new multiplayer events is Canoeing. Sit four people in a line and row in perfect harmony for maximum hilarity.

Elsewhere, the well-realised Festival mode of Winter Olympic Games has been ditched in favour of London Party. Playing on the setting, this works like a dumbed-down Mario Party, your "board" being a top-down 3D mini-recreation of central London.

The aim is to fill up your sticker album before your competitors, with stickers earned by winning challenges as you go. These can be one-off events taken from the main game, or simple bonus rounds, like grabbing coins in Hyde Park.

Speaking of which, while you'll notice the obvious landmarks like the London Eye and Big Ben, London in the game is so heavily stylised and 'tooned-up it could be anywhere. Either way, it's easy on the eye, bold and beaming with primary-coloured cheeriness.

As an attempt to give weight to the package, London Party feels undercooked. And it can also be cruelly unfair. Try explaining to a child why, having been on the verge of a crushing victory after a 90-minute match, an opponent was arbitrarily allowed to steal half his stickers and win the game in a single move. (Yes, I'm still upset).

A series that has, deservedly, proved one of the party favourites of the Wii era is running out of fresh ideas.

As before, the full cast of Sonic and Mario favourites are available as playable characters, split into four skill groups, with there's the option to use your Mii (and dress them up with several wardrobe-loads of unlockable clothing). Us nerds are treated once more to music tracks from classic games, which can be playlisted for specific events.

The reward structure, on the whole, is simple but well organised, delivering a steady sense of progress, and there's further encouragement from mail the game sends you proffering items and advice.

In short, Mario & Sonic's London outing is much like their Beijing sojourn of late 2007. It'll keep younger children in particular amused and entertained over Christmas, and it's a safe bet for festive family fun if you have enough controllers to go around.

But, rather like the console it's made for, it's getting on a bit. And while Zelda defies old age with every vigorous thrust of Link's MotionPlus-enabled sword, Mario & Sonic's best years are behind it.

6 / 10