In the past, Mario and Sonic were bitter rivals who fought tooth and nail for placing on sales charts, aiming to better one another for the all important dollar. Those days are long gone, though, and in their place is a new reality where the two mascots only meet as sports rivals. Only during Olympic years, though, via mashups that mix colourful and iconic characters with real-life sports and the world’s biggest stages.
It’s 2016, which means that it’s time for the two to meet again, in Rio de Janeiro, the site of this summer’s soon-to-begin Olympic Games. The licenses have been renewed, the sports have been simplified and made more arcade-y, and Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games has made its way to both of Nintendo’s current devices. First, it golfed its way onto the 3DS, and now it’s tried its way onto the more powerful Wii U, allowing console gamers to get in on the action.
For the purpose of this review, we’ll stick with the Wii U version, which isn’t the same as its handheld peer.
At its core, Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games is exactly what you’d expect. An accessible, family friendly, and simplified take on many of the sports you’ll see play out this summer. Not every event is included (and the 3DS’ golf minigame has been swapped out in favour of rugby sevens), but most are, and there are a decent amount to choose from. The list begins with a sprint and a relay, but also features archery (sans motion controls), swimming (which is crap like competitive swimming always is in video game form), football (which is a far cry from Mario Strikers, but isn’t too bad), beach volleyball, equestrian, table tennis, triple jump and BMX. That rounds out most of what’s on offer, but there are a few other stragglers, like the Guitar Hero-esque rhythmic gynmnastics and the not-as-good-as-Wii–Sports boxing event.
SEGA’s take on these sports varies from decent (archery, gymnastics, equestrian and rugby) to bland (football, beach volleyball, boxing) and even the crap tier (BMX, swimming). They’re all simplified versions of the real thing, and there’s a lot of button mashing, as well as some surprisingly convoluted control schemes to remember. Focusing on so many different events has always been to the detriment of games like this, and it’s the same here, because none of these minigames holds a candle to what you’ll find in the great Mario sports games of yesteryear, like Strikers, Tennis and Golf.
On paper, there’s a lot to see and do within this game, but things can sometimes be deceiving. While there are quite a few events to partake in, there’s a lot of repetition, a surprising amount of frustration, and a lack of reasons to return. That isn’t to say that Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games is a poor effort or a waste of one’s time – it’s just middling, slow paced and kind of underwhelming.
Upon starting this console-based affair, you’ll find yourself on iconic Copacabana Beach, where some of Mario’s cronies have set up shop. They’re there to help you get the lay of the land, which is limited to just the one beach that acts as your hub. Sure, you can visit other places (like the athletes’ dorms, if you want to see your collectibles or change your Mii’s outfit, or the event venues), but you only get to do those things in menus or during competition. The rest of the time, you’ll find yourself walking along the beach, talking to random people — who will give you flags and point out interesting facts about their home countries — or spending your hard earned coins and rings on random collectibles.
Although it never actually says this, the game wants you to pretend that you’ve arrived in Rio before the start of the Olympics. Why’s that? Well, it takes a bit of time before the actual competition begins, giving you a chance to test your mettle in solo events as practice. Then, after a little while, the show begins and you’re invited to enter into its plethora of tournaments, which you’ll either enjoy or find mind-numbing. Maybe even a little of both.
The 3DS version of Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games had a story mode, but the console version does not. Instead, its single player ‘campaign’ is structured similarly to the actual Olympic Games and forces you to use your Mii as opposed to one of your favourite licensed characters. Each sport has its own tournament, and they’re all comprised of three tiers. First, there’s the qualifying round, next up is the semi-finals and last, but not least, is the medal round. It’s predictable stuff, but it is how this game’s inspiration is set-up, so it’s tough to really fault it.
What’s problematic about this design isn’t its tiered system. No, it’s the inconsistent and sometimes frustrating AI that exists within it. Your opponent will be a shill during one sport, but when you jump into the next one it’s game on. Now, this isn’t always the case, but it’s an issue that popped up more than a couple of times during my playthrough. It also seemed to occur most during some of the more creative events, like the duel football and rugby modes.
