NS Review – Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Wii U)

Welcome back to part 2 of Overlong Titles. This week we’re turning our heads once again to Mario and Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games this time on the Wii U. The 3DS version failed to impress three months ago, and now it’s time to see how the home console version performs.

It doesn’t take long to see that M&S 2016 Wii U improves over the 3DS version in several ways. The graphical improvement is noticeable straight from the introduction. Rather than a menu, the player’s Mii runs around the beautiful Copacabana Beach, selecting game modes by speaking to certain characters. A quick menu is unlocked for convenience before long. Even though it’s a small hub world, Copacabana Beach looks sublime on the Wii U, and the setting is themed appropriately for the carnival festivities. The event locations hold up fantastically well, and most of the action plays out at a solid 60 frames per second, coming down to 30 for split screen. Fittingly, the Rio rendition is the prettiest entry in the series.

When they appear, the carnival floats provide extra challenges

When they appear, the carnival floats provide extra challenges

The event list doesn’t change too much from the 3DS version, surprisingly retaining the low number of events. There are fourteen in total along with an extra, whackier ‘Duel’ mode for the three headline events. It feels like a large step back considering the Beijing and London games had at least twice as many. To the game’s credit, each event is unique.

Also to the game’s credit, there’s a complete absence of motion controls. Many of the events are played using only the D-pad and two button inputs. The “arcadey” style feels like a refreshing callback to older generations with basic, but entertaining mechanics. One may argue that Nintendo should apply the motion controls that the Wiimote and Gamepad offer, but in a series that normally has you frantically swinging the controller back and forth until your arms ache, this is a very welcome change. There also isn’t a great deal of button mashing, with only a couple of track & field events demanding it. Many of the race events instead reward good timing, which ends up being much more satisfying. Ridiculously, pro controllers aren’t supported, The lack of motion controls means a standard controller layout is preferred but this is only available for the Gamepad user. Everyone else will need to use a Wiimote.

The generous roster of characters can be used across all the events, as opposed to only a couple being available for each in the 3DS version. There are still 14 guest spots – Rosalina can only take part in Rhythmic Gymnastics while Sticks the Badger is an Archery specialist – but the other twenty characters can be used in any event. The Olympians have their own stats across each sport, and unlike previous games it feels like the stats make a difference. Sonic and Shadow the Edgehog are lightning fast, but their build-up speed is extremely slow, so charging a super dash takes longer.

Rugby Sevens is the newest attraction

Rugby Sevens is the newest attraction

The events themselves, then. Rugby Sevens is the headline debut game and it’s arguably the most enjoyable of the head-to-head events. It’s an unorthodox but pleasant addition that represents its real-life version in a satisfyingly simple way. Football and Beach Volleyball return from the 3DS game without much changed. Again the aesthetics are on point, but the gameplay can quickly get tedious and the ‘Duel’ events don’t do much to help. Thankfully, you can set how long each game will last.

Rhythmic Gymnastics is only slightly changed from the handheld variant. The 4x100m Relay offers a mechanic that rewards quick reflexes and timing; if you race perfectly, you will only be mashing the sprint button for the first two seconds. The game will do the rest as your characters super-dash their way around the track. The super-dashes are a joy to watch: Donkey Kong doing his best Sonic impression, Princess Peach pretending to ride a horse (that’s how I interpreted it), and Waluigi performing a breaststroke so fast he can do it through air.

Your guess is as good as mine

Your guess is as good as mine

Other events like Javelin Throw, Boxing, Equestrian, Table Tennis and BMX all carry over from the 3DS with improved control schemes, visuals and mechanics. There’s no doubt that M&S 2016 is stronger on the home console than the handheld. However, due to the small number of events, the game does have an issue with its content.

It certainly makes the most of its seventeen events across a wide variety of modes, most of which are arbitrarily locked at the start of play. Players are forced to play Single Matches until they have won five events. This unlocks Tournament Mode, which has the player using their Miis to play in qualifying rounds of events, eventually reaching the final and earning a medal.

Tournament Mode is arguably the main single-player experience. There is no ‘story-mode’ like the one seen in Sochi 2014 or even this game’s 3DS cousin. It’s satisfying enough to progress through tournaments and earn better gear for your Mii, but it gets tiresome eventually; you play each of the seventeen events through three difficulty levels, totalling 51 tournaments. The first few tournaments are laughably easy even without stat boosts on your Mii, so it’s likely that the real challenge won’t be seen until a few hours in. Even though some of the events are over in seconds, the game’s needless padding extends the time needed to get through it.

It's advised that you replace the events' drab default music with one of the radical remixes available

It’s advised that you replace the events’ drab default music with one of the radical remixes available. Once you’ve unlocked “His World” you don’t need anything else.

After you win a qualifying match the game reloads Copacabana Beach. You’re congratulated for your efforts and have to sit through any dialogue, then you also get given your small rewards for winning. Talk to the Tournament Mode Toad again to get some more dialogue and start the semi-final round, which has to load. Repeat this process again for the final round. This process is done at least 150 times if you’re completing the game, which must be at least 90 minutes of padding by itself. Having to restart a tournament after losing stings more because of this. The load times aren’t too long – they’re too frequent.

Hero Showdown – unlocked after achieving in each event – pits the mascots’ teams against each other in an elimination-style team game. It’s the best competitive mode for two players, as strategy is needed alongside ability. If you own any Amiibo from the Mario or Sonic universe, you can play in Amiibo Leagues. These round-robin tournaments are more or less the same as the ones played in Tournament Mode, but only feature characters from one of the two franchises.

Oh my.. get a load of that baton

Oh my… get a load of that baton

There are plenty of options despite the noticeable lack of a dedicated online mode once again, but M&S 2016 doesn’t quite have the events to cover them all. You can only throw so many javelins and score so many tries before it gets tiresome, and a lot of playtime is needed to complete Tournament Mode and earn all rewards.

Needless to say the Wii U version plays better in a group, as people can play competitively or as a team to take on the game’s challenges. Most will enjoy it for about as long as the real Olympics last. It’s much improved from the 3DS counterpart, and it’s a fairly solid multiplayer game on a console full of competition. It’s destined to lack the longevity enjoyed by the likes of Splatoon and Super Smash Bros, but you could do far worse than to give Mario and Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Wii U a try.

After a false start with the 3DS version, let’s give this one a respectable bronze.

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