Listen -- not every game at E3 is a winner. The Joystiq heavyweights get to go play all the big games and interview all of the developer hotshots, and that's the stuff you love reading about. But some of us are down in the trenches, doing all of the demos that no one else wants to do, checking out all the games whose names are read around the schedule planning table, and answered only with the silence of bloggers who have better games to play.
That's not to say that Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympics is a bad game -- its audience will probably enjoy it. Just like the previous Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, it offers multiple Olympic sports-based minigames featuring popular Nintendo and Sega characters, controlled by various Wii and DS motions. People who like buying that kind of thing (parents wandering a videogame store looking for wholesome family entertainment) will probably enjoy it. But even though most of the Joystiq staff passed on this demo (and your faithful blogger bravely attended it), it was one of the more surreal things we've seen this week. Our strange experiences, let us show you them.
You're in a small, windowless room up in the higher tiers of the E3 meeting space. There is an attractive woman there (speaking with an Australian accent, dressed in a black Sega shirt) playing a DS that contains a copy of MaSatWG with two new characters (Donkey Kong, and Metal Sonic) and three brand new events for the game (alpine skiing, bobsled, and dream snowboarding). Wires lead out from the DS to a huge television, that show both screens of each minigame in bright LED. Beside the television stands a Japanese man named Osamu Ohashi, who's worked on Sonic games since Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and who now serves as lead producer on the Sonic and Mario Olympic games. He is speaking in Japanese about how the bobsled event uses two characters, one controlled with the d-pad, and one with the face buttons, to turn the sled, and how if both characters lean at the same time, a "teamwork meter" fills up and delivers a boost of speed. You know he is talking about this because there is a translator next to him, repeating what he says in English after he finishes speaking in Japanese.
Now he's talking about the new "Adventure Tours" mode, a story-style mode where Mario, Sonic, and friends all team up to save the "snow spirits" by expertly completing in Olympic events. He tells you, in Japanese and then through the translator, that Sega had to handle this carefully, because this is the first time in their history that Mario and Sonic, Nintendo and Sega characters, have interacted with each other and participated in completing the same goal.
Your mind wanders. What an interesting idea! You wonder what kinds of hoops Sega must have had to jump through, whether Nintendo laid down rules or restrictions on how their characters could interact. Did Nintendo specify that Mario had to stand closer to Luigi than Sonic, as if they could be friends, but not truly brothers? Did they ask that Princess Peach and Amy Rose treat each other coldly at first, just so no one thought that the characters were too close?
You completely miss the part about the figure skating event in the Wii version, where you need to gesture with the Wii controller in time to the classical music while Mario dances. You will have no idea that there are six songs to play with among the different difficulty levels. You come back just in time to see the ice hockey event, where four players can play vs. or co-op, and the dream ski cross, which uses a course that's inspired by the Mario Circuit courses in Nintendo's Mario Kart Wii.
That question about how the characters were used, about if Nintendo or Sega placed limits on how their characters interacted, or if there was anything Ohashi and his team wanted to do that Nintendo or Sega put the kibosh on. This world of Mario and Sonic seems so clean, so minigame. Is there anything they wanted to put in that just didn't make it?
As the demo is ending, you gesture towards Ohashi, and say, timidly, "Can we ask questions?" He looks at you and doesn't seem to understand -- he's an older man, and he strangely seems frightened that an American blogger is coming at him. He looks to the attractive woman for help. "You'll have to talk to the PR people outside," she says in her heavy Australian accent. "This demo is over."