Mario And Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games Preview: Luigi Controlled with a Rear End

Mario and Sonic are bringing their friends to the Winter Olympics, and somehow that got me playing a Wii game with my rear end. Butt-on impressions follow.

What is it?
Mario And Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games is the Wii sequel to the first team-up of gaming's two most popular characters, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games. It is another multiplayer-centric collection of Olympic events, this time themed to the upcoming games in Vancouver. A producer told me to expect four new characters from the Mario and Sonic universes and more streamlined controls than the previous games'. Those made you sweat too much, I was told. A family will enjoy these more.

How far along is it?
The build I played had a few complete events, but the game won't officially be out until Oct. 13 2009

What we saw
As Luigi, I led a team also consisting of Yoshi, Knuckles and Amy Rose to a bobsledding victory over Sonic, Mario, Tails and Peach. Then, as Sonic, I beat Peach in speed-skating (after she first beat me).

What should stay the same
Eccentric balance board controls: If you are going to send Mario and Sonic to the Olympics then go crazy. Make your game as loony as the core concept, I say. So I welcomed the chance to sit on a balance board and shift my weight to get a bobsleigh down the track. And I lament that the Skeleton even wasn't available in this build. That even is essentially luge, head-first on your stomach. It is also played with the balance board, though I can't fathom how you can see the TV (the producer says they put the TV on the floor). Most but not all events will have a balance board option. Multiplayer versions won't involve the board. Imagine four players holding remotes to their chests to bobsled.

Simpler controls: I agree that the last game's controls could be convoluted. Having to just steadily swing the Wii remote to speed skate was perfect. More tight controls like that would be great.

What needs to improve
Graphics: We've seen Mario and Sonic look better. The first game didn't look cutting edge. This one doesn't either, which is too bad given the visual quality of, say, Super Mario Galaxy.

I didn't get to play much of the new Mario and Sonic. And it is clear the game isn't meant for those of us who grew up with Mario and Sonic's original adventures. But this could still be a superb collection of sports events, perfect for a party. Let's hope the developers do their licenses right.