Much like the real life counterpart, Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games has a gargantuan of hurdles to overcome. Don't get us wrong, the problems in the 3DS version are much smaller and have less implications than dealing with politics, diseases and pollution. But being the fifth entry in such a popular series poses many questions about the longevity and relevance of the game.
If you've played any of the previous titles in the series you already know what to expect. Mario & Sonic at Rio 2016 is a game set in a fictional version of Rio de Janeiro, where the 2016 Olympics will take place. There are a series of new and old events in which the player has to compete - 44 to be exact - some of which are more complex and compelling than others.
In the latest iteration of the series we have two rival gyms fighting each other for the gold - led by Mario and Sonic - and it's up to your Mii to pick which team to join. Irrelevant to which team is chosen, the story will always develop the same way; you have seven days to claim as many gold medals as you can and become the reigning champion of Rio 2016.
The only difference between the campaigns is the events available and, of course, the protagonists of the story. For each in-game day that passes your Mii has to compete in one of the new disciplines added in Mario & Sonic at Rio 2016 while training and leveling up by playing in some of the old mini-games that have been brought back from the London Olympics title. By leveling up, the player can buy items and costumes that will alter the Mii's attributes, making them better suited for the discipline in which they're competing; the game has a generous amount of costumes to pick from, from Tuxedos to Carnival suits and - of course - costumes of the characters of the series that inspired this title.
As the player progresses through the story mode, certain bizarre mysteries occur - from ghost sightings to the disappearance of the trophies and medals at the Hall of Medals in Copacabana - and it's up to the player to solve these conundrums with the help of both teams, so not only will you be competing for gold, you'll also been investigating the streets of Rio in search for clues to find the culprits behind these evil acts (hint: one is a King and the other is often known as "Baldy Nosehair").
If only solving mysteries and winning gold medals was as entertaining as it sounds. Exploring Rio feels like walking around an empty and soulless version of the bustling city. If it weren't for the "secrets" hidden across the four sections of the city there wouldn't be a real incentive to explore. Furthermore, it seems that the script got lost in translation, not due to a bad localization but more because no one seems to have given a hoot about writing lines that would fit all these character's personalities. Some of the utterances in this game feel vapid and totally unsuited to the individuals involved.
Regarding the events themselves, all of them make use of the 3DS features (and gimmicks), but here's where the game's failings start to show up. The title struggles to communicate to the player how the control scheme works, and around 60 percent of the mini-games are incredibly shallow. There are questionable design choices and some of the events just feel tacked on, with little thought being given to how they should work in a gaming context. Don't get us started on the one event that decided to emulate the early days of Mario Party; the Kayaking event will bring you memories of your blistered hands as you try to rotate and kill your Circle Pad as fast as you can.
Not everything is lost, though. There is one element that tries to amend for the failings of the mini-games, and that's the Plus Events. They're basically altered versions of the same 14 main events available in the game, but with added gimmicks borrowed from the Super Mario Bros. and the Sonic series to help spice up the gameplay. These revised events are therefore a lot more entertaining and should have been the main focus of the game.
As we've already stated, some of the events in Rio 2016 are more complex than others. The Football and Golf events spring to mind - the level of complexity of these disciplines shines in comparison to the lesser events, and had they not heavily borrowed the mechanics from two other Mario spin-offs - Mario Strikers and Mario Golf respectively - they could have easily become games in their own right. Another event which could have easily squeezed between Football and Golf is the Gymnastic Floor Exercises event. It's just a shame that Sega hasn't given the player more options with the selection of songs to perform the floor exercises to; the selection is limited to only three songs, of which one is an abridged version of the Sonic Lost World theme (there are far better songs in Lost World or any other Sonic title for performing a gymnastics routine).
It's also worth noting the other extras on offer here. Some amiibo support allows you to supercharge characters in events, while a number of the sports can be enjoyed with others in Download Play. 'Pocket Marathon' also sets tasks that encourage you to get outdoors and take your 3DS with you.
Graphically speaking there's not much to talk about. The map assets are static and somewhat generic, although the character models look great and have a lot of attention to detail, with the exception of the Mii avatars. If only Sega had taken advice on how to animate a Mii from Nintendo - this could be one of the worst versions of the avatar-like characters; everything about them, from the weird way they stand to the lack of facial gestures, looks off.
If there is one thing the game can be praised for, it has to be the delicious carnival of music that follows the player wherever they go. The best aspect of Mario & Sonic at Rio 2016 shouldn't be a surprise, not with a sound team this diverse and talented - it includes the likes of Tomoya Ohtani, Tadashi Kinukawa and Jun Senoue just to name a few. The soundtrack includes the sweetest Bossa melodies, the rumbling drumming of Samba, swaying trumpets, whistles, accordions, flutes, xylophones and that glorious array of percussion instruments from many more "obscure" genres of the Brazilian music.
Whether you're exploring the streets of Copacabana or participating in one of the Olympic events, the music always complements the moment. Furthermore, the amazing sound team at Sega assembled a team of local and international musicians to record live performances for the soundtrack of the game, incorporating genres that have been lost or absorbed by more modern styles and create eclectic melodies. The result is a soundtrack unlike any other, taking elements from popular and not so popular styles, re-imagining how classic songs from the both the Super Mario Bros. and the Sonic series would sound if they were born and bred in the Amazonian country.
But there's a caveat; packing so much music into a 3DS cart comes with its hindrances, and sadly the quality of the audio itself is compromised. It's a serious shame having some of the instruments sound muted and without their characteristic shine because the audio files had to be compressed to make room for other assets.
Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympics for the 3DS is not exactly a bad game - especially if you liked previous entries in the franchise - but it could be so much more. This is the fifth iteration of the series and by this stage the team should have nailed down what makes a game click and what doesn't. Sadly this effort just doesn't come together in the way it should do, and feels just like another sloppy effort to cash-in on a lucrative license. Bring out the pewter medals for this one.