In the tradition of Fuzion Frenzy and the Mario Party games comes Rio. Rio tosses the vibrant avian stars of the animated film of the same name into a host of simple minigames. Not all of the games here will hold the interest of even young players for very long, and Rio fails to capitalize on its film license, squandering its story and giving its characters short shrift. But young players (and their parents) will find some enjoyment in the better minigames here, and the reasonable $30 price makes its shortcomings a little easier to overlook.
If you've spent any time with party games, everything about Rio will feel immediately familiar. You, and hopefully one to three friends, progress through a series of games simple enough that brief instruction screens before each one tell you everything you need to know about how to play them. There are 43 games in all, but don't take that to mean there are 43 entirely different types of experiences to be had here. Many of the games are very similar to each other, and they can be grouped into just a few categories.
There are some basic rhythm games in which the characters dance or play a musical instrument, and you need to push a thumbstick in a certain direction in time with onscreen prompts. These games move at a pace that most players of any age will find easy to keep up with and some will find too easy to be interesting. Then, there are shooting galleries in which you move an onscreen reticle to target fireworks or marmosets. The fireworks minigame is absorbing because your score multiplier increases each time you score a hit and gets wiped out if you miss, which encourages you to take shots carefully. Shooting marmosets is much less interesting. The screen is constantly filled with the animals, so you just move your reticle around and fire as much as possible, which quickly gets old.
In some games, players drop fruit from a high ledge onto marmosets or onto another player below. Being the one the other players are targeting is exciting; you dodge left and right and try to mislead your opponents about which direction you're going to head in next. But dropping fruit from above is less engaging. The camera is too far out to give you a clear view of the action, and when targeting marmosets, there are so many creatures and so much movement down below that it's difficult to keep track of who's hitting what. As a result, there's little satisfaction to savor when the watermelon you toss strikes true.
A number of games are variations on musical chairs. You and your competitors run around trying to collect as much fruit as possible, and when the music stops (or when villainous cockatoo Nigel appears), you scurry into a hiding place or leap onto a perch. As in actual musical chairs, there's a rush of excitement when the time comes for everyone to hurry to safety and someone is left in the cold. A few games are pure tests of your reflexes. One, which is conceptually identical to a game in Fuzion Frenzy, places you atop a moving vehicle and requires you to press buttons to leap over and duck under obstacles. Another has you and the other birds flying down a street, moving up and down to avoid fire hydrants, awnings, and other hazards. These modes start out slowly and progressively get faster and faster, ratcheting up the excitement as players are eliminated until only one is left standing.
The largest group of games are those that put you and your rivals in a small, contained area. These have you collecting fruit while avoiding an incoming tide; collecting fruit while jumping over a rope; running around and throwing snowballs, mud balls, or soccer balls at each other; or doing some other simple activity to try to earn the most points. These games move quickly and control well, making it satisfying to snag those bananas and mangoes from an approaching opponent or nail your friend with a soccer ball to the beak in dodgeball. Power-ups that provide brief score multipliers, speed increases, or other benefits like stealing points from a competitor lend the action an element of unpredictability without being frequent enough to make the contests feel purely like games of chance rather than skill.
There are a number of ways to play Rio. A Story mode loosely follows the events of the film. You play a few games in a given location and then a character from the movie updates you on your standings and tells part of the story before you move on to the next location from the film to play a few more games. The characters who narrate the story--Luiz the bulldog, Mauro the marmoset, and Nigel the cockatoo--repeat sections of dialogue so frequently that kids may be reciting them along with the characters before you've even finished it once, making this mode one you won't want to return to after completing it. Carnaval Wheel mode has players spin wheels to determine which game will be played next and the point value of that game. In Garland Gala, you earn garlands based on your performance in the minigames and then toss them at targets to score points and determine the game's victor. Carnaval Dance has you competing with other players to get a certain number of marmosets into your conga line, and it awards you four marmosets for each first-place finish in a minigame, three for each second-place finish, and so on.
The problem with all of these modes is that the selection of games you play is random. Initially, this is fine, but before long, you've seen all the minigames and inevitably will prefer some to others. For this reason, Party mode, in which you can create custom games with whichever minigames you want to play and lets you compete as individuals or on teams, is likely to be your go-to mode. There are also quiz variations in Party mode. In quiz games, players are asked questions between each minigame, with correct answers contributing to your position in the standings. These multiple-choice questions cover both places related to the movie ("Do you know which country Minnesota is in?") and specific plot points from the film, which make them as much a test of whether you've seen the movie as they are a test of knowledge. Additionally, repeats start cropping up in these questions after just a few games, so you won't select the quiz variants more than a few times.
It's a shame that the game doesn't take better advantage of the film on which it's based. The six birds that make up the playable characters really stand out on the screen, thanks to their vibrant feathers, but their personalities don't come through at all. Each has a few lines that he or she rattles off frequently during minigames, but that's about it. The disappointing Story mode uses snippets from the film so brief that you might miss them if you blink. Where other games aimed at kids, like Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, have used their characters to great effect, Rio's failure to capitalize on the source material feels like a missed opportunity.
There's no online support here; you can only play locally. Given the game's party vibe and target audience of young children, this isn't much of a setback. It's the sort of game that ought to be played with people in the same room. Not every minigame is a winner, and they could have benefitted from more charm and personality, but there's enough family-oriented fun here to make this good-natured game an enjoyable diversion.