The Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games series is a tale of two very different experiences, you have the dull and unenthusiastic Winter Olympics, then you have the Summer Olympics and personally I found these games often shine. Both the 2008 and 2012 games were masterpieces of game design with the latter improving over the former in many ways, but with such improvements a thought I did not wish for has crossed my mind. Sooner or later these summer games were going to fall, and Mario and Sonic’s charming take on the Olympics would struggle to perform, I don’t want this thought but going into Rio 2016 I could not escape it, and while this game does indeed struggle though it is not outright terrible.
More so then previous summer games this tells a tale of two different gaming experiences, this akin to the Winter Olympics verses Summer Olympics provides a good idea of what is given in Rio 2016. For this Olympic outing there is three main modes in which you can access, there is the traditional single match mode, Olympic tournament, and the Heroes Showdown, these modes build the core of your experience although one is weaker than the others, and another is average at best.
To speak from experience the single match mode was where a good portion of my game time was spent, yet for multiple reasons I found myself lured away from the more basic approach to the Olympics. Where usually I am lured to this mode I felt there was a couple of elements that held me back, one such thing being the events themselves verses loading times. Rio 2016 has some of the longest loading times in the entire series and this impacts certain events due to their length which can often be only a few seconds such at the 100 meters sprint.
This element was infuriating and made it hard to jump into just a single event, but yet this was not all. I also faced an issue with the shortage of events overall, where London 2012 was brimming with events to compete in, Rio 2016 only features fourteen events and this brings in the omission of several of my favorites such as Synchronised Swimming and fencing. Also gone are the staple dream events which usually offered a charming twist on the Olympics with more out there Mario and Sonic inspired events, simply put what events you see are what you get, and certainly there is fun to be had but not if you are playing single events.
This is where the games two other modes come in, the Olympic tournament mode, and the Heroes Showdown mode, each of these offer a new twist on the events in terms of challenge, but yet I found one of these a struggle yet again. The Olympic Tournament mode had a lot of promise and potential, yet this felt underutilized by its very thought process, and has an annoying process to progression.
In this mode you pick an event to which you will compete in a type of tournament to win gold, this particular mode falls more in line with the traditional Olympic Games, and yet I can’t say that is a good thing. You use your Mii to play these events so it adds a personal touch but it also builds a new struggle of finding the right attire to dress your Mii to increase their abilities, this then ties into a new concern that reflects upon the nature of the game.
I appreciate the true feeling of the game trying to simulate ourselves attending and competing in the Olympics but yet this just feels out of place. This is Mario and Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, and so I want to play as my favorite character to fight through tournaments not as myself, it’s a small issue but one that is quite impactful all the same, yet I also wish this was my biggest concern with the mode.
I can get over playing as my Mii, it feels out of place but does not actually mess with the flow of the game, what does however is the approach to the tournament. These run in three parts, a qualifying round, a semi-final round, and a final round, yet they can’t just keep it going without a break. This ties back to an earlier issue regarding loading times, as you finish and pass each section you are sent back to a small hub area (which is a big part of the game), wherein you need to talk to a Toad to jump back into the tournament for the next round. This is infuriating and I feel was also really time wasting, rather than just give us an option to keep going we are forced back to a hub world to say we wish to keep going, it disrupts the flow and I felt this could have been handled a lot better.
Despite my problems there is still a great redeeming feature to this game, the Heroes Showdown, and this is a whole lot of fun. This mode sees players picking sides in a competitive event as you side with Team Mario, or Team Sonic with each team comprised of characters from their respective franchises. The idea of this mode is to try to knock out your opponents team members by winning at Olympic Events, each victory will knock out the opposing team’s characters and also nets the winning team a bonus that can potentially decimate the opposing side.
Essentially the game hands you events at random, so one minute you could be doing archery, then the next you could be doing a BMX event, the randomness of the events can throw you, while they can also offer a range of strategies to help proceed. In the character select screen your team is put across three different colors red, green and blue and each has a bonus attached to it if you win, this often forced me to consider one character over another, or sometimes risk a character for the end reward.
This mode becomes stressful but never became boring as it twisted and turned frequently and a bad event could completely turn things around for the opposite team. As an example I often would be winning with nine of my characters remaining, while my opponent had five, suddenly the game would give us rugby to do which I am pathetic at, and this would force me to consider my least valuable team members who I would risk in the event.
There is something going on, and it was hard not to have fun here, despite greater concerns this acted as a highlight to the whole experience and plays strongly as a game of risk. If you lose in the heroes showdown and are using your captain (which is either Mario or Sonic) you lose the entire game, but often you have to risk it for the greater reward, and there is such a thrill to this.
To lament on this however this mode is only as strong as its events and these are very much hit and miss, and mostly this is due to the absence of motion controls which have been so stupidly omitted from the game. This is probably a trivial issue but truthfully I found it affected the game, and some of the events lack that original joy because of it.
The aspect I always loved about Mario and Sonic is the motion controls, despite a couple of annoying problems these always helped invite me into the experience. For the latest game Sega has opted to do away with motion controls entirely for a more direct approach, this game uses buttons instead of remote movements and I feel like it suffers for this in multiple instances.
Again I think it is silly that such a trivial thing can really ruin the game, but the absence of these takes a lot of the joy out of otherwise fun events. There is nothing like the feel of immersion that Sega offered us in the older games, even at their weakest points the motion control system worked to help emphasize the physical side of the events, and the use of buttons just doesn’t present that same feel. I would even go so far to say that certain events just don’t feel right and this may make a certain crowd happy, but I feel a level of immersion is removed from the newest game.
This absence is something that affected a portion of the events including the track events such as the 100 meter, and relay, and it even effects the javelin throw and swimming events. They just don’t feel right and button movements feel unnatural to the experience, I would even say that Archery loses a lot as well. Rather than focusing on precise aiming and a skill based activity, this event is now an over the top simplistic shooter which you use the directional buttons to aim a cursor and press a button to fire. A gyroscope control system could have helped here a lot, and while I feel good that I can win every time without fail or struggle, there is no sense of skill or achievement in this simplistic minigame.
However the motion controls absence does not hurt everything, Soccer which is a returning event I felt played better with a more basic control set up. The use of buttons made it easier to move my characters around the field and even have an equal balance of control, in a way this falls to a simplified version of FIFA but I am not complaining.
The other event that shines is Rugby, this is a fresh inclusion for the series and much like Soccer it works well on the simple basic control system. The event felt fluent, even if the AI seemed a bit stupid (on my team at least), and the control system helps to make this activity all the more fun, sure I remain bad at the event but I can’t argue with the way it was played or how well made this all was.
The other events such as Equestrian, boxing, and even BMX play pretty well on the more basic control system and can all be pretty fun. I will say though that these events shine more in the Heroes Showdown mode then they do in single play, or even in an event match, and this ties back into an earlier thought Mario and Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games is a tale of two games, one that is not very good, and another that shines bright.
There is fun to be had here, and if you had to pick a version of the game I would recommend the Wii U game but this game has a lot of small issues that hold it back from being something truly great. Rio 2016 shows that Mario and Sonic’s Olympic adventures are running out of steam, and perhaps they need to find a new activity to stay relevant. If you can look past some tired and mediocre events and take the time to get to the Heroes Showdown there is plenty of fun here, but it is unfortunately weighed down by poor decisions and average events.