With the real Olympics headed to Brazil, Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games aims to please the younger sports fan always on the go.
Developer: Sega Sports R&D
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS (Version Reviewed), Wii U
Release Dates: March 16 (3DS), June 24 (Wii U)
Nintendo has never sought simulation with their sports games. Instead, Mario and the crew would usually show up to play games in a silly manner that played more to arcade sensibilities, emphasizing fun over the limits of physical possibilities. It’s with that spirit that the company continues its bi-annual Olympic tradition, with Sega’s Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games offering a host of various minigames, features and other fun to prepare fans for the real thing in Brazil later this year.
Oddly enough, the “Road to Rio” campaign exceeded my expectations, although only after digging deep. You play as your Mii, joining either Team Sonic or Team Mario. Once you choose, you embark on a seven-day journey to conquer seven different events across four Brazillian cities. You often have to qualify past the semi-finals by running the event once, then repeating it against a familiar character from the opposing team. Whether it be throwing javelins, playing beach volleyball, doing equestrian events or running the 100m dash, you will train by completing mini-events throughout the town to earn training points.
What your Mii wears determines several stats in Mario & Sonic. Speed, Skill, Strength, and Stamina are at the core of every Olympic athlete, and you can improve your minuscule base stats by wearing advanced clothing options. You will need enough stars to wear certain pairs of suits, hats or individual articles of clothing, the cap of which is raised at every level up. The RPG elements are minimal, but they incentivize competing in the training tasks to outfit your character with elaborate outfits and costumes of popular characters.
The core gameplay of the Mario & Sonic story is straightforward in its approach; run from trainer to trainer in a town to train with minigames, complete in the semi-finals in an event, face off against an unlockable character in a “Plus” arcadey version of that same event, compete against a Mario or Sonic opponent in the finals of said event, rinse, repeat for seven days straight. That loop is rewarding in the variety of games and the means of how you play them, but throughout my time, I couldn’t get out of my head how familiar it all became.
Mario & Sonic, for the most part, is a Mario Party clone slapped with International Olympic Committee’s branding throughout the events. Unlike the long-winding party series, however, the stakes aren’t simply present in Mario & Sonic. I know that Nintendo is aiming for a younger audience, but the games are way too simple to present a challenge beyond the final events of each campaign; Football and Golf. Furthermore, you will often be running the exact same 30 training events from the London 2012 Olympic Games for the majority, limiting the amount of fresh content available for play.
Control mechanics further follow that Mario Party style, often using similar mechanics of blowing into the microphone, moving the controller (this time, the 3DS) to the beat, or shooting at targets using gyroscopic aiming. It all feels too familiar and too average, and because they all are presented as a means of earning XP over furthering your placement across a continual leaderboard (like finding out the winner in Mario Party), the reward is instantaneous, small and muted. Progression is driven by the desire to try out something else, not because you want to complete an epic tale of Olympic glory.
That’s not to say I wasn’t surprised with a side-story that runs parallel to the “Road to Rio.” Regardless of which team you choose, Mario & Sonic has players look for their team captain throughout the week. They’ll be off running around for unknown reasons, and it’s only if you ask citizens what’s going on that you uncover a secret conspiracy! Buzzing mechanical equipment, hijacking of television, cellular and radio waves, and hidden bases are just some of the oddities you’ll uncover in the secret shared ending, complementing the Mario Ending and Sonic Ending.
Truly, it’s the presentation that boosts a fictionalized Sega/Nintendo version of Rio in Mario & Sonic. The soundtrack will have you pumped up with a South American flavor that feels refreshingly authentic coming from Japanese developers. Additionally, each town map reflects the spirit of the host nation, with bright colors and an authentic setting. There are over twenty characters for both Mario and Sonic’s teams, respectively, and they are fun to interact and compete with. Plus, you get to learn a lot about the sports involved with the Olympics from NPC’s, including the fact that Golf is returning to Olympic play for the first time in more than a century!
Co-op play will be key for groups of people with or without the game, and Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games will offer a fair shake at both. Just one player needs to own the game for three others to join in, although it does come with limited character options. Still, to offer up the ability for kids to play with friends even if they don’t own a copy seems crucial to the Olympic spirit, treasuring teamwork and competitiveness in a fair and reasonable manner. You can even try to pit yourself against your friends in marathon modes, which will aim to get kids moving and fit by offering bonuses for step challenges.
As much as I bagged on the painfully average and fairly serviceable game events within Mario & Sonic previously, it would be unfair not to highlight the key winners; Golf, Beach Volleyball, Table Tennis, Football and, to a lesser extent, Rhythmic Gymnastics. Excluding the latter, each has their own gameplay systems that offer interactivity with others (whether it be a player or AI), while Gymnastics plays like a traditional rhythm game with various difficulty settings and fun music. Those 18 holes of golf are worthy of entrance in a standalone game while Beach Volleyball and Football run well as simplified Nintendo versions.
Regardless, the overwhelming feeling is that the Mario & Sonic experience is full of content; it’s just that each piece (minus the highlighted games) has a short shelf life. There is a lot to see and do, whether you play the story or stick to playing with your friends, but beyond the pillars lies a shallow pool to wade through. The “Plus” versions do bring a nice spice of variety in the mechanics, and I wish the London Olympic committee didn’t make the horrendous decision to remove baseball (and its handheld gaming equivalent by proxy) to force Nintendo to revisit that well of excellence, but there aren’t enough minigames you will want to repeat.
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This game is perfect for the casual player. It brings you right into the heart of the tournament, offering a ton of different events to compete in and offers the opportunity to engage with AI and friends, alike. They even run the gamut of controller scheme variety, playing differently from each other. Those looking for depth, however, need to look elsewhere, as there are too few exemplary standouts among the crop of minigame offerings. Technically functional and presented neatly with a bow on top, Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games does a great job at being serviceably good.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.