Editorials

Review: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic summer games are coming up pretty quick. To get yourself prepared, Mario, Sonic, and all their best buds have been limbering up to get you your fill of sports-centric party games this fall in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. Sega and Nintendo have once again partnered to develop another iteration in the long-standing Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games series.

It’s been a little while since we’ve seen Mario and Sonic together, celebrating the global phenomenon that is the Olympics. The last time we caught up with their crew as they ran, jumped, and tossed their way through the Olympics, it was during the 2016 Rio games. Not much has changed since that time. Sega has taken the time to create new games and a full campaign to experience. When you boil it down, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is conventional, but it packs an assortment of entertaining mini-games.

Back To The Future

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020’s story opens up as Mario, Sonic, and all their friends are prepping for the games in Tokyo. With everyone partaking in the activities, this gives Bowser and Dr. Eggman the perfect opportunity to finally thwart their rivals. Eggman hatches a plan to use a device and send Mario and Sonic back in time to 1964––the year Tokyo has held the games previously. Their villainy obviously doesn’t go according to plan, which leaves not only Mario and Sonic being dragged into the past but our duo of baddies as well. This small group gets whisked away to 1964, which also transitions our characters into 2D, 8-bit sprits. In the present day, the reluctant Luigi and Tails catch wind of Eggman and Bowser’s wrongdoings. They set off on a quest to meet with the rest of the heroes of the Mushroom Kingdom and Sonic’s world to help their friends get back in time for the big day.

The story mode gives you a large hub-world to explore, and many different venues to go into to interact with an assortment of characters. You’ll find many Toads, of who will offer background information and insightful tidbits about Tokyo and the Olympics. Sega has really done their homework and the game is loaded with snippets of neat information, dealing with the history of the city and many factoids about previous Olympic games. Luigi and Tails will also bump into their friends along the way and they’ll recruit them to join their cause in saving Mario and Sonic––but not without a little convincing. This is where I found the campaign begins to fall a bit flat. The story mode is text-heavy. There are some really phenomenal character moments peppered throughout the campaign. While I was getting enjoyment from the dialogue that Sega wrote for the story, it drags the momentum of the game down just a touch. After meeting with any given character, they’ll require you to face them in a short mini-game before lending assistance. This leads you to compete in a short minigames, comprised of one of many available. The story mode is has a preset difficulty which for the most part airs on the easier side. This is attractive from an accessibility perspective as anyone can jump into a game and face positive results. However, this causes some of the pacing of the gameplay to move at lightning speed. Before you know it, you’re back in the hub-world and sent off to find another character.

In 1964, Mario and Sonic have their own games to compete in. Similarly, this portion also features a retro-styled hub world, but fewer minigames to play through. While the bulk of the game is centred around up-to-date 3D graphics, I must commend Sega for keeping the 2D segments as authentic as possible. It’s like you yourself have been pulled into the past and have picked up a new NES or Genisis cartridge.

Let The Games Begin

To no surprise, the stars of the show are the minigames. In total, there are 21 3D games and 10 retro games that pay respects to the classic era of Mario and Sonic. Each of them is well put together and enables you to play local and online multiplayer. Like many party games, the minigames are enhanced when playing with others. The summer Olympic games breed that competitive spirt, which Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 has wonderfully captured. In local play, you can get four of your friends in on the action, or head online and have up to eight players compete. The excitement that brews when trying to clench that one-point advantage over the room is above and beyond the aspect that makes the game so entertaining.

You’ll find your standard fair of summer games available. My personal favourite has become 100m Relay. The controls are quite intuitive, even if it results in constant button mashing. Other games that I warmed up to were Archery, Badminton, Sport Climbing and Javalin Throw. A few of the games take advantage of the Switch’s motion controls, which hurt the overall enjoyment. Archery, for instance, requires a ton of precision as you’re aiming to hit the bullseye while combatting the blowing winds, which can set your arrow off course. The motion controls are introduce an interesting additional variable but the recognition of minuscule movements is not always registered. During my time with Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, I preferred to play with the Pro Controller, using manual inputs.

Some of the games can be quite challenging due to the control scheme and the required speed of your button presses. Gymnastics was a prime culprit of overwhelming you with a series of inputs flashing on your screen and not necessarily giving you enough time to reach. It’s a frustrating hurdle you must overcome at first. The more you become comfortable with the patterns and timing required, the easier it is to go for gold.

In addition, Dream Events return. The small catalogue of games teeters between traditional Olympic style games, and your more arcadey experiences. If you’ve played any previous games in the series, you’ll quickly recognize how much the excitement can be amplified just by having the game take place in familiar or out of the ordinary backdrops. The Dream Events are the cream of the crop of the available games, and without giving anything away, you’ll want to dive into these as soon as you can.

A couple of the 2D retro games are 8-bit mirrors of the core minigames. Otherwise, there is a small offering of new games, played in an entirely new fashion. The controls here are simplified but are still a ton of fun in their own regard. I was drawn to 10m platform diving and although the game does push you to complete more complex dives with faster inputs, it felt a lot more manageable than other games. The same can be said in regards to Long Jump. The shooting game brought me back to the days of Duck Hunt with its simple, yet fast-paced rhythm.

Contestants, On Your Mark

In Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, you have 20 available characters to use during the 3D games. There’s an even mix of your favourite video game mascot characters including Peach, Donkey Kong, Waluigi, Shadow, Knuckles, and Blaze. Of course, our two titular heroes are included as well. What’s unfortunate is that only eight of them are available when you transition to play the 2D games. While I appreciate the full lineup, having such a small segment to play as during the retro games was disappointing. However, the visual aesthetic and audio during the games are incredible. The visuals are bright and the worlds created in part by the games are full of life. Once again Sega has put a lot of care not only into their own characters but Nintendo’s as well. They are all equal, co-existing in this bizarre world, but one I am always happy to come back to.

Verdict

Sega has delivered this fall’s premier party game. This crossover between Mario and Sonic characters is such an accessible delight to experience with friends. If you are playing Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the story mode offers some incredible character moments, those moments outweigh the core gameplay. However, the minigames included are exceptional. While not every single game holds the same weight as the others, there are is enough variety to keep you engaged. The game offers a multitude of control schemes and while motion controls didn’t enhance my experience, the immersion could speak to some players.

There’s a lot of care and respect for the characters and the Olympics as a whole in this game. To see Sega put time and effort to develop a new true-to-life 8-bit experience for fans is welcomed. You’ll also have the chance to gain some additional knowledge of the Olympics while playing.

[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
The Good
  • Minigame variety
  • Retro themed games are a delightful homage to the heritage of Sega and Nintendo's characters
  • Local and online multiplayer get the competitive juices flowing
The Bad
  • Motion controls detracted from the overall experience
  • Story mode pacing
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Steve is based in Toronto, Ontario. His enthusiasm and adoration of the video game industry go back to the days of SNES. Find him on Twitter and join in on the escapades.

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