Strange names aside, the duel events (which are spinoffs of football, rugby sevens and beach volleyball) were designed to add some variety into the mix. They do that, and can be fun, but they’re not without their problems. For starters, there’s the aforementioned AI issue, which might make you want to throw your controller at a wall. Then, there’s the fact that this game doesn’t do a great job of explaining its events, or their sometimes convoluted control schemes.
The Olympics mode also tries to promote replayability, but doesn’t do such a great job of it. Instead of letting you choose your difficulty from the onset, it tries to make you play through every sport’s tournament three times: once on normal, once on hard, and then once on very hard to seal the deal. These difficulty levels are shown as “Level 1,” “Level 2” and so forth, and the only way to progress from one to the next seems to be by winning. That means coming in first, second or third during every tourney, then doing it all over again two more times against tougher competition.
I can’t say that I’ll be bothering with the higher difficulties, because I’ve had my fill and have little interest in dealing with more fluctuating AI.
There would be less frustration here if Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games was designed to be as accessible as it promotes itself as being. Failure is never an option, and doing so forces you to start over at the beginning of any entered tournament. No retries, no continues, no nothing. This normally isn’t a huge deal on the base difficulty, but there are times where a retry option would come in handy, such as during a swimming or duel tournament. Swimming has a momentum bar that leaves you at a disadvantage, and we’ve already talked about the others.
It is, however, possible to go back to played tournaments and retry any guest challenges you’ve failed. They’re what you’d call the game’s boss battles, and each sport has one, although said appearances are staggered by difficulty. On normal, I got to go against Diddy Kong in a game of rugby, and got to square off against some of Sonic’s tertiary cast in other sports, but only a third of the tournaments finished with guest battles. The rest are set to appear on hard and very hard, I’m sure.
Beating a guest unlocks their use for that particular sport, and is said to also unlock special costumes that give you stat-boosting abilities, but I’ve yet to find them. Perhaps I simply missed them when I scrolled through my Mii’s wardrobe.
A real downside for many will be the fact that there’s no online multiplayer to be found this time around. It would have been a great asset, and could have made this a much more appealing game, but it’s simply a non-factor. That leaves local multiplayer as the only way to compete against a fellow human, and it’s easily the best way to play a game like this. You may plough through the single player once, but it’s unlikely that you’ll want to do so again. If you have a friend, sibling or parent to game with, then playing against them may make this purchase worthwhile.
There is amiibo support, as well as a rivals mode, which lets you take sides and go at it in a Team Mario versus Team Sonic scenario. Events are randomized, teams are chosen for you and earned cards can be used against the enemy in a knockout-style arena. It’s necessary variety, and something that pays homage to the good old days where the two mascots (or, at least, the businesses behind them) duked it out for something bigger.
SEGA’s development team certainly attempted to bring forth the grandiose feel and atmosphere that will be present during this summer’s Olympic games, and they weren’t unsuccessful when it came to this title’s presentation. Real life venues have been captured and made to shine with Mario’s trademark colour palette, the character models are full of detail and Copacabana Beach’s sand sculptures have a really nice texturized look to them. The sound, on the other hand, is merely decent and serviceable, unable to stand out due to a lack of uniqueness. Truthfully, though, the only truly disappointing aspect of this game’s presentation is its occasional lack of anti-aliasing, which allows some jaggies to show through.
Needless to say, Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games is an unfortunate mixed bag. Although it succeeds in some areas, it falters in others, and the lack of online play is tough to get over in this day and age. Things would’ve been better if its developers had spent more time thinking about the end player, as it could’ve led to a less frustrating campaign structure, as well as longer and more creative events.
This review is based on the Wii U version of the game, which we were provided with.
Like those before it, Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games had a chance to be a lot of fun, but ends up being a mixed bag featuring both tedium and frustration.