Mario and Sonic was always the topic at the Copa. With the Olympics just weeks around the corner, Mario and Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games for the Wii U is finally out on the shelves. Promising more characters, better graphics, 14 Olympic events and an array of content, will this game have you partying like you’re in Maracanã, or will you be left thinking of it as Barren da Tijuca?
Fun and Folly In the Real World
Right off the bat, the game boasts very pretty graphics, certainly a step above the last instalment of the series. There’s the obvious visual improvement in how the lighting reacts with the beachline environment, but there are little touches like how the dust particles and footstep effects react to your movement and change based on terrain. The events themselves run at a very smooth framerate, although the hub is a bit slower. At the very least, you won’t be let down in an event by sudden lag.
Animations, on the hand, are a little less impressive. Most of them are carried over from Sochi, and are often reused across events (for example, Vector’s drill dash is fine for sprinting and swimming, but in the Triple Jump it can be disorientating). This also applies for the special team animations, entirely the same as before. With the guest characters, there have only been four added; Sonic and Jet, Rouge and Blaze (oddly), Mario and Toad, and Donkey and Diddy. The new additions are fine, but they seem to miss opportunities for more. The new animations for events like Equestrian and Rhythmic Gymnastics are fun to watch, and there’s some neat animations when they’re on the beach.
Music is a mixed bag depending on which aspect you’re focusing on. The original soundtrack is the best in the Mario and Sonic series, in my opinion. The sound team have really done their homework on traditional Brazilian music, and it injects a personality into the sound that’s unique to it. This means that more of the music sticks with you, and makes for good listening even outside of the game. The main theme and Carnaval Do Rio are the cream of the crop.
The Mario and Sonic music is a little more disappointing. Rhythmic Gymnastics gets some great exclusive tunes, and there is a remix or two dotted about the rival themes, but the only other remix on Sonic’s side is Windmill Isle, while Mario’s side has two or three more. Every other franchise tune is either the original lifted or a reused remix from previous instalments. For a series known for some great remixes, that’s quite the step down.
The levels may also bring a bit of contention amongst Mario and Sonic fans. Duel events, at least Duel Rugby and Duel Beach Volleyball, are some of the most beautiful events in the game, really selling the idealisation of Rio. However, these come about instead of something that has been cherished in the series since the Vancouver instalment; dream events. Gone is every single trace of a locale from the Mario or Sonic series, although the above duel events still keep the fantasy of the two series in the form of the gimmicks (Duel Football doesn’t, making me wonder if it was planned to par them down completely before deciding to keep a few franchise elements). How much you’re affected by this depends on how much stock you put into the series’ representation.
The events on the whole aren’t anything mind-blowing, but most of them are enjoyable to play at least. A lot end up being more fun and nuanced as you find out the little advanced commands you can do to improve your performance beyond the basics given to you. My opinion on each is as follows;
100m – Certainly the most straight-forward event, it’s a button masher like you’d expect. I’m not too brilliant at mashing buttons quickly so I find this harder than a lot of people would, but at least this incarnation of this event has a work-around for those who might need to approach the event from another angle.
4 x 100m – This actually isn’t 100m times four, oddly enough. The focus is entirely on entering combinations and timing. Certainly accommodates my style of play better, but it’s not that entertaining to play.
Javelin Throw – One of the most fun versions of this event to play, it’s very clear on what you need to do when and the nuance is all down to how well you can time your action transitions. Strangely, despite its quality, it’s also the event where I most find myself saying “Oh yeah, this exists” when I see it come up.
Triple Jump – This one’s deceptive. While the initial instructions are very basic, the added instructions required to maximise your performance are some of the most complex and precise in the game. If you’re playing it normally, you’re likely to get some fun out of this.
100m Freestyle – Swimming acts like many versions of it before. Tap buttons, turn, tap buttons again. The Stamina bar gives it a bit of nuance again 100m, and you have to be careful of the swim style of the character (as it changes whether you press the buttons simultaneously or alternating).
Table Tennis – Compared to past versions, table tennis feels a bit finicky, and looser than I might be comfortable with. I got many points lost because the ball didn’t bounce as you’d think, and times where I’d swear I hit the ball but it ducked down instead.
Archery – An event which definitely changes up a lot in comparison to the past. Instead of the usual slow and precise shooting of a single target, you now have to shoot at a range of targets that pop up and move quite quickly, more like a fairground gallery than the Olympic Games. It feels strange to have such a non-Olympic format when every other non-Duel event is more faithful, but it’s better than the alternative.
