As a child of the eighties, the idea of this crossover would be anathema to my younger self. Mario and Sonic were bitter rivals, flinging torrents of poorly worded abuse at each other via their vociferous fans encamped on playgrounds around the world. Things change though, and once Sega had given up on being a hardware manufacturer in their own right, they merrily jumped into bed with the big N as if it was all just some minor misunderstanding.
Mario & Sonic At The Rio 2016 Olympic Games marks the fifth time the former adversaries have met in friendly competition, and the second outing on Nintendo’s embattled Wii U – the 3DS version came out a couple months back. A collection of seventeen different sporting events, from football to archery, the shift to the Wii U has been shorn of the motion controls that were the original game’s calling card, but you have to ask, would anyone really miss them?
At the outset you find yourself on Copacabana Beach, which serves as the game’s hub. There’s a bit of time before the Olympics start, so you’re offered the chance to play some single matches beforehand. Orbot and Cubot control the single and multiplayer matches, and you can earn Single Match Seals by coming in first place or winning events. The point here is to get a feel for some of the events without the worry of losing out in the main competition.
The competition begins to ramp up when the Olympics actually get under way. In keeping with the setting, you have to make your way through qualifying rounds or preliminary matches, before hitting the semi-finals and the finals. Interestingly even on the normal setting in single-player, the computer AI can jump from being an absolute pushover to horribly efficient from match to match, though it does all tend to ramp up as you progress. For those looking for even more of a challenge, you can purposefully increase the difficulty as well.
One of the most fun inclusions here is a Duel Mode for the football, rugby sevens and, to a lesser extent, the beach volleyball events. These inject the games with some Mario & Sonic magic with super attacks and special items like Bullet Bill and Blue Shells, turning each match into a frantic free-for-all.
In the case of rugby, you aim to avoid giant drops of rain while running through rainbows in order to power yourself up, and you earn extra points by taking out members of the opposing team before heading for the goal line. Each scoring opportunity can easily earn you well over 20 points, with the conversion kick adding more points the closer to the centre you get.
The Duel Football has shades of Mario Strikers, though it never reaches those heights. It can become a bit messy, but unlike the ordinary version where nearly every tackle is called a foul unless it’s made head on, you’re actually rewarded for taking out the opposition, with knockdowns awarding points that are added to your accumulator if you score.
By contrast, the volleyball is amongst the weakest events overall, whether in this Duel Mode or the ordinary one. Both forms boast disappointingly inaccurate controls and a ponderous pace.
A lot of the events boil down to the classic Track and Field controls of hammering away at a button, but some of them inject timing and tactics into the mix in order to leverage some depth. At times the dry written explanations given to you at the start of an event don’t remotely prepare you for what’s to come, and fall apart even further when you’re given hints and tips by passers-by on the beach. You’ll probably have grasped most of it after a few rounds, but it loses the immediacy of the best party games, while relying too often on genre tropes.
Of course, multiplayer is still king here, and while the single-player content is in fact much more robust than many other competitive games, you’re going to have far more fun playing against someone sat next to you. Some of the events simply come alive when you inject real-life competitors, which makes it an immense shame that there’s only online leaderboards and no competitive online option for this year’s entry.
You’re initially limited to only using your Mii in the Olympic events which certainly makes it more sensible, but is far less exciting. You can play with other characters as guests, but the roster unlocks at a glacial pace, despite being available from the off in both the single matches and the Heroes Showdown Mode. You can liven things up by using your earned coins to buy various items of clothing for your Mii that enhance your stats, and seeing someone running the 100 metres in a carnival outfit takes the edge off.
I wasn’t entirely sure whether it was supposed to be a moment of self-effacing humour when Zazz – of Sonic Lost World ‘fame’ – asks why you don’t recognise him, but I’m going to credit Sega with it anyway. Admittedly there are a few characters on the Sonic side that may not be quite as iconic as Mario’s chums, but that didn’t stop Vector the Crocodile from becoming a household favourite.
The game packs in a pleasing amount of information about each of the competing countries, as well as the stadiums and venues that will be used throughout the Rio Olympics. It’s all very accessible, from a Peruvian representative talking about Machu Pichu to an athlete from Ghana letting you know about their gold mining industry, and it helps to build a picture of the varied nations around the world that participate in the Olympics.
The game also looks the part, with bright and colourful graphics that are a mainstay of the series. Mario, Sonic and all of their pals look robust and characterful, and we’ve thankfully been spared the horrendous redesigns of Sonic Boom. There are some parts that don’t quite hang together between the realistic setting and the wild competitors, with the prime example being the Equestrian event. Seeing Shadow the Hedgehog riding a semi-realistic thoroughbred is truly a sight to behold.
Mario & Sonic At The Rio Olympics 2016 is a solid entry in the series that will provide some undemanding multiplayer fun, as well as a modicum of single player enjoyment. However, a few too many missteps, from the lack of online to some events that don’t hit the mark, unfortunately stop this from being anything but overwhelmingly average.