Eternally friendly rivals Mario and Sonic are at it again, this time in Mario and Sonic Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014, the latest in this Olympic-themed crossover series. Now, the Wii U's predecessor, the Wii, was notorious for having too many games that were really just a collection of half-baked minigames. Sometimes, however, these collections worked and managed to highlight everything unique about the motion-controlled system.
Winter Olympics 2014 offers several gameplay modes for players to choose from. There's single match, which, as you might expect, allows you to select individual activities. Medley Mania allows you to select from a series of pre-selected queue of events, or customize your own queue to let you go from event to event without having to waste time with the menus. If you're looking to play with your friends, Medley Mania and Single Match are the ways you'll want to go. Legends Showdown is Winter Olympics 2014's equivalent of a story mode; it's fluffy, it has some nice cutscenes, but ultimately it's so slow you're unlikely to want to finish it. Action and Answer Tour provides some nice variation on the standard gameplay, mixing in intuitive pop quizzes into certain sports. The questions tend to be pretty easy, but the variety is still nice. There's also an online mode -- a necessary inclusion in any modern multiplayer title -- but you're limited to certain activities online, which feels like a strange choice.
The real star of Winter Olympics 2014 are the Olympics sports themselves. After selecting from one of the many Sonic and/or Mario characters available, including a few of the more esoteric characters like Vector the Crocodile, you'll jump into the action. There are quite a few events for you to choose from, and they range from being decently fun to absolutely dreadful. Alpine skiing feels sluggish and bizarre, and the motion controls aren't particularly intuitive. Speed skating is more of a chore/exercise than a game. Ski jumping provides a pretty good time, though it does feel a tad on the random side.
If you've got friends to play with, pairs figure skating will bring on the laughs, as players have to swing their arms in tandem, hold hands via the wiimote, and dance around each other like total goons. One mark against pairs skating, though, is that the pairs must be comprised of a male and female character, which severely limits selection. Why can't we pair up Robotnik with Sonic the Hedgehog? Perhaps it'd just be too awesome, that's why. Regardless, single skating lacks the manic fun of pairs skating, and is best avoided if you have the extra people with you.
One of the highlights of Winter Olympics 2014 would be Bobsleigh racing, an event competed either solo, or as a team. You'll use the Wii U gamepad as a first-person view of the action, tilting it left and right to adjust your sleigh's slide in order to maximize your speed. Bobsleigh racing really takes advantage of the Wii U's unusual technological powers, enhancing the race with the feel of turning your sleigh, and the first-person view brings some awesome intensity once you get your momentum going. Both snowboarding and the Biathlon fall firmly in the middle range, fun-wise; they're neither impressive, nor terrible. Hockey, on the other hand, has some surprising depth to it. It's no Starcraft, or even Mario Strikers Charged, but it's the most pleasingly complex of all the games, and makes for a great time when played against friends. Finally, much like real curling, curling here is a terrible, unfun, and stupid event that barely even feels like a sport.
Controls are a huge issue with Winter Olympics 2014; some games use the motion controls in smart ways that enhance the experience and make you really feel like you're playing the sport. Others, however, feel like busywork that would have been better served with buttons instead of forcing you to swing your hands around. Aesthetically, Winter Olympics 2014 brings the thunder. The graphics are sharp, eye-pleasing, and incredibly bright. Every Mario and Sonic character comes to life with brilliant colors and fun animations. The respective voice actors all do an appropriate job as their characters, and Nintendo, as always, made sure to get the usual vocal thespians to fill their roles, so expect Sonic and Mario to sound as awesome as they always do. The music, too, is top-notch; primarily orchestrated pieces swell and wane with the action, utilizing surprisingly complex melodies to tickle the ears and, occasionally, the nostalgia bone as well.
If done right, a minigame collection can be an amazing time with your friends. Mario and Sonic Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014 however, lacks the polish, focus, and overall fun of a good minigame-athon to hold the attention of even the most diehard fans for long. Its awkward controls and lackluster events drag things down to a disappointing level. Mario, you can do better. Sonic, well, this definitely ain't your worst.
Mario and Sonic Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014 was reviewed on a retail copy purchased for the Wii U.