I think it’s fair to say that the two most maligned game genres today are movie tie-in games and party games. Movie tie-in games are, I imagine, viewed a little worse by gamers, probably because of the cynicism involved; they are usually sloppily put together cash-grabs designed to attract less discerning shoppers on the name of their licensed property alone. Party games, meanwhile, are now seen mainly as shovelware thanks to the Wii and its hunger for games that take advantage of its motion control scheme, a scheme that often lends itself to short bursts of multiplayer goodness the Wii specializes in. It’s too bad that for every decent party game, there seem to be 20 bad ones that simply ape the formulas that worked before but manage to miss the fun.
So what does it mean for a game that manages to exist in both of those much-maligned genres? To me it means that the game in question is going to have to double-down on what it does right and squeeze out every last bit of fun that can be had without overstaying its welcome. To fail at that means success for such a game is less likely than summitting Everest with no legs - while on fire.
That’s the unenviable position that THQ’s Rio finds itself in. It is a party game and
a movie tie-in game, and the movie it ties into isn’t some comic book adaptation with a built in audience of fanboys. Rio is a childrens' movie about anthropomorphic birds from the movie studio responsible for the Ice Age franchise. We’re not talking about heady, intellectual stuff. We are talking about talking birds in Brazil, the land of beaches, big butts, and bikinis. So, arguably, from the perspective of an average gamer, Rio has an extra strike against it because it’s childish. But, of course, the game is not for them; it is aimed firmly at the same audience as the movie - children (or, more importantly, their parents’ wallets). To me, that fact works both for and against it.
As a party game, it is, of course, nothing but Rio themed mini-games using characters from the film and environments that seem only loosely connect to it. They consist of simple variations on “beach,” “city,” and “snow.” (the “snow” will make more sense to those that have seen the movie - but no spoilers here) The idea of simple variations on repeating themes is pervasive throughout the entire game, leeching from the environments to the actual games themselves. There are actually 43 different mini-games in Rio, but there are only about four or five different types. It can be disappointing when a mini-game with an interesting title turns out to be nothing but the same kind of rhythm matching or musical chairs variation you’ve already played 20 times.
Anyway, there are five modes: Story, Party, Carnaval Wheel, Garland Gala, and Carnival Dance. However, again, these are all just variation on the same theme. Except for the Story mode (which sees main character, Blu, taking part in various mini-games while roughly touching on the film’s plot), the other modes are essentially identical, save for the arbitrary method for which the winner is determined. For example, in Carnaval Wheel, which is hosted by a far too talkative marmoset, the players take turns spinning a wheel to select the game and the point total the winner receives (anywhere from 10 points to 100 points). Wild Cards (up to three over 12 rounds) can be played that double the winner’s point total. At the end, the winner is the one with the highest point total. The other three named modes are similar but with different hosts and slightly different winning conditions. The mode’s host will choose the mini-games, you will play a certain number of rounds (usually 10), then a winner will be crowned and you will get a dull podium shot where the winner is all smiles and the losers all look like they need to be put on suicide watch.
However, mode that will most likely get the most play because of its simpler rules and ability to select mini-games yourself will be Party mode. Party mode allows the players to play 1, 5, 10, or 20 rounds with each finishing position assigned its own point total, and then at the end the player with the highest point total wins. This separates it from the other modes in that you need not ever finish first in an individual round to have the highest overall score. The other modes are often brutal to the losers, ensuring one player can, by winning a few rounds, dominate the final scoring. Party mode is much more forgiving in that regard. Another nice feature Party Mode has that the others don’t is the ability to select what games you want to play or let the AI randomize them from all 43 possibilities.
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