Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 Review
Mario shouldn’t be able to beat Sonic in a footrace, but the Mario & Sonic at the Olympics series has always thrown that minor point out the window in service of putting together a new collection of sporting minigames every time the world’s biggest sporting event rolls around. The Olympics are back in Tokyo next year for the first time since 1964, and the two titular heroes have brought their pals for not just the upcoming Olympics, but also a retro romp through the games of yesteryear in more ways than one.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020 shakes up the usual formula for the series with the introduction of a dedicated story mode. The nefarious Dr Eggman is up to his usual shenanigans, designing a handheld system that sucks Mario and Sonic into a game world and trapping them in a 1964 Olympics video game. Unfortunately for Eggman, he inadvertently ends up whisking himself and Bowser into it too, and the two pairs must find a way to escape the game and return to the present.
The story plays out with Luigi and Tails in the modern-day attempting to rescue their digitized friends from the aforementioned handheld system containing the Tokyo’64 game, which works as a double-handed nod to both retro gaming and the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. As you progress, you’ll switch between teams inside and out of the game, with the former brought to life with some lovely 8-bit pixel art. It’s up to Mario and Sonic to gather enough gold medals to escape, which leaves Luigi and Tails with the task of running around trying to charge up a battery with crowd cheers Monsters Inc. style to stop the handheld from running out of juice before they can rescue them. It’s all a bit of fun with the odd joke thrown into the mix, and it’s a clever way of holding your hand through everything the game has to offer.
Both eras present you with an overworld map from which you can move between locations. At each venue, you can wander around a small recreation of the arena presumably modelled after what the actual venues will look like. The arenas and character models sport the crisp, clean look you expect from the franchise, and the soundtrack has a surprising number of catchy jingles. The whole presentation is top-notch, and it feels about as authentic as an Olympic sports videogame that has running hedgehogs, Koopa kids and whatever on earth is happening with Waluigi in it can.
There are 21 events representing the 2020 Olympics, and 10 of the retro-flavoured variety on behalf of Tokyo 1964. Most of the 2020 events offer at least a couple of control options. All can be done with just buttons, but most offer at least one motion control option with either one or two joy-cons. The motion controls work best for the sports where motion feels most natural, such as boxing, archery or table tennis, but can occasionally feel iffy and unresponsive for some events.
Some of the more complex sports such as rugby sevens or football are limited to just button controls, as are all the 1964 games. Buttons are the most consistent way to play if you’re aiming for high scores, but part of the fun of a mini-game collection such as this is found in looking like a goof with friends as you dramatically sprint a hundred metres.
The quality of minigames across the board is mostly good with the occasional fizzer. They’re all relatively simple as to be expected from this sort of compilation, but that doesn’t stop plenty of them providing a great time. Some other events don’t fare so well and are hampered by either imprecise controls or finicky mechanics. The AI is a complete pushover for most of the story, but you’ll encounter the occasional event where it’s difficult to get the game to do what you want it to, and the opponents leave you little room for failure. Thankfully there’s the option to move past an event if you fail three times so things keep moving at a brisk pace.
The most surprising part of this package is the variety of non-sporting tasks you’ll tackle throughout the story. To get the passes Luigi and Tails need to access events, they’ll need to lend a hand to the familiar denizens of the Mario and Sonic universes, which can lead to some rather outlandish activities. One game sees you going on an 8-bit stealth mission to recover a miracle sushi roll hidden in a museum. Others have you beating up Shy-Guys in an alley, tackling robots to get a football you’ll use to kick into Metal Sonic, playing Where’s Wally with Toad and plenty more. These are consistently surprising and enjoyable and break up the flow of the adventure nicely.
Rounding out the set are three bonus Dream events. Dream Racing sees you tearing down a track that wouldn’t look out of place in F-Zero on a hoverboard, Dream Shooting is a competent third-person target shooter, and Dream Karate sees you tossing your opponents across a board to flip tiles to your colour. They’re wacky in a good way and provide a good opportunity to play something a little more interactive with your friends as opposed to most of the games which see you simply playing alongside one another.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020 is a solid mini-game collection that might just serve as a great addition to your game nights as the Olympics draw nearer. Steer clear of a few dud events and you’ll find a satisfying multiplayer experience on offer, and the highly varied story mode means there’s something here for the solo player too. It won’t set your world on fire, but it’s hard not to have fun as you go for gold, even if the game never quite makes it to the top podium.
+ Well paced and varied story mode
+ Dream events and bonus games are great
+ Excellent presentation
- Controls are occasionally unresponsive
- The AI is a pushover until it really isn’t
- A few dull events