At one point, Mario & Sonic at the Olympics felt like something that shouldn’t exist. The partnership between old enemies confused longtime fans. After all, the United States boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics. But the franchise seems to work and, ahead of the 2016 games in Rio, Nintendo has brought the plumber and the hedgehog back, pitting them against each other in sunny locales loosely based on this year’s facilities.
This is good news for people who like simple fun stuff.
The post-modern Olympic era began when Sega received the license to make a game based on the 2008 Beijing Summer Games. Rather than simply setting out to make a typically realistic tie-in for the event, the developers reportedly were looking to broaden the game’s appeal, so they decided to use Sonic and aim it toward kids.
Aware of Mario’s popularity, Sega reached out to Nintendo. The Olympic spirit prevailed and a partnership was born. Shigeru Miymoto even oversaw the development of the first game in the series — probably because Nintendo hadn’t done anything like it before.
The initial game — and the ones that have followed — feature a variety of events. There has been everything from curling to speed skating to equestrian. For this year’s summer games, boxing and javelin throwing are two standouts.
As a somewhat early addition to the Wii’s library, Mario and Sonic’s debut outing was a collection of waggle-heavy mini-games where players competed against AI or friends across a number of modes. The design for each event is about as complex as you’d see in a Mario Party challenge, although with any sport there’s some small degree of nuance that can help players beat their opponents.
Ironically, its typically the actual Olympic events that are the less memorable part of any installment. After the first game, Sega decided it would be a better call for new games to include a mix of real sport challenges and goofy, made-up diversions in “Dream Events,” which capitalize more on the tone of Mario and Sonic’s respective universes.
These are still generally sport-based although London 2012 had its own outright board game-style mode with its own set of games – and provide some variety to the otherwise typified smattering of Olympic competitions. Oddly, these are missing from the Wii U version of Rio 2016, and even the 3DS version is stripped down.
Interestingly, despite the overall so-so reputation Mario & Sonic has had (and the question over why Sega hasn’t just used the idea to make a sports-based party game series even in off-Olympic years), it historically does well enough, with well over 20 million copies sold over the course of the series. For fans who just want to see Mario (or Sonic) in anything, theres a lot of love seemingly put into these games, through unlockables like Mii costumes and classic music from both series hits, or just seeing a stadium full of chao, flickies and other critters cheering alongside shyguys and goombas.
Apart from its necessary simplicity, there’s nothing objectively wrong with Mario & Sonic, its just kind of a silly pairing. Who knows maybe without the weight of motion controls dragging it down, Sega will be able to find something fun there. We all liked Mario Party once, right?