Mario & Sonic are back to compete for Olympic gold
Another Olympic Games are here, which means it’s time once again for long-time rivals Mario and Sonic to rally their teams and battle their way to the top of the podium. In Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympics for Wii U, you’ll compete in 14 official Olympic events, and 3 original, far-out Duel events with Mario & Sonictwists. Enjoy Olympic festivities in Rio de Janeiro’s beautiful Copacabana Beach, practice with your favourite characters like Luigi and Knuckles, participate in intense Olympic tournaments as your Mii character, and much more.
Platform: Wii U
Modes: Single-player, multiplayer
ESRB Rating: E10+ (Everyone 10+)
Vie for the podium in 14 Olympic events
It seems so long ago that Mario and Sonic had an actual rivalry going on, or at least their corporate owners Nintendo and Sega did, who used their iconic mascots as the public agents of their boardroom battle in numerous TV commercials and print advertisements. Nowadays the bitter war has evolved to a close friendship, with Sega and Nintendo having partnered up to produce a series of well-received crossover titles for every Olympics since the 2008 Beijing games. For Rio 2016, the first Summer Olympics game on Wii U, a lot has changed as far as the game interface and controls are concerned—mostly for the better, though there are a few nagging hiccups still holding this series back.
What hasn’t changed all that much are the various sporting events on offer, but you can’t really fault the game for revisiting events we’ve seen before because this is the Olympics, and Olympic sports remain fairly consistent across the years. Returning in Rio 2016 are past Mario & Sonic events such as 100m Dash, 4x100m Relay, 100m Freestyle Swimming, Beach Volleyball, Football (soccer), Equestrian, Table Tennis, Javelin Throw, BMX, Archery, Triple Jump, and Boxing. The two new events this time are Rhythmic Gymnastics, an extremely fun rhythm-based competition with simplified Guitar Hero-esque controls, and Rugby Sevens, a team sport that is appearing in this year’s Olympics for the very first time (though Rugby Union, another version of the sport, was included in the 1924 Paris Summer Olympics.)
While twelve of the fourteen Olympics events may have been featured in past games, they all feel much different this time around thanks to the much prettier high-definition graphics on Wii U, and even more significantly, the complete removal of motion controls, with all events now using traditional analog stick/button inputs. As per usual, each event is basically a mini-game representing its respective sport, albeit with simplified rules and controls, so don’t expect the same degree of gameplay depth you’d find in Nintendo’s single sport-focused franchises like Mario Strikers, Mario Tennis, and Mario Golf. Instead, what you’ll find here are short, enjoyable Olympic events best suited for (friendly) competitive multiplayer family and friends’ games nights.
I had varying degrees of fun with each of the Olympic events, but my favourites have to be Archery, BMX, Rhythmic Gymnastics, and the three team events—Rugby Sevens, Football, and Beach Volleyball. I never thought I’d say this, but in some events I missed the motion controls, especially in Boxing and Archery, two Olympics events that are tailor-made for Wii Remotes. Using the Wii U GamePad feels less accurate and immersive than using motion controls, and Boxing in particular had much less of an impact thanWii Sports boxing did, but I still found Archery quite enjoyable even with the subdued GamePad controls.
Rhythmic Gymnastics and Rugby Sevens were two of the more entertaining events of the bunch, not just because they’re novel and fresh for the series, but because they’re just plain fun to play. Rhythmic Gymnastics is like Guitar Hero or Rock Band and has cues fall on the left or right side of the screen, telling you to move the analog stick and press a button, respectively. It’s a breeze to play on easy, but on harder difficulty levels the divider line that splits the notes in half goes haywire, so you really need to focus to figure out if you should flick the analog stick or tap a button. Plus you get to see characters like Bowser and Dr. Eggman perform graceful twirls on the mat, which is another major plus. Rugby Sevens, on the other hand, is an extremely physical game that provides plenty of exciting back-and-forth moments and edge of your seat clutch plays, and it’s especially thrilling to play with family or friends in the room with you.
Play 3 Dual Events for wacky Mario & Sonic fun
Also included in Rio 2016 are three Duel Events that take traditional sports and mix-up the rules with nutty Mario & Sonictwists. Essentially replacing the Dream Events featured in previous Mario & Sonic titles, these wacky, arcade-style event variants introduce power-ups from the Mario and Sonic game universes, along with other modifiers that make the action more fast and furious. In each Dual Event you’ll earn potential points by hitting opponents with offensive power-ups and moves, then you can claim the points after scoring in the usual manner for that particular sport.
First up, there’s Dual Beach Volleyball, which introduces offensive power-ups like homing red shells, Moto bugs and lightning attacks, along with power sneakers that provide a speed boost and a bubble shield for protection. There are also special power squares that randomly appear on the court, and similar to Mario Tennis, if you hit the ball within these areas you’ll unleash super moves that greatly improve your chance to score. In one example, I had the ball hover and spin in the air for a few seconds, then it suddenly darted towards my opponent’s side super-fast. Another time, the ball zipped along at an untouchable height to the back corner of my opponent’s half, then dropped hard like it weighed a tonne. As much as I loved playing the Olympic-style Beach Volleyball, video games are the perfect medium to experiment with crazy new ideas, and I found it much more exhilarating to play with all of these ridiculously powerful special attacks.
