In a way, it's appropriate that most of the events in this game involve going downhill quckly.
As the fourth game in the Mario & Sonic series, what was once an interesting novelty that saw gaming's two largest icons appear together for the first time now feels like a bi-annual cash injection for Sega and Nintendo with little thought put into its content.
After all, how else can either company explain why the Mario & Sonic game of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics offers fewer modes, events and features than its predecessor?
The excuse certainly can't be that the switch from Wii to Wii U has taken a lot of work. While it's undoubtedly a pretty game, it's not exactly stretching the console to its limits, and the majority of events that use the GamePad do so in fairly obvious and uncompelling ways.
Nor can it be that the handheld version got in the way, as - for the first time in the series' history - there is no handheld version (a disappointment, as the last two offerings on 3DS and DS bettered their console counterparts). Regardless of the reasoning behind this drop in quality, the resulting game is a poor one. HD bells and whistles fail to mask what is arguably the weakest entry in the series to date.
Mario & Sonic At The Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games - or MASATS2014OWG as the cool kids call it - offers a grand total of 24 events, compared to the 32 of its wintry predecessor - and many of them are the same.
The introduction of the GamePad often results in baffling the player instead of injecting much needed inspiration into the series. The control methods used in each mini-game seem oddly arbitrary. Some of the downhill events, such as skiing, require a Wii Remote for steering (only MotionPlus Remotes are accepted). Others, like the luge, instead have you tilting the GamePad.
This leads to the player requiring to constantly swap between control methods. One event - the Biathlon - even requires you to use both controllers, with the Wii Remote used for skiing and the GamePad unnecessarily required for shooting.
The result is a game that feels disorganised and indecisive, as if it can't choose which control method is best. It's not a totally critical issue - the controls are by and large accurate whether the Remote or GamePad is used - but its inability to choose a standard control method and stick with it shows a lack of conviction and a need to mix things up for the sake of it.
As well as the option to choose a single event there are two other main modes in the game; Legends Showdown and the Action & Answer Tour. If the former is supposed to be the meat of the game, we hope you like it bloody because it's been severely undercooked.
Promising to deliver gameplay "for those who want to experience the deeper Mario & Sonic world", all Legends Showdown really does is have you play every event, one at a time, challenging you to defeat a rival in each one.
Rather than the 'legends' claimed in the title though, the majority of these rivals are simply 'dark' versions of the character you've chosen. It's the same character models with a purple texture slopped over them. Since we're sure nobody's ever wanted to witness the historic battle between Princess Daisy and Purple Textured Princess Daisy, this goes down as a big disappointment.
After every four or five events, though, a genuine rival does appear, adding a little variety to proceedings. Since most of the main Mario and Sonic characters (good and bad) are already in the roster, don't expect any jaw-dropping cameos. Rather, the likes of Birdo, King Boo and Jet The Hawk are trotted out again, doing little more than putting in an average performance, much like any standard character would.
If anything, all this does is drive the point home that the playable character roster has remained entirely unchanged for the third game running. With the same twenty contenders that grinned at us in the Vancouver and London character select screens facing us once again, what we wouldn't give to see a fresh set of faces.
"If the Legends Tour mode is the meat of the game, we hope you like it bloody because it's been severely undercooked."
The Action & Answer Tour at least tries something different, although the execution is sorely lacking. In it, players compete in events while also answering trivia questions, making observation (rather than perspiration) the key to success.
For example, the speed skating event places a large die on the course. Players have to knock into it to roll it over and try to find out which number appears on two sides. The aim, then, is not only to win but to get the number right too.
On paper it's a clever way to add variety to a batch of similar events but in practice it's painfully dull. There's never any sense of excitement and there's too much downtime between events to keep things moving along with any semblance of pace.
Sadly, online multiplayer, which is a first for the series, is also a disappointment. If you think the prospect of having a luge race against someone in Denmark is one that has legs, we think you'll be very disappointed when the matchmaking inevitably dries up.
The only real positive to take from this whole affair is that the series has surely hit a low point now, meaning a serious decision will have to be made for the inevitable fifth game for Rio 2016.
If you're a Wii U owner desperate for another party game to play with your family, there are countless other alternatives you should consider before this. Use the console's Wii backwards compatibility to play the previous Mario & Sonic titles. Or, better still, play Nintendo Land or Wii Party U. All of these games offer a deeper, more enjoyable party experience than Mario & Sonic At The Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
A woefully undercooked and uninspired party game that's actually worse than its predecessors.
- Looks bright and colourful
- Some of the unlockables are fun
- Creatively vapid
- Stagnant character roster
- Tiny event count