Join Mario, Sonic and company as they take to the track, pitch and pool in the next Olympic outing for Rio 2016. Though there’s a range of different modes and sports available, the shoehorned Mii feature coupled with forced Tournament play is muddled at best, vexatious at its worst.
As the fifth title in the Mario & Sonic game series and developed by Sega Sports R&D, Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games is riddled with difficulties from the onset. While it panders to the casual crowd of Wii-goers, there’s just a real lack of homeliness. That cosy, warm feeling we get when we enter familiar territory with an iconic game theme tune, or the tingles we get from starting up a new track for the first time on Mario Kart has vanished. The Mario & Sonic franchise has, perhaps, never made its mark in the gaming world, despite featuring great characters and some solid competition sports. There were some real highs, take Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter games in Vancouver, and there have also been some lows, particularly when it comes to track and field events. Yet the Mario & Sonic franchise has always been a bit of fun. Rio changes that.
With up to five modes available, including solo and multiplayer matches, Mario & Sonic at Rio has enough to interest those who want to dip in and out of the game. To begin, players must take centre stage in Solo and Multiplayer Single Matches in order to get a feel for the sports on show. Once you’ve dabbled long enough, the game opens up Tournament mode and, again, features solo and co-op play. While you’ll be able to play as Mario and Sonic characters in Single Matches, with up to 20 of the franchises’ most popular characters to select from, you won’t be able to use them in Tournament mode.
Mario & Sonic at Rio forces your hand to play as a Mii character which is registered to your Wii U system during Tournament mode. And since the aim of the game is to go for Gold in the Olympics, you’ll be spending a whole host of time in this mode. They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but what happened to good old irony? It got served in one hard, gold, silver or bronze virtual medal. Forget besting the talent with Luigi or Shadow as a playable character, Miis are your only hope. But while we let that stew in a salty tang, your Miis also get to unlock special hats and outfits too. So you don’t just get to look the part, you also get to mimic the characters you can’t even play with by walking around in a Yoshi or Amy hat. Take that, irony!
Getting down to sporting business, there are up to 17 events to choose from including normal and the special duel versions of Football, Rugby Sevens and Volleyball. Of course, you can also play straight forward sports such as the 100m, 4x100m Relay, Swimming, Javelin, Triple Jump and the more exotic Equestrian and Gymnastics. While most events play well, with Archery and BMX hitting the sweet spot, there are also below par events in the mix too with Rugby Sevens and Football. Mainly boiling down to a distinct lack of control over which player is where, the game engine just picks whichever one is in closest range and hopes for the best. It’s a worrying reminder of those Claw Cranes seen in arcades; it’s always skewed more towards the risk rather than the glittering reward.
Tournament mode also brings another problem to the sandy beaches of Copacabana in Mario & Sonic at Rio. Not only are you stripped away of the ability to play as a famed character, you also have no freedom over the events selection. Appearing as levelled tickets, you only have a choice of three sporting events at a time. Though you can swap these around for a minimal in-game ring or coin spend, it’s hardly worth it, given you are forced to play all the sports and win at least a Bronze medal before progressing to the next tiered levels. With such a lack of freedom and control over these tournaments, it’s not only designed foolishly, it is simply infuriating to play. And just to feel the sting, you can only play with the GamePad or Wii remotes, no other accessory or controller is possible.
In between Tournament mode, players can choose to wander around Copacabana Beach – the main menu of the game. Here you’ll be able to ask other Miis for sporting advice or attain their collectible country flag, of which there are 79 to grab. Other collectibles are also on offer via the in-game Item Stand, where you can spin the wheel after paying a certain amount of rings or coins attained through event participation. Between 406 wearable Mii outfits and 100 Miiverse stamps, it’s yet another shoehorned feature to the game.
Guest characters from the Mario & Sonic series will also drop in from time to time after you’ve participated and won a medal in a tournament. Launched automatically into a match with them directly after you win, successfully defeating them will allow you to unlock their character in Single Match mode, though only for that particular sport. While Rosalina comes with the Guitar Hero induced Rhythmic Gymnastics, Wave is unlocked in the BMX course, and Rouge in Beach Volleyball. There are approximately 17 characters from each franchise to unlock as guest characters through various means. And while it’s fantastic to see the variety that can be unlocked, guest characters are largely redundant within the game, akin to a new toy left in its unopened box, its popularity fad passed, as it sits there gathering dust.
While Mario & Sonic at Rio still lives in the dark ages with no online mode, ghost matches via network rankings is second best. There to give you a well-earned break between tournaments, it’s fun to play for a few moments, but the mode isn’t quite ready for commitment. Yet one of the best modes arrives in Heroes Showdown; a place where you can choose your side as Mario or Sonic and make your swift call to victory. Featuring a good change of pace and interesting tactics, it can be amusingly brutal in co-op mode as you pick and choose which members get knocked out after each stage.
Ready to throw in the towel at just over ten hours of gameplay, Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games just sucks the fun out of the franchise completely. Although not all together terrible, as the game’s brightest stars shine within Heroes Showdown and Single Match, tournament mode is a complete wash out. But as always, may the odds be ever in your favour. And we all know how well that turned out.