Released: 18 February 2016
Developer: Arzest/Spike Chunsoft
Also Available For: Arcade and Nintendo Wii U
Nintendo’s Super Mario and SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog went head to head as their respective company’s mascots during the “Console Wars” of the nineties, resulting in some of the greatest and most influential videogames of that generation, and both company’s went to great lengths to prove that their consoles were the superior. Ultimately, thanks to many expensive peripherals and an ever-changing marketplace, SEGA were forced to withdraw from the home console market and their supersonic mascot appeared on Nintendo consoles, leading to discussions of a long-awaited crossover began between Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto and Sonic creator Yuji Naka.
Surprisingly, the two were brought together in the spirit of friendly competition after SEGA was awarded the 2008 Beijing Olympic licence. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games (SEGA Sports R&D, 2007) followed as a result; though basically a series of mini games featuring Mario and Sonic characters taking part in Olympic events, the game was a commercial success and led to a series of annual titles being released in conjunction with a number of different Olympic events. This year, I finally got around to playing the 2016 edition of the game, which was set in Rio de Janeiro after they won the right to host the games that year so, since the Beijing Winter Olympic Games are set to kick off today, I figured this was an ideal time to leech off of that event and share my thoughts about this title.
Players create a Mii character and choose to join either Sonic’s gym or Mario’s gym. Either choice sees them training with, and facing off against, familiar Mario and Sonic characters in a bid to win as many gold medals as possible over the seven days of the Olympic Games.
If you’ve played any of the Mario & Sonic videogames before, you’ll know exactly what to expect heading into Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games; essentially, despite the presence of a story mode, the game is a collection of Olympic-themed mini games that go out of their way to take advantage of every single button, gimmick, and control scheme offered by the Nintendo 3DS. The game features forty-one characters from the Mario and Sonic franchises but, this time around, not only are your character selections limited to certain events (Knuckles the Echidna can only take part in the Javelin Throw and Boxing events, for example, while Waluigi can only be used in the Long Jump and BMX events) and come with different stats to give them more emphasis on power, speed, stamina, and the like, but you don’t even get to play as any of your favourite characters in the game’s “Road to Rio” story mode!
While you can select from the game’s many and varied events (each of which is accompanied by an easy, normal, and hard criteria to get bronze, silver, and gold medals, respectively, with different goals, scores, or times to hit for each) in the game’s single or multiplayer modes, the only way to unlock all of the game’s characters is to play through the story mode. Here, you take control of a Mii and play through seven days of the Olympic Games, visiting different towns in Rio and conversing with non-playable characters (NPCs) that include randomly generated Mii and Mario and Sonic characters. As is often the case, the story branches almost immediately as you’re asked to pick between Sonic’s Gym and Mario’s Gym; whichever you pick, you’ll be competing for gold medals against the opposing gym and can practise the game’s events to earn Training Points and level-up your Mii, which allows you to wear better costumes and increase your stats. The actual story itself is more basic than ever; Mario and Sonic’s Gyms are taking part in the Olympic Games in the spirit of friendly competition…and that’s about it. There are some subplots about Sonic and Mario being absent and Bowser being up to no good, but mainly it’s just a clunky narrative to let you experience the game’s events.
Each location, and the bulk of the game’s action, takes place on the top screen of the 3DS; here, you navigate the largely empty and uninspiring overworld maps, interact with NPCs, and can see which day you’re playing, your current level, and how many apples and melons you have (which are needed to purchase new outfits and gear from the Yoshi NPCs located in each area). The bottom screen acts as a 2D map and allows you to manually save, view the stats of your current rival, view your stats and available gear, and change your Mii’s outfit whenever you like. Every day of the story mode is centred around you training to face a rival from the opposing gym; there are a number of smaller gyms (or “ginásios”) in each town (generally about four) where a character from your chosen side’s gym will challenge you to practise one of the game’s many events to earn apples and Training Points. As long as you finish between first and fourth, you’ll earn apples and Training Points, but the ginásio won’t be ticked off as complete unless you finish in first place (this is also the best way to earn the most rewards). You don’t actually have to beat the ginásios, however; you can tackle each day’s preliminary event and finals as is but you’ll dramatically increase your chances by beating ginásios and levelling-up so you can equip better gear to buff your stats.
To clear each day, you first need to qualify in the prelims for that day’s event: on the first day in the Mario’s Gym story, for example, you’ll need to qualify in the 100m Hurdles event before you go up against your rival (and other Mii), Silver the Hedgehog, in the finals; on the fourth day of the Sonic’s Gym story, you’ll need to take on Bowser Jr. in the Equestrian event. The ginásio training sees you playing the game’s other events but, while you don’t necessarily need to come first in the ginásio events, you do need to finish first in the prelims and finals to progress the story. Once again, many of these events are needlessly frustrating; you’ll get a brief overview of what to do before an event but this often doesn’t really help prepare you as it’ll provide basic instructions and then the actual event will throw new inputs and requirements at you that aren’t mentioned in the overview. The game’s events mostly have you rapidly tapping buttons, pressing specific button combinations, shouting or blowing into the microphone (which continues to make me feel a little woozy…), moving the 3DS about like a moron, or using the stylus or circle pad. Some of these are quite simple (Synchronised Duet is a glorified rhythm game where you must press A in time to the beat and switch reticules with the directional pad (D-pad), while Trampoline has you jumping and pressing A when you hit the centre of the trampoline and aiming yourself with the circle pad) but others can be extremely aggravating (Hammer Throw sees you holding the L and R buttons, gyrating the 3DS, and releasing the buttons at the right moment, and you’ll need to awkwardly tilt the 3DS about to aim and use L or R to shoot in the Double Trap shooting event).
