In an attempt to cash in on their popular animated film releases, movie studios have turned to video game developers for years in order to create games based on their movies. It's not always animated films, but they're the ones who receive interactive spin-offs the most, because of their target audience being children. This has been happening for over twenty years now and most of the time, these games are regarded by the video game community to be a waste of time, because of their short production cycles leading to a finished product that is usually mediocre at best, with its fair share of glitches. Though it should be mentioned that we've seen several licensed games in recent years that have actually been surprisingly good, showing that more effort is put into their creation, with the understanding that good games sell better than bad ones. Rio, a game released by THQ to complement the recently-released animated film of the same name, is the most recent of these tie-in releases based off of animated films. It takes the form of a four player multiplayer game in the vein of Mario Party. Does it do a good job of helping to wash the smears off of the soiled name of movie-game tie-ins, or is it detrimental to the effort?
As with most tie-in games, this one directly follows the plot of the film. It tells the story of the last male blue spix macaw and his journey to the colourful land of Rio (Brazil) where he's tasked with mating in order to keep his species alive. It's a journey that takes him from the cold and boring land of Moose Lake, Minnesota, to a drastically different setting, so a lot of it is about him acclimatizing to the new area and meeting new friends. It's an interesting premise that will surely interest kids and some adults. However, the problem with the game is that the movie's plot is not taken advantage of enough. Several thirty-second snippets of the film are shown during the story mode, but they're just shown as reasons for movement from one location or setting to another. This makes the story mode feel unnecessary because it's mainly just a collection of minigames and isn't much different from the other modes in the game which have no emphasis on story. They do show enough so that you get a general feel of the plot, but those who don't have much of an idea about the movie's premise may feel a little lost while playing. Luckily, it's a minigame compilation, so the story isn't a huge focus. However, it would have been nice if there was at least a bit more focus on it to add immersion and interest.
The focus here is on short-burst multiplayer games, much like a Mario Party or Raving Rabbids game. However, there's no main hub world in this one like there is in those. That means that all you're really doing is playing several different modes which equate to collections of minigames with different fixtures. Included on the disc are approximately forty-three different four player minigames. Each minigame has the capability of being played against the computer or friends, even allowing for team games. They range from snowball fights to fruit collection and even dancing games, keeping in tune with the colourful and musical location of Rio De Janeiro. Samba music is very prevalent and the minigames are themed based on different things that people equate with Rio, such as fruit, beaches, markets and music.
The games are generally pretty fun, but there are some duds. A lot of the games also tend to feel very similar to each other. Elements are shared throughout as can be expected, but it's much more obvious in this game than in the top tier party games. It was also noticeable that some games lacked originality due to being heavily influenced by other games, such as a game where you're trying to avoid being hit by thrown pieces of fruit while you're on the canopy of a fruit stall. This game was eerily similar to a game in Mario Party 8 where you're avoiding snowballs while on the roof of a building. Generally, the games were decent, but they're nothing you'll remember for years to come. It's worth noting that they're much better than a lot of the games found in a lot of other party game collections, which the games industry has seen a large influx of lately.
Several different game modes are available though, as mentioned previously, they aren't very different from each other. There's the aforementioned party game which has you going from location to location, playing different minigames that take place in each one (three per location,) with points being awarded based on performance. In addition to this main (but brief) mode, there is a samba line dance mode where the person who amasses the longest line of dancers by doing the best in a group of games wins, plus a similar garland game where you have to earn garland by winning. There's also a versus mode with the options for teams. This means that points earned for coming in first to fourth are tallied together to create an overall score for the two member teams.
All of the aforementioned modes are incredibly similar, though there are two hints of creativity that haven't been mentioned: the Carnaval wheel mode and quiz mode. Like the others, these modes can essentially be boiled down into short-burst competitions taking place in a selected amount of minigames, but they at least add extra depth to the experience. The quiz will let kids test their knowledge about the film and its namesake as they play, though its questions can get quite challenging. Conversely, the wheel adds extra challenge by adding an unpredictable minigame selection mechanic, as well as a random amount of points for each game's winner. Really traditional stuff, but at least there's several different modes and they tried to push the envelope a bit. You'll most-likely find yourself going back to the party mode and Carnaval wheel game the most. The others are pretty much forgettable - especially the uninspired story mode.
Obviously party games are best when they're played by more than one person. Rio is no different. It's at its best when a group of people are playing together, though it might be hard to always have that opportunity, considering there's no online multiplayer. Local multiplayer can be fun and competitive, especially with the point modifiers in the Carnaval wheel mode. However, the lack of online multiplayer is a huge drawback. Its omission doesn't make a lot of sense, other than an attempt to save money considering the game is a budget title that sells for only $30. The price tag makes its omission a bit easier to swallow, but the game would have greatly benefitted from online play.
Other than the aforementioned issues, the game ran pretty well. It didn't seem to have a lot of glitches and featured an alright amount of variety - especially when the price tag is taken into account. However, there was a glitch that prevented a second controller from responding to a couple of quiz questions during one session. Though that issue was only ever noticed once and in that game mode only. Hopefully it's not something that is prevalent in every copy of the game, but just a one-off glitch. It felt generally well-made for a kids' game and a licensed tie-in, which was nice. However, it doesn't have the amount of content that your average Mario Party experience does. Then again, not many games in this genre do.
The game's source material is very colourful and alive, just like its namesake. The game is no different, as it oozes colour, samba music and a good vibe. Its visuals are very vibrant and feature a decent amount of detail. Each of the six playable characters look exactly like they do in the film, as do all of the non-playable characters who show up as a supporting cast in several modes and many of its minigames. They each animate pretty well, although there isn't a great amount of animations per character. For being a movie tie-in game though, its visual, style and frame rate are all quite impressive. Nothing to write home about but also nothing to complain about. Its visual style fits its source material like a glove, so that's all that you can really ask for. The game really does resemble the movie and feels like an extension of it in more than just one way.
Sound is a very important factor in almost all video games and types of media. Though the Rio license uses it as one of its best and most memorable attributes. Everything about the movie relies on the colourful sounds of Brazil and the game's developers did a good job of bringing that into the game. Samba music is featured heavily within the experience and is even part of the game's mechanics. There is a group of minigames that have you performing a task such as collecting fruit or dancing, asked to freeze or hide from danger as soon as the music starts. It works well to set the mood and as a game mechanic and the quality of the music is quite good. Unfortunately, the audio suffers from terrible voice acting and very uninspired dialogue.
To answer the question posed at the beginning of this review: Rio does a decent job of aiding the campaign to revitalize the licensed game market. Unlike a lot of the minigame collections out there on the market, it has some noticeable effort that was put into it, as well as some polish and creativity. It does however lack a star game mode attraction and could've used more minigames with less of a focus on tried and true formulas like collection. If you know someone who is a fan of the movie, it's worth renting or even picking up for its low thirty dollar price tag. It's a relatively fun title that the entire family can enjoy, though the addition of online multiplayer would have greatly improved the experience and the game's potential. Give it a shot if you're looking for something fun that can be played in short bursts, though don't expect a masterpiece. For its price, there is quite a bit of content included on the disc. Though a rental period would be sufficient for most.