Bronze at best
The Rio Olympic Games kicks off next month and our favorite plumber and hedgehog have teamed up for a carnival celebration in Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on Wii U. Just for a little background, the first title in the series, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, was released nearly ten years ago on Wii. Now we have to ask if the series can still hold its own, or if it should be disqualified from the sports game race once and for all. The games in the series are steady and fun, but I have never been as excited to play them as I have, say, Mario Kart. Why? Mario Kart has steadily progressed each time, whereas Mario & Sonic has plateaued. The novelty wears off more and more each time and, unfortunately, this latest, stripped-back addition fails to earn a Gold medal.
Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games brings together 17 different events, allowing you to play the usual favorites such as Javelin, Swimming and Triple Jump. These can be played either as your Mii or from a list of popular regulars from previous Mario & Sonic titles. Other events such as Soccer, Rugby Sevens and Beach Volleyball let you play as a team, and therefore are a bit more interesting as you can switch between characters to form your perfect team as well as use items and special abilities. You start off with the singles matches, and once you’ve got a feel for everything and have built up achievements, more items will be unlocked for you to access via Copacabana Beach, your hub for the entire game.
From Copacabana Beach you can also access menus and speak to NPCs in order to progress to various game modes. Once you’ve completed a few single matches, you can progress to the Tournament mode in which you battle against Mii characters from around the world. Strangely, these are not real online competitors, but instead AI-controlled challengers. Even more strange, you can only choose from three randomly picked tournament events at a time, which is restricting and annoying. The game really focuses on you using your Mii character and, in Tournament mode, you are unable to play as any of the famed characters in favor of your Mii. It’s disappointing, not only because it lacks variation, but because your Mii’s base stats are pretty horrendous compared to the Mario & Sonic cast. Although not immediately clear, the only way to boost your Mii stats is via unlockable outfits. Some of these outfits are downright ugly, but they can be changed depending on which event you are competing in. And it doesn’t make much sense that your stats are affected by your outfit when Dr. Eggman is allowed to swim in his coat and trousers. Additional characters can be unlocked through playing certain tournaments, such as Rosalina through Gymnastics, but these characters’ appearances are made bittersweet due to the fact they are just a prize, and you are unable to play as them throughout your tournament.
All in all, Tournament mode is a bust; the AI-controlled competitors are boring (they seem to either be very hard or very easy) and the entire mode loses its fun factor very quickly. The best mode is Heroes Showdown, which is unlocked later in the game and is the closest thing to story mode — you can take sides, choose a squad, and battle in each event until you defeat the team captain. This is the best option for those looking to not just “dip in” to the game to satisfy their crave for a long-term experience. Disappointingly, the Dream Events mode from previous games has been removed, meaning the existing modes are incredibly sparse and can wear thin quickly.
Most of the events require only a few buttons, while motion controls are completely absent. I’m usually not a big fan of motion controls, but I feel this game really needs that element to be memorable, and events such as Archery would really benefit from aiming with a controller. Prior to each event, an instructions screen makes the controls look far more complicated than they need to be and were a bit confusing. There are also button prompts throughout the games which are handy at times, but are mostly distracting, making you look elsewhere while you’re trying to shoot an arrow. The games do become repetitive very quickly, and even the characters can’t save it — there are only so many times you can laugh at Wario while he performs gymnastics.
Soccer, Rugby and Volleyball provide the most variation as they are team games and require some tactics, but they still have their flaws. The controls are awkward and not executed well; it’s hard to know who you are controlling which leads to a lot of guesswork — not the most reliable tactic. Also, make sure you know a bit about how each sport works before you choose it; my team suffered a horrible defeat in Rugby because I didn’t understand the rules and was in a scrum for 90 percent of the game. The controls for some of the other solo events could use some tweaking, too. For example, the Guitar Hero-esque Gymnastics proved unresponsive at times as did Swimming. Stand out events are BMX, Archery and Equestrian as they allow the graphics to really shine while the controls are basic and easy to get the hang of.
Speaking of graphics, the game is very impressive to look at. They’re bright and colorful, the character design is detailed and crisp, and the levels have great attention to detail. The carnival-inspired and upbeat music is very fitting for the game, too, which adds to the atmosphere.
Rio 2016 Olympic Games is, of course, more enjoyable when playing with friends. Unfortunately, the Wii U Pro Controller is not supported so your friends will need a Wii Remote in order to play alongside you. Matches with friends will be what keeps you coming back to the game, because as a single player experience, there isn’t much to draw you in to keep you playing.
Amiibo fans will be pleased to know that once 25 tournaments have been completed, you can use your Mario or Sonic amiibo to receive a powered-up suit for your Mii which takes on the skills of the character; this only last for 24 hours before the suit loses its power, so make sure you make the most of it! Other amiibo can also be used, but you will receive coins or rings to use at the item stand on the beach. This feature could have been better considering there are quite a few characters in the lineup with matching amiibo figures, and it would have been nice if there was a wider range compatible with the game’s features for added variety. The suit thing is a bit disappointing — having seen it in many previous Wii U games makes it feel like a bit of a lazy option for Nintendo.
Although Mario & Sonic have a back catalog of terrific titles between them, Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games is not one. Lack of variation in events, no Story mode and stripped-back controls make this addition a little too basic for my liking. The game does offer some potential in its Heroes Showdown and Co-op modes however, but it’s just not got enough content to make me want to rush back for more competition.