Once settled rivalries reignite, as Nintendo and SEGA characters descend on Rio de Janeiro to put their sporting prowess to the test. In one corner, a moustachioed Italian plumber with an energetic flair for jumping, and, in the other, a blue hedgehog with attitude renowned for his super-speed and chilli dog munching.
After braving a snowy expanse in Russia for Mario and Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, we find ourselves basking in far sunnier weather in Mario and Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. With Brazil having been chosen as the host for the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, we have another chance to see our favourite characters compete for gold and shoulder barge their way across the finish line.
This Nintendo 3DS exclusive continues to deliver a sporting crossover with sensational promise, in that Sonic and his pals can take on the Mushroom Kingdom crew across multiple Olympic disciplines, throwing in Plus Events that present their own twist on what can normally be expected in their related sport.
After selecting your Mii, country flag and the game’s difficulty level, a rather jubilant fanfare will greet you on the main menu where you can choose between several modes. Rio 2016 Quick Play will let you jump straight in to compete in an Olympic Event, with there being 14 to select from, which, to simply list them, are: Football, Golf, 100m, 110m Hurdles, Long Jump, Javelin, Swimming, Archery, Boxing, Table Tennis, Beach Volleyball, Equestrian, BMX, and Gymnastics. In the alternate Plus Events, these are then showered with items or enemies from the Mario or Sonic series to add another 14 to choose between.
All differ, and not only in that they will either use button or touchscreen input. Football is certainly no Mario Strikers Charged replacement, nor FIFA 15 for that matter, and the button-orientated approach sees you tackling for possession, making long passes and seizing the chance to take a Super Shot on goal. Whereas Golf, which appears at the Olympic Games for the first time in 112 years, puts your stylus to use, touching the club before sliding it as quickly as you can toward the centre of the on-screen golf ball.
Implementation changes from sport-to-sport, which, while welcomingly makes sure that the experience continually feels varied, sees some control input decisions perplex. That is thanks in part to wanting to showcase the hardware as SEGA has done on Nintendo DS, Wii and Wii U, but, five years since 3DS launched, you have to question the necessity at this point.
While choosing to boast that the game has more characters than ever before, events are restricted to six or so pre-selected contenders. Mario, Sonic and your Mii remain constant choices across all, meaning that you will only ever have the chance to choose between three others. Limited perhaps due to hardware or Game Card storage limitations, but this approach will disappoint those looking to dominate the Olympic Games as Waluigi. Which is a shame seeing as the roster, that adds Nabbit, Sonic Lost World and Sonic Boom characters, readily impresses in sheer breadth.
It will be the central Road to Rio mode where you will spend most of your time. Arriving at Rio de Janeiro International Airport as a new competitor, your Mii is recruited to a gym in Copacabana run by either Mario or Sonic. After Luigi or Tails greet you, under the guidance of the world-famous athletes you will compete for gold, a daily schedule rotating the event that you will participate in at the Olympic Stadium in Maracanã – first in the preliminaries, and then the final.
Training sessions with other characters introduce challenges based on the game’s disciplines, the player earning Training Points and levelling which will allow you to wear better outfits. These can be purchased at Yoshi’s Outfit Shop with fruit acting as currency, and are split into two parts – Hats and Clothes. The Outfit that you choose will impact on your Mii’s skill parameters, across Speed, Power, Skill and Stamina.
When competing in a final you will go up against your rival at either Mario or Sonic’s gym, depending on which you chose at the start. You can check their skill parameters to see how you compare, and therefore have chance to choose an Outfit that can help even the odds. That largely spurs the Road to Rio mode, players training to unlock an expanded wardrobe that can help them stand tall on the victory podium and beat the rival gym’s best.
This is certainly the best way to experience everything that Mario and Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games has to offer, and I enjoyed sinking plenty of time into it despite its somewhat slower pace. That being said, it also becomes a forced necessity as the way that players will unlock special characters for use in Rio 2016 Quick Play.
The Pocket Marathon was a surprise highlight, using steps that the player has made while carrying their Nintendo 3DS to run virtual marathons. These are counted when the system is in Sleep Mode and the game doesn’t have to be running, with each step counting as a kilometre. As your Mii dashes toward the finish line, Mario, Sonic and pals will run alongside you to cheer you on. Those with the game that you StreetPass will also join in such encouragement. There’s a point to it too, thankfully, in that it lets you unlock new Outfits, fruit and other rewards.
Beyond this, Local Play and Download Play will let you compete against other players, and it comes as an understandable disappointment that, for whatever reason, Nintendo and SEGA continue to decide against the inclusion of any online component.
The presentation is resoundingly colourful and the soundtrack joyous if not seemingly limited to a handful of compositions, but that is overshadowed by the fact that there is a clear lack of content to play. Road to Rio may try to pad this out with character interactions, but you will tire of repeating the same 14 Events. Even Plus Events can’t hold your interest for much longer, throwing Thomps, Golden Mushrooms, Sonic-themed golf courses and more in your direction to conjure enthusiasm.
amiibo support is similarly lacklustre. By completing Road to Rio you will unlock a Mario Suit or Sonic Suit depending on which gym you chose, and these can be powered up for 24 hours with the Mario and Sonic amiibo respectively. That temporarily boosts your Mii’s stats in helping you to beat World Record times set in events, but it’s hard to particularly care for it. Given that there are more than 270 clothing items to unlock, it would’ve been nice to even see amiibo simply integrated in that way.
Mario and Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games captures the spirit of the international sporting event, but as a minigame collection fails to deliver as nail-biting an experience. There’s hours of fun to be had but not nearly enough of it, even if Road to Rio sees the series successfully steer itself in a partly positive direction.