While there are far less doubles games, these will still crop up; Platform Diving (Synchronized) sees you pressing A to dive at the same time as your partner without the aid of an onscreen countdown, Badminton (Doubles) has you sliding the stylus down the touch screen to smack the flashing shuttlecock, and Beach Volleyball sees you moving with the circle pad to the highlighted areas and pressing either A (or X for a super shot once your gauge is full) to hit the ball back and score a point. While the events seem to be a bit fairer compared to the last Mario & Sonic game I played, they’re still incredibly vague at times and come down to a question of timing or frantic button mashing rather than skill. The Kayak event, for example, requires you to set the 3DS down and frantically spin the circle pad like an absolute madman; you’ll need to stave off a fainting spell and consistently blow into the microphone while steering to boost pads in the Sailing – 470 (Pair) event, and you’ll need to draw neat circles to swim along in the Backstroke event (but, of course, the directions for this are on the top screen rather than the bottom where you’re drawing).
Overall, the games are once again very hit and miss: Handball isn’t too bad and has you touching the screen to block incoming shots; Rhythmic Gymnastics has you pressing or holding buttons in time with some familiar music tracks, and the BMX event has been slightly tweaked to make cycling and hitting boost jumps a little easier but it’s still a very clunky experience. New to this version of the game are “Plus” events; you can unlock additional characters by playing these in the story mode, and they’re basically slightly modified versions of the prelims/finals you’ll take on for that day. This could mean the presence of an additional gauge to fill to gain access to helpful items, extra obstacles from the Mario and Sonic franchises that you’ll have to watch out for, or slight changes to the gameplay mechanics to speed things up or make things a bit more manic. You can only challenge the secret characters to these Plus events by qualifying for the finals, but they add a little spice to things such as adding bingo-like tiles to Beach Volleyball for additional points or riding or ducking under waves caused by Thwomps in 100m Freestyle Swimming Plus. Unfortunately, though, while many of the camera angles and mechanics have been tweaked for the better compared to the last Mario & Sonic game I played, very few of the game’s events are actually fun to play and it kind of neuters the appeal of the crossover to not let you play as Mario and Sonic characters in Road to Rio.
Graphics and Sound:
As a 3DS game, the graphics are decent enough for the most part; all of the Mario and Sonic characters look pretty good thanks to their cartoony aesthetic, but still only communicate using pantomime. This time around, the whole game is populated by Mii; even the crowd, when it is actually present, is mostly Mii this time but, once again, the game is very empty and not much to look at. The game’s locations are very sparse and all look the same, and the arenas are mostly lifeless. Similarly, the music isn’t much to shout about; there are some recognisable tunes here but mostly it’s just generic trumpets and fanfares. Cutscenes are even more basic than ever before, with still images being thrown at you for the opening scene, in-game graphics and text boxes used for dialogue and cinematics, and there are only a few very brief sound bites from the characters here and there, making for an overall very bland visual experience.
Enemies and Bosses:
As is often the case with these games, your opponents are dictated by which character and event you wish to play; you won’t be able to pit Wario against Blaze the Cat in archery, for example, but you can pit Yoshi against Shadow the Hedgehog in football. You won’t really get to battle against Mario and Sonic characters in Road to Rio, though; mostly, you’re pitted against generic Mii and you’ll only ever get a sniff of facing someone recognisable when going up against an opponent from the opposite team or battling an unlockable character.
One the first day, you’ll take on either Silver the Hedgehog in 100m Hurdles or Yoshi in the 100m event; Hurdles see you holding B to charge up, tapping A to run, and then timing presses of B to hop over the hurdles, while 100m features similar controls but has you pressing B near the end to shave a few seconds off your time. 100m Plus has you going up against Nabbit, grabbing items to reach the goal and pressing B for an additional burst, while 100m Hurdles Plus sees you challenging Diddy Kong in the event which is made trickier by the hurdles moving up and down. Day two is all about Table Tennis in the Mario story and Beach Volleyball in the Sonic path; Table Tennis has you moving with circle pad or D-Pad and smacking the ball back at the right time with ether A (for a fast shot), B (for a slower backspin), or X (for a super shot) to see who wins the best of three sets, while Beach Volleyball is a doubles event and it can be tricky angling your shots correctly. Table Tennis Plus pits you against Zazz and has you accumulating more points by hitting the ball onto coloured, numbered tiles, while Beach Volleyball Plus has you playing against Roy and trying to get a bingo score going on.
