Long a symbol of international goodwill, the olympic games are a fitting stage for Mario and Sonic. Despite the plumber's gut and the hedgehog's spindly limbs, the two are extremely athletic, active mascots. They're normally rivals, but here they've come together to enjoy a friendly competition, and that's a brilliant idea on paper. Wii Sports is famous for being alluring to both young and old, while its simple gameplay is just good enough to keep them coming back. That's kept consumer dollars from being spent on other titles, and is surely why Mario and Sonic was designed with simplicity in mind. This both works for and against it
One highlight is the trampoline event. Because the players are tasked with gently dipping and flicking the remote on impact with the trampoline, the motion is natural to anyone who's jumped on one, and easily learned by others. Once it's time to do tricks, having to press the B and A buttons in randomized patterns is fun and challenging. It's beautiful in its basic-ness, yet you'll never play the same round twice. You'll memorize those button locations too, which echoes Wii Sports' teaching players how to interact with the Wii.
They're normally rivals, but here they've come together to enjoy a friendly competition, and that's a brilliant idea on paper.
If only the other events were as perfect. Judo may have been scrapped during the negotiations to get Sonic in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, since that's a fighting game. Ridiculous, since no one would've been deterred from buying Brawl if judo played anything like fencing: clunky, slow, and frustrating. The individual epee event, meant to embody this mesmerizing sport of skillful swordsmanship, disgraces it. Being a fantasy game doesn't excuse its portrayal of epee. It's an elegant form of fencing that leaves the entire body open to strikes; sounds fun, yet in Mario and Sonic, your only attack option is a stereotypical Wii Remote thrust for the belly. Failing to deflect it leaves you vulnerable for several seconds, since all the participants evidently lack any kind of skill and flexibility.
The whole event roster suffers from this hit-or-miss disease. Hammer throwing was ironically done far better in Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz. Rowing in sculls plays similarly to trampoline jumping, while the high jump is a pathetically basic exercise in good timing. Whereas using the Nunchuk and Wii Remote for archery was a great recipe ruined by half-baking, skeet shooting works with an appropriate mixture of concentration and quick-reflex moves.
All that leaves Mario and Sonic with a couple more redeeming games than Wii Sports, which means it's not a total loss, and the developers went beyond imitating Olympic sports. To anyone who happily anticipated tossing shells as Sonic or using super shoes as Mario, your crushing news has come in: The "Dream Events," namely the race, are awful. By adding item boxes, sand pits, and badniks, the Dream Race tries to be an on-foot Mario Kart, and completely fails. Each character runs at the same pace and controls identically, so they're already missing the strategy of picking racers and karts. Items are worse.
Keeping things balanced in Mario Kart meant assigning appearance ratios and conditional requirements to all power-ups. You wouldn't get a lightning bolt if you were in first, and mushrooms weren't too common. Mario and Sonic has no such balance. Whoever's winning may get speed shoes constantly, while the person in fourth finds tons of broken red shells that don't home in on opponents. Several of the items are overpowered, and the players all run slower than they do in the 100m race, making this "Dream Event" miserable.
There are some throwaway sub-mini-games which no self-respecting adult could stomach playing, which is bizarre since Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games is a mini-game collection already. Unbelievably, it's still better than many Olympic compilations of the past. If you look at the entire package that way, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games is worth a rental for anyone who still loves Wii Sports. It may even be a viable addition to their library. When they look at its price tag and remember that Wii Sports was a free pack-in, however, they may just go back to golf and boxing.