Not too long ago, 20th Century Fox convinced the makers of Angry Birds to release an expansion to their popular casual franchise featuring the characters from Rio, an animated feature about the world's last two Spix's Macaws. That game arguably rivaled the first in terms of awesomeness, and Fox probably should have left any spinoff ambitions at that. But of course, Hollywood being the ravenous dollar muncher it is, no big-budget animated feature is complete these days without a dubious self-titled videogame spin-off for the kiddies, and that's where Rio the console game comes in. It's not that bad, surprisingly, and the developers took the right route by making it an accessible party game instead of a stale story-based platformer. And while it suffers from some flimsy charm in spots and a few weak minigames, it distinguishes itself as a suitably entertaining party game that its target audience will likely enjoy.
Rio is predictably cute, complete with a catchy soundtrack that inevitably sets your toes to tapping, but it's not quite cute enough. The bulk of the narration and voice work comes from three secondary characters - Luiz the bulldog, Nigel the scheming cockatoo, and Mauro the marmoset - and as a result you never get a chance to hear from the six playable birds aside from some chummy ribbing throughout each round. If you haven't seen the movie, you have absolutely no idea why Nico gads about with a bottle cap on his head, and worse yet, you'll only figure out that the main character can't fly if you're listening to the banter very carefully. Blink too quickly and you could go the whole game without knowing that the two macaws have the hots for each other. The unexpected upshot is that you can barely remember the names of the characters you should love the most.
But the big selling point here is that you can play 43 competitive minigames with up to three of your friends. On paper that's true, but once you actually start playing it's clear that many games are basically re-skins of ones you already played in a different setting. (This was also true of 2001's Fuzion Frenzy, which Rio obviously imitates.) One, for instance, has you batter your avian amigos with snowballs; another has you splatter them with gobs of mud. And, of course, since few party games these days are bold enough to miss out on a nod to Guitar Hero and Rock Band, you encounter a number of games that either have you rocking out your part in a carnival band or taking bongo lessons from the resident bulldog. If these games in particular have a failing, it's that many of them are too easy to warrant multiple playthroughs.
Above: It wouldn't be Brazil without some FUTEBOL!
Yet some minigames genuinely stand out either for their uniqueness or their replayability. One of the best is a fireworks game in which you shoot at fireworks over Rio de Janeiro (which does little to dispel the stereotypes of the city's gun culture), and you get bonus points and a multiplier if you activate fireworks that match your bird's color. There's even some skill involved since you're slapped with a penalty if you miss. Elsewhere, there are a number of games where you need to grab a bunch of fruit and get back to a base before Nigel peeks around the corner or a perch is taken away, and these never fail to trigger a rush of excitement in those last few moments before the music stops. This is true even if you don't have a full party, since the game's surprisingly competent AI properly adjusts to each of the game's difficulty settings.
You can play all of these games in a number of modes, although you'll come to prefer some more than others. The story mode is perhaps the best way to get to know most of them, although the "story" in this case is limited to a map that follows the basic outline of the movie's plot along with lightning-fast clips of non-essential moments from the film. Each of the 10 sections starts and ends with a quick speech by Luiz, Nigel, or Mauro, and you play three minigames in each setting before advancing to the next part of the story. Beyond this, there are a few shorter modes with variations on how you play a series of random minigames. In the Carnaval Dance mode, winning each round grants up to four marmosets to boogie behind you in a race to see who can get the longest line first. In Garland Gala, you win garlands after each round that you then use to toss at targets. And if randomness floats your boat, you can use the Carnaval Wheel mode to choose the next game and the number of points awarded for winning.
Above: Rio teaches kids about the birds and the keys
This randomness would be a good thing, were it not for the fact that a number of the games grow mind-numbingly boring after only one playthrough. It's not a large number, thankfully, but it's enough to make the customizable Party mode the preferred gameplay option for most players. Here you can play as teams, select which games you want to play, and you can even tack on a quiz at the end of each round. The questions are never too hard, even if you've never seen the movie (one asks which ocean Rio de Janeiro is located next to), and educated guesses usually suffice for answering the movie-related ones. The only problem is that there are too few questions to bother with, and you're likely to start seeing repeats after only two quiz matches.
Rio comes into its own when played with friends, and it's at its best when young children and their parents play it together. It lacks an online multiplayer mode, sure, but that shouldn't be a problem since this is the kind of game that feeds off of players yelling and laughing at each other in the living room. (Not only that, but this likely comes as good news to parents determined to keep their children's virgin ears unsoiled by the vulgar fanboys on Xbox Live.)
Above: You may never learn to tell the birds apart, but that dog will haunt your dreams
In the end, it all comes down to audience. At only $30, Rio is worth looking into if you're a parent with kids who just aren't satisfied with 96 minutes of endangered animated birds on the big screen. If you're an older player looking for some multiplayer action for parties with your buds, however, it probably goes without saying that you should stick with Call of Duty or Guitar Hero. This bird just isn't meant for you.
Apr 26, 2011