Day three forces you to endure Archery against Birdo and Rhythmic Gymnastics against Blaze; while this latter isn’t too bad, Archery is a pain in the ass thanks to having to use the 3DS’ gyroscopic controls to aim and the wind throwing off your arrows. Archery Plus adds a whole mess of targets to hit to screw things up even more, while Rhythmic Gymnastics Plus sees you avoiding hazards to chain together combos for a higher score. On day four, you’ll have to take on Bowser Jr. in the Equestrian event (where you must press B to jump at the right time and stay on track to fill up your boost gauge) and Espio in the Long Jump (which sees you rapidly tap A to run up, press X for a super dash, and then press B at the right time leap ahead and judged on your furthest distance). You’ll then take on the oft-underused Doctor Eggman Nega in Long Jump Plus, which adds a giant spring to propel you further, and Larry in Equestrian Plus, where giant obstacles from the Mario and Sonic series are littered across the course.
Day five is all about Javelin in Sonic’s story and BMX in Mario’s; Javelin is a bit of a frustrating event that sees you swiping the stylus across the touch screen like an idiot, then trying to match the angle on the top screen without crossing the foul line (which is stupidly easy to do). In BMX, you need to rapidly tap A to cycle while staying on track with the circle pad, and hit B to make jumps and build up your super boost. When you face Dry Bowser in Javelin Plus, you get to toss a whole bunch of Javelins but this is really more for show than anything else, while you’ll need to avoid obstacles ad perform tricks in BMX Plus to beat Wave the Swallow’s record. Things pick up in day six in Sonic’s story as you get to take part in Boxing; here, you press B and A to punch, guard with Y, and unleash a super punch with X and can use item boxes to help take down Zavok in Boxing Plus. In Mario’s story, you have to best the 100m Freestyle Swimming event by drawing circles at just the right speed and tapping the screen at just the right time to turn around, but the shit really hits the fan on day seven. Everything ramps up, with some of the most finnicky games and controls, and you’re forced to play football in Sonic’s story (which sees you awkwardly passing the ball, tackling opponents, and trying to get a shot in and just goes on forever) or golf in Mario’s story (easily the most complex event, with wind speeds, angles, environment hazards, and extremely unhelpful and unclear directions meaning I won more out of luck than anything else!)
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As a glorified collection of mini games, there’s not many power-ups on offer; some events have you rapidly tapping A to recover stamina, or touching dash panels for a boost, and many reward a perfect finish with a fancy special flourish but you’ll only really see in-game benefits when playing Plus events. You can however, find hidden chests all over the game’s many locations (some even hidden behind springs or pipes) that will reward you with additional gear or melons. Every time you finish between first or fourth (or use the daily log-in/step challenge), you’ll earn both Training Points and apples. Apples can be traded for a variety of outfits with one Yoshi, while more additional items can be bought from another with melons; these items include new golf clubs, horses, hula rings, and boxing gloves that afford you additional boosts and benefits in their respective events and you can equip and unequip them at any time. Your outfits are limited by your character’s current level; the higher your level, you more gear you can equip and the better your stats will be, and you can even save sets of clothing to tailor your Mii for different events (boosting your strength over speed, for example).
Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games offers many of the same incentives for repeated play as its predecessors; at the start of the game, you can set up your Mii, regional flag, the computer’s difficulty level, and Street Pass to get daily rewards as you walk around. Quick play allows you to take on the computer or up to three other plays in all of the game’s different events, if you fancy testing your skill against others, and you have two story paths to play through. However, while your level, items, and costumes will transfer across each story, you can’t replay previous parts of the story at will and will need to play through from the beginning if you missed any chests, costumes, instruments, or unlockable characters. There’s also an achievement list to compare against other plays, a random medley option to mix and match events, and a challenge mode to take on but, once you’ve played through even one of the Road to Rio stories you’ve basically seen everything the game has to offer.
Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games improves on quite a few aspects of the last entry I played but still suffers from many of the same issues that have bogged down the series since day one. Essentially, it’s just a collection of Olympic-themed mini games involving some of gaming’s most iconic characters but with the weird twist that you really don’t get to play as any of these characters in the story mode. Road to Rio is so dumbed down and basic compared to the story modes in the other Mario & Sonic games I’ve played that it really makes playing even more of a chore. Couple that with the needlessly overcomplicated gameplay mechanics, vague tutorials, clunky camera and controls, and once again you’re left flailing around like an idiot as you desperately blow crafts along or try to match onscreen prompts. As a lifelong Sonic fan, I’m always happy to play one of his titles but these really aren’t games built for me…I actually struggle to think of anyone who would actually enjoy them, to be honest. There are far better party games and mini game collections out there, and definitely way better Mario and Sonic games, so it’s really more of an annoying novelty more than anything.
Could Be Better
Did you enjoy the 3DS version of Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games or did you prefer the Nintendo Wii version? How did you find the game’s motion controls, assortment of games, and story mode? Were you disappointed at the Mario and Sonic characters not being playable in Road to Rio? Do you agree that the concept is somewhat wasted on the Olympic Games or have you enjoyed the series so far? Which country are you pulling for in this year’s Olympic Games? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to sign up to leave a comment below, or leave a comment on my social media.