The Olympics are back, and if you’re anything like me, you’ve fallen prey to its alluring qualities. I’ve been watching it all, from grueling cycling races to nail-biting water polo matches. Normally, this is the time where I give into temptation and opt to purchase the official video game tie-in. This year, things are a bit different.
Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games is the only official console game of the Rio 2016 Olympics, releasing back in March for the Nintendo Wii U and 3DS. For mobile and tablet enthusiasts, there’s also an officially licensed Android/iOS game.
What about the rest of us? In the four years since Sega released the respectable London 2012, you’d have thought that a simulation-based Olympics title would provide the perfect cash-in opportunity. That game did pretty well for itself, having sold 680,000 copies as of March 31, 2013. Nothing similar has surfaced for this year’s Summer Games, though. Allow me to offer some thoughts as to why Xbox, PlayStation and PC devotees won’t be winning any virtual gold medals this year.
You’d have to go back over 20 years for the last time that a so-called “simulation” Summer Olympics game failed to make an appearance. However, this isn’t the first time in recent years that Mario & Sonic has dominated the scene. Two years ago, Sochi 2014 was conquered by Nintendo and Sega’s most popular mascots.
Recent history offers some potential explanations for this. In 2013, the developers behind London 2012 (Sega Studios Australia) closed down, putting an end to future developments on their part. The same thing happened to Eurocom in 2012 — developers of the official Beijing 2008 and Vancouver 2010 games.
Sega has continued to provide official Olympics games since the Beijing tie-in, but now, the company’s focus appears to have shifted to the Mario & Sonic series.
Can you remember a truly great Olympics game in recent years? London 2012 wasn’t bad — it wasn’t great, either. The majority of Mario & Sonic Olympics games fall into the same category, as do Beijing 2008, Athens 2004 & so on.
Additionally, these games haven’t aged well. Other sports series have found ways to innovate over the years, but games like Beijing 2008 and London 2012 struggled to find a perfect formula, offering awkward control schemes and a continued over-reliance on button mashing.
That said, a challenge like this must be somewhat of a nightmare from a developer’s point of view. Ask a major studio to focus solely on a table tennis game, and you might get something spectacular like 2006’s Rockstar Games presents Table Tennis. Add another forty events alongside it, and even Rockstar would have arguably struggled to offer anything more than mediocrity on a tight development schedule.
Four More Years
Despite their downsides, I’ve always enjoyed satisfying my craving with these games. Mario & Sonic gives us a fun take on Rio 2016, but it won’t be enough to satisfy the hardcore fans. For now, a copy of London 2012 is the closest you can get to a realistic representation of the Olympic Games. Will things be any different two years from now? Hopefully, London wasn’t the closing ceremony.