Next, I tried Duel Rugby Sevens, and this time I discovered a whole new set of power-ups, including bullet bills, spiny shells, bombs, and chaos emeralds. Most of these power-ups behave like you’d expect they would, such as spiny shells seeking out whoever has the ball and bullet bills knocking down players in a straight line, though the chaos emerald was a genuine surprise with its ability to push all nearby opponents away. The best addition to the event, however, is the randomly appearing rainbows that give you an incredible (perhaps almost too powerful) spin attack speed boost that virtually guarantees you can score a try. As a result, most players battle their way towards rainbows instead of the end goal, and given that Rugby Sevens is an innately physical sport, this leads to even more tackles, rucks, and scrums.
Finally, Duel Football is essentially a Mario Strikers-lite that introduces the concept of plasma powers into the sport. Goal shots can be charged up with plasma for extra speed and power, though more often you see players using plasma ball attacks and plasma slides to take down opponents and add dual points to their team. The other major change is now there are no out of bounds, so the action continues at a rapid pace for the duration of the match. I enjoy this altered Olympic event as well, but it is certainly less satisfying than its much meatier Mario Strikers kin.
The regular Olympic sports are obviously the bread and butter of this game, but I’ve always been one to gravitate towards more arcade-style modes and found these three multiplayer-focused Duel Events to be tons of fun. With that said, it’s a bit disappointing to see the total absence of Dream Events, a former Mario & Sonic staple that transformed Olympic events into creative new extreme sports filled with Mario and Sonic characters, objects/items, music, and more.
Hang out at the Copa, the Copacabana
Instead of a standard, routine menu system, Rio 2016 offers an increasingly livelier Copacabana Beach hub area filled with sand, ocean waves, and tons of talkative characters. The game has a pretty rigid progression system, so you’ll need to start by practicing Olympic events and placing first in numerous of them to unlock more areas of the beach, then later on you’re required to place on the podium in multiple tournaments to access even more content. Having so many modes locked behind progress marks can be a bit frustrating, but at least it gives you the satisfaction of accomplishment once you finally gain access to new stuff.
You begin your beach journey by selecting one of your Mii characters and a country to associate it with (I naturally chose Canada), and from there you’ll enter tournaments against other Mii characters from around the world. As you play through tournaments, which range from three-round elimination types to three-round bracket series, defeated Mii characters will show up on the beach and give you fun trivia facts about their respective country or offer tips on secret actions to gain an advantage in the Olympic events. All Mii interactions are light and friendly, in usual Nintendo style, and you can even dress up your Mii in cute new outfits for added style (oddly enough, new outfits also enhance your Mii’s athletic skill.)
As mentioned, a bunch of new modes will open up as you progress, which includes Heroes Showdown—by far the best mode in the entire game. Instead of using your Mii, here you’ll choose to play as Team Mario or Team Sonic, and complete in elimination style matches until just the team captain (Mario and Sonic, naturally) remains. Each of the characters, ranging from Peach, Wario, Donkey Kong, Tails, Shadow, Blaze, and more, have unique stats for their overall power, speed, and technique. Specific characters may excel at one event, but be weaker in others, so a large part of the strategy is choosing the best character for upcoming event. Of course you may not always be able to select your first choice, since defeated characters are eliminated from your team, and thus later rounds get even more taxing and are crucial to team success. There are other modes that also unlock over time, such as Ghost Matches that pit you against real ghost records of other players, but it’s limited to only three Olympic events, which is a real shame.
It’s practically a given, especially for those who have played previouslyMario & Sonic titles, but Rio 2016 is exceedingly more fun when you play with others. Up to three other people can join in the fun, with one person using the Wii U GamePad and the rest can use Wii Remotes (although as previously mentioned, no motion controls are used, so the remotes are held laterally like a standard controller.) Playing Rugby Sevens, Beach Volleyball, and Football is a total blast with four players, since everyone can choose a team and play at the same time, however other events like 4x100m Relay, Javelin Throw, and BMX can be fun as well. It’s best if you play on a larger TV screen since many events use split-screen, giving each player less real estate to focus on.
Given the current state of gaming it’s almost unforgivable that Rio 2016 has no online multiplayer modes at all, as this game definitely would have benefited immensely from some form of online play. As it stands, we get online leaderboards, Miiverse integration, and the aforementioned Ghost mode, but overall these online offerings feel very bare bones. Hopefully this aspect of the series will improve come the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games (assuming we’ll get another Mario & Sonic game then.)
Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympics offers a solid package of new and returning Olympic events that benefit from improved graphics, and traditional controls, though it would have been nice to have the option for motion controls in events like Boxing and Archery. The team sports standout as the best of the bunch, and the new Duel versions add tons of excitement and unpredictability into the mix. I appreciate the effort that went into creating the Copacabana Beach, and the player progression systems feels very rewarding, however it does take some time to unlock all the game’s content. The Mii tournaments are interesting to try out for a few hours, but it’s Heroes Showdown that is the standout mode of this game, and the main reason to keep on coming back for more. You’ll want to play Rio 2016 with friends and family whenever possible, as multiplayer, like in past entries, is the best way to go.
+ The variety of Olympic and Duel events
+ Beautiful HD graphics
+ Easy and fun to play
+ Overall package immerses you in the Rio 2016 Olympic spirit
– Some sports would be better with motion controls
– Takes too long to unlock some modes
– Minimal online integration
– No Dream Events
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 3.5/5
Overall Rating 4/5 (80%)
Get Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympics for Nintendo 3DS (released March 18, 2016)