Though they’ve never been especially good games, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games videogames. They’ve allowed me to live out my once impossible childhood dreams of having games featuring the mascots from both camps – something that’s only become possible with SEGA’s demise as a purveyor of gaming consoles.
They’re a both cheap thrill and a sober reminder of just how fickle the industry can be. They’ve always been fun and somewhat engaging collections of minigames centred on a variety of different sports, and have become popular enough to spawn an entire franchise; the thing is now a biennial staple to celebrate both the Summer and Winter games.
Set in the carnival atmosphere of Rio de Janeiro, Mario & Sonic Rio 2016 Olympic Games is colourful and vibrant, with a delightful samba soundtrack that keeps it cheerful – but unfortunately, that’s about all it’s got going for it.
When I initially started the game up, I was pleasantly surprised – the game seemed to have a slick level of polish I wasn’t expecting, but that surprise was fleeting and misplaced. Upon opening the game, players are welcomed and instructed to select their Mii, and which nation they’d like to represent. South Africa’s flag is included, so I naturally did my patriotic duty and chose to go for gold wearing green and gold.
There are four main modes in which to compete: Quick Play, Road to Rio, Versus Mode, and Pocket Marathon. In this for the long haul, I chose the Road to Rio, and set off to become a sporting legend. After a brief introduction, you’re welcomed by a pair of costumed characters representing rival gyms and the training facilities of Team Mario and Team Sonic. Choose one, and you’re locked in to a story mode centred on either mascot. The mode has a Pokemon-esque overworld map, littered with locations for you to train up by competing in various minigames.
You’ll earn points for your training, eventually levelling up so that you can meet the requirements to try on and use a number of stat-boosting costumes – which you’ll need to take on your rival from the opposing gym at the day’s daily event. It does, frankly, become quite a mind-numbing, repetitive chore to rank up, and you’ll have to play through the same set of minigames over and over to gain the requisite levels to equip the necessary outfits. There’s a story here, piddling as it is. Talk to characters you find on the sparse map and they’ll reveal narrative beats, but they’re hardly worth your consideration. I played through both stories, and that’s time I’ll never get back.
None of this would matter if the games and events themselves were fun and engaging, mimicking their real-world counterparts – but for the most part, they’re not. They’re hardly worthy of even being called minigames, with most of the training ones being simple experiences that would be at home in a half-baked mobile game. When you’re swiping down to simulate swinging bats in doubles badmington, or jerking the handheld left to replicate synchronised swimming, you’re probably not really having a good time.
The main events – of which there are 14 – are a little better. They’re the games you play against your rival at the end of each day, and the ones which you’ll be playing if you opt for Quick Play Sessions. Football and Golf are probably the highlights of the package. Football plays a little like Technos’ Nintendo World Cup on the NES – a simplistic little soccer game that features super powers for shots on goal. Golf has you mimicking shots with the stylus, using the speed and angle of your scribbles to determine the power of your shots. But even in these, there’s very little strategy or skill involved, with the simplistic controls not really allowing for any real depth.
Games you’d expect to be fun, like boxing, are reduced to simple button-mashing sessions, while others that should and could be a blast, like Table Tennis, just have no nuance or depth. “Plus” versions of these events add a bit of Sonic or Mario themed periphery; enemies like goombas litter the field, that sort of thing.
It’s worth mentioning that in Quick Play, you can’t just use the character of your choice for the discipline you want to play, being restricted instead to a handful of pre-determined ones. It hardly matters though, because the real, effective difference in characters seems to be purely cosmetic.
The game’s saving grace is in its multiplayer. From a single game card, you’re able to beam the game to other, local systems for a multiplayer challenge. It’s a pity that there’s no online functionality, but there’s still a modicum of fun to be had, if you’re a bit of a masochist. The last mode, Pocket Marathon, uses the 3DS built-in step counter to have you walk 42.195 km with your 3DS in your pocket. Given that I sport a pocket-unfriendly 3DS XL, and that I’m generally tethered to my chair, I just don’t see it getting much use from me.
It’s just…not a good game.
Last Updated: April 6, 2016