Equestrian – For the first time, the Equestrian is more than just show-jumping (which even the 3DS version has). There’s a new spin in the form of trick-riding, and it gives the event a refresh that it needed. Simple to get to grips with as well.
Boxing – This event is a bit on the repetitive side. While you’re given a range of attacks and blocks to use, generally it’s the more offensive approach that works the best (although knowing how to block special shots is a plus). The health system is also very strange; the only notification that you’re low on health is when your character starts sweating, except the times when they don’t and they just fall to the floor anyway. The knockout system can also drag things out if you don’t take them out in one round.
BMX – Out of the new additions, I’d say that BMX is the one I had the most fun with. This event requires a balance of using you meter to blast ahead and using tricks to increase the energy in your meter. What it results in is a fast and thrilling event that gives you enough to savour.
Rhythmic Gymnastics – For this go around, gymnastics opts to go with clubs for the event accessory. Gymnastics has always been an event I felt benefitted from the motion controls, and while the 3DS rhythmic ribbon emulates that complexity, the Wii U version instead tries to make things more complex by having the event more like a game of DDR. Unfortunately, it ends up being too simplistic, with even the tips recounting things you’re likely to suss straight away. It’s nice to see the characters dance as you go, but it’s not very satisfying.
Football – Out of all the events, football is the one I like the least, in both forms. The controls and rules are overly finicky in the regular version, and even when you get down a working technique, it’s not very fun when winning either. Duel Football is slightly better since the A tackle rule is lifted, but the plasma shots that this event lies its foundations on are unreliable and not enough of a twist to make it any more interesting than its regular counterpart.
Beach Volleyball – Regular beach volleyball is okay. The game doesn’t explain what certain mechanics like dump shots are (which really sucks for a certain moment), but the AI even at high levels is so simple that it’s not hard to get past them anyway. Duel Beach Volleyball has the same AI issue, but the added bells and whistles in the form of power-ups and the Octi float add enough for it to become a manic rush where you have to make sure you aren’t too busy attacking to hit the ball.
Rugby – Rugby has a similar issue to football in that there’s a learning curve for getting to grips with it. Unlike football, this game is enjoyable once you understand what you’re doing, and the experience doesn’t get tedious over time. Duel rugby is even better. The added power-ups and rainbows add a degree of strategy and frantic action to the mix, resulting in one of the best events in terms of technical execution.
The controls in this game have completely left behind the motion-based gameplay of its Wii origins. Instead, it is now all button-based. On the one hand, it does take out an element that originally complemented the game theming (even if it did result in some very convoluted controls for events at times) and some events are oversimplified as a result (Rhythmic Gymnastics being the one I noticed). On the other hand, the lack of motion controls gives it greater accessibility to the audience, and it also means that the game has Off-TV play if you have need for it.
Main Game Mode Modes
This game has a lot to do in terms of modes to play through, but all but one are locked until you progress to a certain point. While it does encourage you to practice, it does seem odd to restrict you to just one mode from the start instead of allowing at least two for variety. The game is very much multi-player friendly, as every mode except the Amiibo leagues has a single version and multiplayer version as standard. It reminds me a lot of Crash Bash’s fully multiplayer modes, except there’s absolutely no story on hand here.
Single match mode is the usual drill for Mario and Sonic games; you can play a single match of any given event. There’s nothing too significant about the way it’s done, but I will note the reward. Instead of getting a medal in this mode, you get a match seal, which doesn’t really serve any purpose across the game as a whole. This switch makes sense considering how the medals are used, but it’s still kind of strange, especially when this bars the ceremony animation from showing so you have to wait a long time to see your favourite franchise characters celebrate a win.
Win five match seals and you unlock Tournament mode. This is the heart of the game, and where pretty everything important is done and unlocked. Much like the 3DS story campaign, tournaments consist of a single event (here, you can pick from three event tickets available at a time) split into the preliminaries, the semi-finals and the finals. Elimination tournaments tend to be easier but you have to make it to the final to get on the podium. Bracket tournaments are harder to get through, but much easier to place on the podium. This at least keeps them balanced in terms of how they play.
What’s not so balanced is the AI. Level 1 is considered normal difficulty as you’d expect, but even starting from level 2 the difficulty ramps up and you’re going to likely not get gold on quite a lot of events by the time you get to level 3. The bad news is that level 3 is compulsory to get to the credits. What makes it a bit easier is that it isn’t required to get gold to complete a tournament; just bronze or silver are sufficient. Gold is mostly just to show off to Lakitu and get a bit of extra moolah.
