NS Review – Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (3DS)
Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games didn’t have what it takes to win the gold.
There’s your Olympic pun, and now I’d like to comment that this series really needs to think of a way to shorten its titles. Something like “Mario & Sonic at Rio ’16” perhaps would have been enough.
Some background on my own experience: I’d consider the Mario & Sonic series a guilty pleasure. I loved the original 2008 Wii game and had plenty of fun playing it with my two brothers, then went on to enjoy London 2012 and Sochi 2014 on Wii U. I’ve never been interested in the 3DS versions, but thought I’d give Rio 2016 a chance.
The game’s tone is right on the money. The music is perfectly suited, featuring all the energetic percussion that you would expect in a celebration of the host nation. There’s a vibrant colour palette of green and yellow, and the presentation gives a good impression of the game’s sentiment. Mario and Sonic admittedly seem out of place in this setting, but at least they join in and get their samba on later.
The events in M&S 2016 3DS make full use of the various features and gimmicks of the handheld; there are the standard, excruciating button-mashing events, but mixed in with this are several events that utilise the touchscreen in novel ways. Others require the use of the gyroscope, and some of Road to Rio’s training events use the microphone for either yelling or blowing. Across the main events, there’s a nice amount of variety.
There are only fourteen events, double if you include the “Plus” variants. On the positive side, this means each event plays differently and bears its own gimmick. Unlike past M&S games, each event entirely owns its gameplay. Unsurprisingly, the events are hit-and-miss. The 100m event is as simple as it gets, with button-mashing required all the way to the finish line. The 110m Hurdles, Long Jump, and BMX events all require similar mashing, but have an extra layer of gameplay over the top.
100m Freestyle has you drawing circles on the touchscreen to swim faster, but it cares about your well-being enough to penalise you for going too fast. Javelin Throw goes in the other direction, as it replaces A-button-thrashing with torturous stylus-scribbling. The faster you draw back and forth on the touchscreen, the faster your character runs, before drawing a line at the perfect angle to throw. It’s not only one of the more punishing events, but one of the toughest to win against the CPU.
Rhythmic Gymnastics is in a league of its own with its rhythm-game style. It doesn’t contain the most innovative mechanics, but it’s a fun diversion from the more standard events and comes with a pair of remixes from Super Mario Bros. and Sonic Lost World. It’s one of the better experiences in the game.
The longer events usually fail due to their simplicity quickly turning stale. Like many minigame compilations, the Mario & Sonic series tends to do better when the events take less than a minute to complete. The events that last longer turn into laborious slogs, particularly the head-to-head games like Table Tennis, Beach Volleyball, and Boxing. Despite being one of the headline events, Football suffers too. It plays like a shallow Mario Strikers game, and there isn’t enough depth to keep it fresh.
In its debut appearance, Golf is one exception. By its very nature, the sport requires deeper functionality. Nevertheless, a fraction of interest in Golf is still needed to avoid boredom. Golf has another minor issue though: in any event, a tie for first place means that Player-1 wins by default. It’s very possible that a Golf round will end in a tie. It’s a small detail, but it’s a frustrating oversight that a sudden death play-off function isn’t included.
The fourteen Plus events contain more fantastical elements from the Mario and Sonic series. These are generally more exciting than the standard ones and are worth checking out, although there are a few where the difference is barely noticeable. The Rhythm Gymnastics and 100m Plus events can appear to play out almost exactly like their standard counterparts.
The character roster is a peculiar point of discussion. On the surface it’s extremely generous with 40 characters plus the Mii. Many more minor characters and fan favourites are included this time round. However, they’re exclusive to specific events. The two mascots get a free pass here, but there’s only a small selection of other faces for each event. Presumably this was to avoid creating animations and models for every character, but it becomes very limiting. If you want to play as your favourite character and they’re not Mario or Sonic, you’ll only be able to do so in two – or even one – of the events.
A third of the characters have to be unlocked via the main single player mode: Road to Rio. Players use their Mii and choose to represent either Team Mario or Team Sonic. The Olympics last seven days, with one event each day. Each team’s campaign has different events, so you can play through both without repetition. The player is free to wonder the city, talking to residents and discovering secrets while training for the events. There’s a large catalogue of stat-enhancing outfits and items to unlock along the way.
You can play through the whole campaign without ever noticing the plot, and I feel this was intended; you learn about strange goings-on by talking to characters scattered around the area, and it’s completely okay to just play through the events without exploring. It’s a debatable design choice, but it’s more welcome in this game. Some people just want to play without the narrative fluff, and this fluff is incredibly thin anyway. For completionists, there is a third ending for once you’ve unlocked all the story elements in the two campaigns. There’s a shocking amount of secrets to uncover though. Even after scouting the city everyday, I had apparently discovered 65% of the campaign’s content. 100% is reserved for someone braver than me.
The training events – something that every character constantly urges you to do – take the form of more Olympic events like Pole Vault and Trampoline. It’s a wonder why a few of these weren’t included as primary events. Some of them arguably have more mechanics and entertainment value than the main attractions.
That can’t be said about Kayaking, which is the worst offender for damaging your digits and your handheld’s control stick. You simply spin the poor little stick as fast as possible until you either finish the course or your control stick snaps off its base. I’m scared to play it again incase the latter wins.
If you’re in this for single player, Road to Rio will show you everything you need to see. For local multiplayer the offerings are generous. Download play is available for a maximum of four players. In another frustrating move the turn-based events – such as Javelin Throw and Long Jump – don’t allow players to take their turn at the same time. Instead, players spectate the other competitors’ attempts. There’s no online multiplayer, which is a disappointing omission for a 2016 game but it probably won’t be missed by most. Online rankings exist but my game didn’t register any data for most of the events.
Pocket Marathon is an interesting side mode that measures the steps you’ve taken while your 3DS is in sleep mode. It then converts those steps into metres for your Mii to advance in a marathon. I was quite keen on finishing one but rarely do I venture somewhere with my 3DS, so the alternative was to shake the 3DS in my downtime. I ended up looking like I was either doing something wildly inappropriate or pretending to play a maraca, but it paid off when I won a lovely new outfit. It’s a nice addition that gives purpose to the sleep-mode features of the 3DS, and you earn rewards for taking part.
Despite the fun moments, Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games for 3DS not only overwhelms this review’s word count, but falls short of being considered worthwhile. Fans of the Mario and Sonic franchises may enjoy seeing the wide range of characters in action, and a few of the events are fine by themselves, but the novelty is short-lived. Never mind that gold medal – the 3DS version didn’t get through the heats, and the Wii U version has a lot of ground to cover.