Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games marks the third time that heroes Mario and Sonic have squared off against one another and their respective friends and foes in a series of Olympic sporting events. At one point, such a pairing would have been unfathomable, but now, no one even blinks. Sega's latest outing would have benefitted from a few more surprises, but it's quite enjoyable and packed with content.
There are a total of 31 activities, some of which are truly substantial. Twenty-one of the events consist of the standard athletic disciplines, though a handful of them are sufficiently similar that it feels like cheating to count them separately. Hurdles aren't that much different from the 100-meter dash, except for the fact that your character must periodically jump. The remaining 10 events are more distinct dream sequences and unlike any that you might see on ESPN. Characters run along clouds, ride giant whirling discs through a valley ripped out of Sonic Adventure, soar through the clouds toward a gargantuan piranha plant in a scene that wouldn't be out of place in Super Mario Galaxy, race ahead of a wagon carrying Yoshi eggs, and so forth. As much fun as such events are, though, perhaps the most important content comes in the form of the new London Party mode.
The London Party mode is an inspired attempt to tie familiar sporting events together in a meaningful new way. If you simply choose a single Olympic event and play through it alone or with up to three friends or computer opponents, it's entertaining, but there's little drama. London Party raises the stakes by placing each of four characters on a map that represents the streets of London. Your goal as you traverse the map is to collect enough stamps to be the first player to fill a stamp sheet. Before you start, you select the number of stamps that are required based on how long you plan to play. If you are trying to collect the minimum 16 stamps, the game suggests that the effort will take about a half hour. It's only an estimate, of course; if you avoid the longer competitive events, you'll quite likely finish in more like 15 or 20 minutes.
At first, the miniaturized London city streets may remind you of a game board from one of the Mario Party games. However, in this case, you don't simply roll dice and hop along spaces on a game board while gathering stars, coins, or special items. Instead, you're expected to control everything more directly as your opponents simultaneously do the same thing. It's possible to jump on your rivals, for instance, or to beat them to non-playable characters who might offer special events that quickly increase your potential supply of stamps. Competition becomes quite fierce, particularly if you're going up against similarly skilled players. Every chance to gain a slight lead over your opponents means something. You can never rest easy because chance-based events (such as a bonus event where you spin a wheel to try for bonus stamps) can chip away at even a commanding lead.