Continuing my Winter Games Review series in the build up to Christmas here I make a switch from mobile devices to the best video game console brand for group party game titles - Nintendo. Here I take you back to 2014, get ready to back either the blue blur or the iconic plumber once more in Mario & Sonic at the Winter Olympic Games: Sochi 2014! This game maybe 4 years old but it's a timeless sports party game that still provides the perfect get together Christmas title to play with your mates if your not a bums on seats type of gamer.
Made exclusively for the Wii U, this sports/party game is the fourth instalment in the popular Nintendo series and delivers some charming updates to the previous titles including plenty of cosmetic improvements thanks to the Wii U's superior graphically capabilities. As you may have guessed from its title, it's based upon the 2014 Winter Olympics which was held in Sochi, Russia. It features 16 different disciplines including the Alpine Skiing Downhill, Short Track 1000m and Freestyle Ski Cross; five modes in total; and twenty characters to choose from.
As it retains much of the core game play, those who have played any of the previous instalments would be familiar with Sochi 2014's basics. Events are still divided into two categories, namely, Olympic and unlockable Dream Events. Because the game was specifically designed for the Wii U, this marks the first time in the series that a handheld version was not released.
Go for the Gold
Although the events themselves are realistic, the main draw of the series is the ability to play and pit iconic characters against each other as they go for the gold. It turns what would otherwise be a monotonous title for those not of the sport orientated background into a more novel and well rounded entertaining game for all. There 21 iconic characters in total and all of these are identical to the Wii version of the two previous games. It's a little bit of a shame they didn't add or at least swap a few of the characters to keep things fresh.
However whilst the character range remains stagnant, each character does have a different strength and weakness, allowing you to choose the one which suites your play style better. Expect the likes of Sonic and Yoshi to be the speedy types, Dr. Eggman and Waluigi as skilled types, Knuckles and Vector as power types; and Mario as your good old faithful all-around type.
There are 16 events all in all, half of which are Dream Like. The dream ones are re imaginations of the Olympic Events with a surreal twist, integrating fantastic game play mechanics such as flying and making use of iconic stages from both the Mario and Sonic franchises.
Although Olympic Events feature realistic physics which can rival specialised sports games, Dream Events are what you'd most likely be sharing with your friends as party games. Among them is the crazy Roller Coaster Bobsleigh set in the Speed Highway from the Sonic Adventure world - the original Dreamcast game. Not to digress too much but you can now pick up a copy of that game for PC at Steam where currently there's 85% off the title.
For the True Blue Fan
We do love the fact that Sochi 2014 offers many choices when it comes to the control mechanisms. You can play using either the Wii MotionPlus and Nunchuk peripherals or go for the Wii U GamePad. Some events, like the Biathlon, even make use of both controllers at once. It's a good switch up from previous versions, mainly because aside from needing to understand how a particular sport works, you also need to get used to the corresponding mechanics. You can't just button mash or wave wildly to win. Like a true athlete, you'll need proper timing and accuracy to win the events -- unless of course your pals are equally clueless on what to do!
Speaking of friends, there are five game play modes. Single Match, Medley Mania, Worldwide VS, Legends and the Action & Answer Tour. The Legends Showdown is basically the game's story mode wherein you will need to conquer an area made up of four events as well as a boss battle. New to the franchise, the Action & Answer Tour is particularly interesting as it combines sports challenges with fan trivia. Basically, you are given questions to answer for points as you compete in a number of different sporting events. An additional treat for fans of the blue blur, the tour is hosted by Sonic Colors and Sonic Lost World's Orbot and Cubot.
Dressed to Win
A returning feature from previous titles in the series, Sochi 2014 still allows you to purchase customisation items for your Mii character. All of the costumes that were in Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games are also available here, except for that year's mascot costume. However, the means on how to unlock them has been changed. Instead of saving up points during events and using these to purchase whatever you want from the in-game shop, you will now have to complete certain challenges to gain access to them. This applies to unlock-able music as well.
So, is Mario & Sonic at the Winter Olympic Games: Sochi 2014 better the fourth time around? Well, in some ways it is and in others, it isn't. First off, I do love the variety of available collectables. Although most of the unlock-able costumes remain the same as those found in its predecessor, there are plenty of new songs to spur you through the challenges. There's also the TV-like presentation which brings the iconic characters to life and adds a little more pep to the delivery. I would have liked to see some more online modes though, as Sochi 2014 is equally a party game as it is a eSports title.
Overall, the game more than makes up for what it is lacking. It is an enjoyable experience that shouldn't be missed if you're a fan of the old school Sega and Nintendo characters and one that will keep you literally on your toes this christmas when playing with a bunch of mates. It's the perfect game to bring out of your dusty draw at Christmas time if you own a Wii U!
There is one caveat with this title, unfortunately when Nintendo brought out the Switch for some reason they decided to move back to cartridge games meaning the CD games from the Wii U do no work on the Nintendo Switch. There are currently no announcements for a 5th version of the game to be developed. Most likely because Nintendo did not renew it's license for Sega characters.
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