The biannual bash of gaming’s top titans is here again and it’s a far more enjoyable fare than a certain recent movie featuring two other huge fictional rivals. Mario and Sonic return to the Olympics with their biggest roster ever and a surprisingly meaty single-player experience. However, with this being the fifth outing for this mascot sports series, is it too much of the “same-old, same-old”, or is there enough meat in the portable outing to be worth a purchase?
Mario and Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games already has a large supply of events to play right off the bat. Plenty of summer events are included from archery, boxing, equestrian, football (soccer for us yanks) and much more are available as soon as you start the game. This includes the plus (dream) events which sadly, are not as imaginative as previous outings and are basically the same event, but with a coat of Mario or Sonic paint attached. Some of them change the rules up a little, but it doesn’t feel like your either in Mario or Sonic’s worlds.
The game includes 15 regular and 15 plus events along with 30 training mini games you unlock in the “Road to Rio” story mode. This is where the main meat of the game lies, especially for those who mainly enjoy single player. In Road to Rio, your Mii arrives in Rio and is greeted by two other Mii’s in Mario and Sonic costumes. They then want you to either join Mario or Sonic’s gym. Which one you join affects both what events you play, what rivals you face (for instance, join Mario’s Gym and your rivals will be Sonic characters, your trainers will be Mario characters and vice-versa if you choose Sonic’s gym) and what part of the back story you get. This is actually pretty important and I’ll go into more detail on that later.
After choosing your gym, you will be going to different parts of the city where you can either talk to visitors to get some of the back story or go to the trainers to try out some mini games while leveling up your Mii. Training and leveling up your Mii are essential to winning medals. You’ll be facing different rivals at both the preliminaries and finals. Your goal is to have your stats above theirs before facing off with them. Otherwise, you may have a tough time beating them. Also hidden away in each city is a secret rival to battle. Win against them and you’ll unlock them as playable characters in the quick play mode. You’ll also need to buy new clothes and outfits from Yoshi’s shop so you can boost your stats a bit further. You might look silly at times, but fashion is a small price to pay for victory! This is actually a pretty long story mode and doing both gyms can take well over 8 hours to complete making for the longest time I’ve put into a Mario and Sonic game yet.
Now when your training, getting new outfits, boosting your stats and going against rivals in Olympic events, you’re gonna have a great time. However, if you’re interested in the story, forget it. This is by far the worst story structure I have ever seen in my life. Let me give you an example in what I like to call “Steve the Hobbit”.
Steve was an ordinary hobbit living in the shire doing ordinary hobbit things. He had a small farm he took care of and basically life was very simple. One day, his neighbor Frodo came by. “Steve!” Frodo said. “Me and Sam are going on a great adventure and won’t be back for some time.” “Well, goodbye and have a safe trip” said Steve and he went back to his mundane life. Steve stayed in the shire competing in some hobbit games and eventually getting married. One day, Frodo came back. “Steve!” Frodo exclaimed. “I cast the ring into the fires of Mount Doom, thus defeating Sauron and saving the world!!” Puzzled, Steve looked at Frodo and said “What the hell are you talking about? What ring? Who’s Sauron?” The End.
You see, in Road to Rio, you are a protagonist who’s not really part of the main story going on in the background. Everything about the story is told through hearsay, weather it’s by other game characters or local citizens throughout the city. However unless you stop and talk to all of them, you can miss a ton of details. Not only that, but the story is told in two parts depending on which gym you chose at the beginning. Mario’s Gym or Sonic’s Gym. If you choose Sonic’s Gym first (as I did since I’m a Sonic fan), you are at the second half of the story mode. Not only that, but since it’s the second half, the rivals end up being much tougher to beat since your stats haven’t been built up from the first half. Beating Daisy in Soccer (or football) was a nightmare! Also, the second half is much more vague on the back story going on. When I finally beat Sonic’s story, he congratulated me and told me they found the missing medals. This is the first I heard of any medals missing at all. AT THE END OF THE STORY! Albeit, I found out later there is a third, final ending once beating both gyms and your Mii does help Sonic and Mario then.
So yes, in order to fully understand this story mode and play it properly, you have to go to Mario’s gym first. However, the game never tells you this. Not only that, when you start the mode over again and pick a new gym. The gym members act like it’s the first time meeting you even though the story is continuing. It’s the worst story structure I’ve ever seen. Not only that, it’s completely unnecessary. Your Mii’s motivation to win the events has nothing to do with what’s going on in the background, so it might not as well exist. So take my advice, do Mario’s gym first, do all the training and events and ignore the story altogether.
The other problem I have is the poor use of the roster. You have the biggest roster yet in a Mario and Sonic game and a good amount of them can play only one or two events with the exception of Mario, Sonic and your Mii who can play every event. For instance, I unlocked Sticks in the story mode and was excited to play as her in the other events only to find Archery and Archery plus are the only events she can play. Why? Her stats alone should be good for several other events but no, only Archery for poor Sticks.
Those complaints aside, everything else is quite an improvement. The graphics are sharp and crisp and probably the best they’ve done for this series on the portables. The original music for this game is surprisingly very well done despite it missing the remixes of other Mario and Sonic tunes. It’s got a lot of pop to it and the opening theme is my favorite of the entire series. There’s a good list of composers so I’m not sure who to thank for that.
Another thing I like is “Pocket Marathon” a mini-game mode where you just put your game in sleep mode and walk to gather steps for for an in-game marathon. The amount of steps you take gives you more items including costume parts and apples to buy outfits from Yoshi. When the game shows you running, other characters will run beside you, some of them make for interesting groups. It’s an unnecessary, but more than welcomed mode and great for getting your kids a little exercise.
Overall, this is the best in the portable line of Mario and Sonic games to date. Great music, a large (but barely playable) roster, tons of events and mini-games and a large single-player campaign that will last you quite awhile. Outside of the story making little sense in the campaign, I really recommend Mario and Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympics. However it really depends on how much you’ve enjoyed the previous games in the series. If you’re primarily a single player (like me), you’ll get a lot out of it this time. Playing the 3DS version has got me really looking forward to the Wii U version coming this June.