Those of you from the 16-bit generation probably dreamed of a face-to-face competition between Sonic and Mario at some point. The rivalry between these red and blue Nintendo and SEGA icons dates back to a time when two giants of the game industry wanted to prove who ruled the roost: Super Nintendo or Mega Drive.
Many years have passed since then, and that rivalry has now turned into cooperation. It's ironic that we haven't seen these two 'mascots' compete until the Wii era when they started to do so with sportsmanship, all thanks to the launch of a video game that marked the beginning of a series: Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games. The long-awaited crossover was a combination of the sports genre and party games, and after a good bunch of these licensed titles, the time has come to make it back to the consoles and head to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games has already come to the Nintendo 3DS as of early April with a somewhat enjoyable entry (here's our review). Now it's the Wii U's turn to take the leap into high definition. This version has abandoned the one thing that made the Nintendo home console unique, however: the GamePad. This rather unusual move started with the tie-in to the Sochi Olympic Games, the first outing for the series on the HD console, and it has become more pronounced with this title. Something that makes for mixed results.
Everything that involved moving, shacking, pointing or even blowing is now gone. The controls of the game are now simpler and have gone the traditional way of sticks, pads and buttons (Track & Field style). Even though you have the Off-TV mode, the opportunity of exploring all the possibilities the GamePad could offer, or even making good use of the previous functions of the Wii Remote (which is also compatible with the game), have been left behind. It's significant that what seemed to be a decision to increase precision in the game ends up overshadowing the essence and variety of such a title, even making it feel monotonous. That being said, this doesn't mean it's a bad game, but it's clear that its strengths can be found in other areas.
Let's get straight into the game. There are 14 Olympic Games events, ranging from the classic 100-meter dash to sports such as Rhythmic Gymnastics, Boxing or Table Tennis. Each one has a traditional side, with its own mechanics, and three of them (Football, Rugby Sevens and Beach Volleyball) have a Duel version, with their own rules and power-ups. Undoubtedly, this Duel version is the one that offers more enjoyment when playing with your friends on the same console. It comes closer to a proper party game and this is where the developer should have put special emphasis.
Sega encourages you to share the experience with someone else if you want to make the most of this game. In the hub located on Copacabana beach you can play with your Mii and chat with other users from around the globe, and you have access to all the modes on offer. You can play some quick games, go straight to the competitions, or try the new mode called Heroes Showdown where you can play by yourself or with another player on the same console. Here you don't have the opportunity to compete online against other players directly, even though during the competitions it's indicated that we're playing against Miis from other users. They have tried to make up for this absence with the possibility of having a second player all the time, or almost all the time. It's a good feature, but that doesn't hide the fact they haven't made the most out of the controllers.
There is also single player, but clearly this game is better played with someone else. Your Mii is your direct in-game representation and, as we win competitions, the level of difficulty increases, and you obtain new clothes or coins and rings to buy them. There is a huge range and they aren't only decorative but also useful to change the stats of your virtual character and to add depth to the game. Even though this isn't essential to enjoying the game, dressing like Bowser is a must.
We mentioned before that it's not possible to compete directly against other users online, but there are other ways of comparing your abilities to those of others players, namely Ghost Mode. Here you can search for similarly ranked opponents based on level, in turn determined by your records, or you can challenge the best players on the planet. It's a pity that this should have a limit of three events (100-meter dash, 4x100-meter Relay and Swimming), because playing to be the best is something simple and addictive. In fact, we are still waiting for a player who can beat our 100-meter dash. Do you accept the challenge? (We know it's a pre-release record that will be beaten, but still).
Also, the attention to detail has to be mentioned. One surprise is the remixes of songs coming from both franchises. For the fans of any of the 'mascots', this is a plus. Regarding the visuals, however, the game does not shine. The environments are simple and so are our sporty characters, but there is a nice variety of colour and designs in some of the sports challenge modes. If only that part of the game had been expanded.
Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games is a combination of good and bad decisions where the good ones tip the scales in their favour by the skin of their teeth. We would like to have seen this game reach the victory podium, but the fun to be had here is negatively affected by the lack of varied mechanics. Things like seeing Eggman practicing Rhythmic Gymnastics, however, does brighten things up a little. While enjoyable, the game failed to hold our interest; it got repetitive fast.