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DS Fanboy Review: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games

Over the Christmas period, yours truly spent a genuinely exhausting evening drinking with three friends, a Wii, and Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games. The drink flowed freely that night, and we were all fairly inebriated by the time we hit the sack, happy but tired.

The next morning, we were feeling less jolly.

It wasn't just the hangovers. Thanks to our exertions in Mario & Sonic, shoulders ached, arms were leaden, and simply putting a shirt on was a painful experience. Despite this, we all agreed we'd do it again. And we did. And yes, it still hurt the following morning. Why am I telling you this? Simple: because it underlines just what a fantastic social experience the Wii version of Mario & Sonic can be. Break the game down in the cold light of day, and it becomes easy to nitpick at its flaws. It's far from perfect. Yet it is immensely fun with friends. It's worth the pain, you could say.

And the DS version? Well ... not so much. In fact, as a social experience, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games on the DS falls a long, long way short of its bigger, stronger Wii brother.

Comparisons between the two versions are inevitable. Despite the absurd number of trinkets that can be collected in the single-player mode of each -- scores of medals, trophies, emblems, and crowns -- neither version is at its best when played alone. Neither is meant to be played alone. These kind of games thrive on banter, on poking fun at your friends, and on getting ribbed yourself when you lose. With this in mind, I spent a significant portion of the last fortnight playing the DS version against one or two friends (who I should thank for their patience). The verdict? It wasn't terribly fun.

I suspect the game itself isn't entirely at fault. Moreover, this is a hardware issue. The DS isn't suited to this kind of frenetic social gaming, while the Wii is wonderfully suited to it. Watching a friend's face turn a curious shade of red as they pump their arms furiously to win an on-screen sprint between a plumber and a hedgehog is funny.

When you play against other friends on the DS, with each of you focusing on his or her own private touchscreen, a lot of the fun simply evaporates. There's none of the silly arm-waving or ridiculous shouting that comes with the Wii version (and as a result, there's noticeably less joshing and jeering). If anything, this is a worrying sign for games to come, such as Konami's New International Track & Field.

That's not to say many of the activities aren't well-implemented. There's a pleasing amount of variety on offer in the individual events, and only a few duds along the way. The running events seem to come down to who has the strongest wrists (particularly the 100-meter sprint, which demands you rub your touchscreen as quickly as possible for ten seconds), but success in other events relies far more on timing (the long jump, javelin, cycling) and skill (shooting, archery, table tennis). Meanwhile, the Dream Events provide a welcome twist on traditional events, featuring as they do moving basketball hoops, table tennis power shots, collectible coins, and miraculous jumps.

Elsewhere, the game uses the DS's unique feature-set in inventive ways, such as letting you psyche up the crowd by clapping into your microphone before you start your run-up to the long jump. The odd event is a flat-out failure -- hello, fencing -- but these are few and far between.

Admirably, few changes have been made from the Wii version, save for the reduced number of participants in some events (where the Wii had eight, the DS has four). That said, this title is easily as polished as any of EA's annual sports franchises. The character models and animation display some of the best 3D work yet on the DS, while the menus are attractive and sensibly laid out.

However, while parts of the game are worthy of praise, it doesn't change the fact that multiplayer is Mario & Sonic's raison d'etre. We've criticized the omission of online play in our previous coverage of the game, and it feels no less silly or inexplicable now (the online leaderboards are a meager consolation). Dafter still, it's not possible to unlock events when playing against friends. Instead, we're expected to slog our way through the game's tiresome single-player mode, facing off against predictable, dull AI opponents.

Ultimately, the lack of an engaging, atmospheric multiplayer mode undermines Mario & Sonic on the DS. If you come to the game without having experienced the Wii version, you may extract more enjoyment from the game than I did, but those who have already waved their arms about like loons in front of the TV with friends in the Wii game are advised to look elsewhere.

Final score: 6/10

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