With reports of putrid water, rushed construction and a threat of crime, the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro could be less than idyllic. But that doesn’t mean there’s a downside to Games tie-ins.
Since 2007, Nintendo and Sega have teamed up to produce the series “Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games.” (That first release was for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, but became available before the end of 2007.)
In every Olympics year since then, the longtime rival game makers have set aside differences to take part in a friendly competition. The game’s 2014 edition focused on Sochi, with the two mascots competing in the biathlon, figure skating and snowboarding.
In “Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games,” players can tackle 14 events that are unlocked from the outset: football (aka soccer), rugby sevens, beach volleyball, BMX, the 100-meter dash, triple jump, swimming, boxing, an equestrian race, gymnastics, the 4x100 meter relay, javelin throw, archery and table tennis. Though these reflect a range of sports, the selection isn’t as wide as in some of the earlier editions.
The “Mario & Sonic” versions of the 100-meter dash, 4x100 relay, javelin throw and triple jump require players to mash buttons while building up speed and timing skills. (This formula has dominated the genre since the days of Konami’s “Track & Field.”)
Events such as BMX, equestrian racing and swimming require a player to manage his or her character’s stamina. Each must devise a strategy about when to push their advantage and when to store up energy for later.
Archery, boxing and table tennis are the most intuitive competitions for gamers. Developers at Sega boiled down the skills for firing an arrow to a few button presses. Players can either take time to aim carefully at the bull’s-eye, or shoot quickly and hope for the best. Skilled players have no problem firing from the hip.
Boxing is a simplistic fighting game, while table tennis is one of response and positioning. Though both are clunky, they work.
The oddest of the bunch is gymnastics, which relies on “Guitar Hero”-esque button presses, while each player’s character is performing a floor routine. Even if the game design doesn’t accurately reflect the sport, it can be fun.
Football, rugby and beach volleyball are squad-based games that work well with four players. Each reinforces the teamwork concept as the individual players cooperate to score a goal or set up a fierce spike.
The strength of “Mario & Sonic” is as a party game, and the fun factor increases exponentially when four players are racing one another to a finish line or knocking out one another in the ring.
The big drawback of “Mario & Sonic” is that there’s too little content to keep players busy for long. But gamers do have the option of unlocking additional challenges via the Tournament Gate.
In this mode, friends can compete against the computer to win gold medals, unlock guest characters and open up additional features.
The most intriguing option may be the Item Shop, where a player can spend hard-earned coins and rings on random prizes such as Mii outfits and stamps. The outfits are the better choice because they improve the stats of the Miis used in the Tournament Gate competitions and give a slight role-play twist to an otherwise average title.
Despite a few flaws, the new “Mario & Sonic” offers a taste of Rio without any of the possible real-life downsides.