Earn seven medals, and you unlock Heroes Showdown. This was a heavily advertised mode where the whole of team Mario and the whole of team Sonic take each other on to see which team comes out on top. However, for such a highly focused on feature, the mode itself isn’t that elaborate. Your team is randomly split into three colours at the start of the game, and you can win bonuses based on which colour the team member you picked falls under. As members lose, they are knocked out. The aim of the mode is to be the last team standing or have the most members standing by the end of the game.
There’s a degree of extra strategy involved with picking members based on what colours they are and what event is about to happen or coming up next, and the fire-ups/slumps mean that events aren’t necessarily just what you’d get in other modes, but otherwise it’s just a marathon of the events until the round allocation is over or the captain is taken out. This seems like a mode that would be more fun in multiplayer, as the only reason to approach it in single player is to harvest rings (before later tournaments become more viable) and unlock some Mario/Sonic music tracks.
Ten medals won unlocks Ghost Match mode. This is easily the most superfluous mode out of the lot. You play in single player only, and you have three events to play (100m, 4 x 100m Relay and Swimming). This gets you nothing but bragging rights on a list of ranked players. It should also be noted that this is the closest to online play the game gets to as there is no online play directly against other players. This wasn’t such an issue to me because I’m not big on multiplayer, but it really should be something that would be incorporated since multiplayer is the bread and butter of the entire game.
After winning twenty medals, the Carnival rolls into town and you can take on the Carnival Challenge. It’s pretty self-explanatory; four floats at a time come by (one for a Sonic hero, one for a Sonic villain, one for a Mario hero and one for a Mario villain) which you can pay to challenge one at a time (the toll starts at 5, and rises each time you fail until it caps off at 60. This only applies to the float you’re challenging). The challenges vary from just being very good at an event to completing the event while fulfilling a gimmick criterion. For winning, you get playable character costume pieces.
The challenges themselves are generally fine. Some are very easy while others are very hard if you don’t understand what you have to do (a dunk shot is when you don’t pass the ball to your teammate for a spike, but instead press B to shoot early and press A as the ball touches your hand. There’s a free tip). My main beef is with the frequency; once it’s unlocked it shows up every three new tournaments you complete successfully, or every 4-5 you take on and fail. With only 17 events per difficulty level, this means you’ll only get around to unlocking less than half of the costumes by the end of level 3, with a lot being behind max level.
After you earn twenty five medals, you can finally use your Amiibo for goodies. If you scan an Amiibo that isn’t Mario or Sonic, you get 50 rings and 50 coins, and you can only use this once a day. Use a Mario or Sonic Amiibo and you unlock their respective leagues. Here, you can take on various characters from that franchise with either a Mii or characters from the opposite side (so you can use Mario characters in the Sonic league, or Sonic characters in the Mario league). These leagues have four set events each to choose from, and are done in a round robin style for three matches. Win gold on all four of these, and you can earn the gold suits of the respective league character.
There’s not that much to do in this mode, but it makes up for that by just how difficult it is. The AI doesn’t slouch, so you’d better bring your A-game if you want to claim gold. It also has some exclusive unlockables, like music tracks from the likes of Sonic and the Black Knight. It’s generally more satisfying than Heroes Showdown, despite the lack of event coverage there is. It’s also the most difficult Amiibo unlock I’ve seen in a Nintendo game thus far.
Agogôs and Apitos
Unlike the previous Mario and Sonic instalments, this game has a lot of content that needs to be unlocked. Aside from the modes above which have medal requirements, there are all sorts of bits and bobs that can be found with different methods of coming across them. At the very least, the variety adds longevity given how long it can take to obtain some of them.
The most primary unlock for most people will be the guest characters. These characters require their event tournament to be beaten (Diddy, Rosalina, Rouge, Jet, Wave, Zavok and Zazz on level 1, Toad, Dry Bowser, Nabbit, Wendy, Larry, Espio and Sticks on level 2). Once that’s done, they can only be played with in their respective event, but otherwise they’re as integrated into the game as the veterans. On the one hand, they’re in addition to the usual cast, so their inclusion on paper is only a bonus that adds more playability to the roster. Unfortunately, the inevitable effect of restricting them to one event is going to be disappointing to fans of those characters, who likely want full playability across the entire game. This is especially egregious when restricted guest characters include highly clamoured for fan-favourites like Rosalina, and with how much they were included in the marketing beforehand. That said, with how the game handles the Mario and Sonic elements, it’s not that noticeable when you’re actually playing through it.
Outfits provide aesthetic changes to your Miis and change up their statistics in events, as per every instalment from Vancouver onwards. There are three methods to getting outfit pieces in this game. One, as mentioned before, is earning playable character costume parts in Carnival Challenge. The second is earning the special prize in tournaments through certain requirements. These are generally pretty simple to do, although some are more obtuse in their methods. The third method is to get them through the use of stalls. This method is the easiest for getting a mass of clothing items, but not necessarily all the best ones you can get.
As for the clothing itself, it’s pretty much what you’d expect. A lot of sports-themed clothing, with Mario and Sonic themed costumes providing the top end of items and some quirky clothing options sprinkled in for variety. The sports clothes cover different sports in different colours with slightly different stats. The quirky clothes cover a variety of themes (eg Steampunk, animals) and tend to have higher stats than the sports clothes. Costumes give the stats of the character you’re dressed up as if you have the matching set. These tend to be most reliable for events as you have characters who are exceptional in certain events, which you can take advantage of. What’s strange is that the costumes now come in two pieces (not even the 3DS version did that), and while the extra legwork is annoying, it does make it rife for some strange experimentation.
At 50 rings and coins, and 250 rings or coins, you unlock the Rio Prize stand, and the Sonic or Mario prize stands respectively. In these stands you can get clothing (across all three, but Mario and Sonic costumes are limited to the Mario and Sonic stands), stamps (primarily in the Rio prize stand, but the Mario and Sonic stock art are in their respective prize stands) and music (only in the franchise prize stands). As per normal chance machines, less desirable items are less common, while music is rarer and costumes are really rare. It can get frustrating when you’re down to the last few items to get from the stands, as you will get a lot of duplicates. But then, that’s the usual nature of chance machines, isn’t it.
The other collectible you gain throughout the game are stamps. Introduced in Super Mario 3D World, stamps are used to decorate posts for Miiverse. There are 100 stamps in total, and most of them are either themed on sports or various aspects of Brazil. Unfortunately, the stamps for Mario and Sonic are very limited. Mario and Sonic get three stamps each, with two more stamps for logos and backgrounds. The other veteran cast get just one stamp each, while guest characters get no stamps at all. It’s fair enough giving precedence to the games, but not having at least all the playables have a stamp seems like a missed opportunity.
The Touch Line
Mario and Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games has a strange dichotomy to it. Like the 3DS version, there’s an emphasis on the rivalry between team Mario and team Sonic throughout. If not blatantly shown through Heroes Showdown, there’s smaller points like the different currencies you have to use, the fact that when you unlock using the characters in tournament mode the competitors that can appear to rival you in the tournament can only be from the opposing franchise and the characters now being organised by franchise instead of stat classification. With such emphasis, you would think the Mario and Sonic elements would be played up.
However, this is not the case. In fact, there’s far more emphasis on the idea of the Olympics being in Brazil and playing the game as your Mii. Between dream events getting the axe in favour of duel events set in Brazilian landmarks, to the bulk of the game being playable by Miis only (and your user Mii being the one to peruse the beach outside of tournaments) to even the series fanservice in general being dialled back to a background element or being mostly reused from previous instalments, those looking for something to quench their Mario and/or Sonic interest may walk away from this feeling disappointed.
As its own game, it’s a decent little package. The presentation as a whole is a step above what the series has done in the past, most of the events are at least palatable, and it’s definitely geared up for a multiplayer experience. Some events are hard to get to grips and therefore not very enjoyable, and there is a risk that repetition will set in if played over the long term, but for the fifth entry into a nine-year Olympic tie-in series, it’s certainly able to provide entertainment. You may get more out of it if playing with friends, as the party genre is inclined more for a gather-round for fun. I would say this isn’t the gold standard, but it gets the bronze medal from me.
Picking it up at full price isn’t advised, but maybe when it’s cut down a bit, or even just renting it would suffice for a quick blast with friends. Of course, there’s always the option of playing the previous games (especially the likes of the Vancouver instalment) if you have access to them at that price level.
-The presentation being probably the best in the Mario and Sonic series.
-Most of the minigames being at least enjoyable, if not without flaws for some of them.
-The general music being the best in the series, hands-down.
-The fact that there are now 34 playable characters.
-The fact that all of the 14 new characters are exclusive to a single event each.
-The very limited online play options for a 2016 Wii U title.
-The lack of Mario and Sonic representation overall.