Review | Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
It’s been four years since the last Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games title. The Wii U managed to release two titles in the series before being replaced by the Nintendo Switch. There wasn’t even a handheld 3DS title to keep the streak going. Now that the Nintendo Switch is garnering success, it seems that now is the time for the next Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games title. With the next games taking place in Tokyo for 2020, it seemed only fitting for a return for this series. So does that mean Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 gets a gold medal on Nintendo’s hybrid console?
The Mario & Sonic games have been around since 2007, releasing for the first Wii. Characters from both franchises would compete in several Olympic games for some friendly motion control fun. Tokyo 2020 retains much of the same concept, but adds new events and an all new story mode. Combining standard and dream events, as well as retro Tokyo 1964 events and mini games, there are 45 games total. Players will be able to select from over 20 characters, each falling within a specific character category. While motion controls have been a big part of the franchise, this iteration allows players to use traditional buttons in every event. That being said, fans of the original games have plenty of active titles to participate in with their friends.
One of the biggest draws for this entry is the new story mode. This is the first console title in the franchise to have a single-player campaign, taking roughly six hours to complete across almost 20 chapters. Dr. Eggman and Bowser plot to trap Mario and Sonic inside a retro game system. Unfortunately, all four of them get stuck in the game world and have to collect gold medals to escape. Meanwhile, Luigi and Tails work together in the normal world to try and help their friends out. While the story won’t win and awards, it’s a fun enough experience that should definitely entertain younger audiences. Players will come across several characters and even unlock guest characters to use in specific events. There’s even ten mini games that add some good variety to the collection.
The story mode adds a lot of charm by giving all the characters their trademark personalities. Fans can even find trivia about all the different characters, not to mention even more trivia about Tokyo and the Olympic games. Of course, some characters have to have logic thrown out the window, especially when dealing with characters like Blaze, Silver and Eggman Nega. It’s also worth mentioning that some of the trivia is a bit patronizing, like asking what color Wendy O. Koopa’s shoes are when the picture is right there. It’s not exactly a groundbreaking experience, but it definitely keeps the game from being a generic mini game compilation. If anything, it’s a great way to make players play most of the events.
Story mode aside, the main bulk of the game lies in the various events for players to enjoy. Events are split between 25 Tokyo 2020 events (including three dream events), and 10 Tokyo 1964 events. The 2020 events will be familiar to players that may have experienced games in the series before. There’s many returning events like the 100m Dash, the Javelin Throw, and even the equestrian event. There’s also new events like Skateboarding, Surfing, Sports Climbing, and Karate. They all add a lot of variety, and some experiences are deeper than others. Particularly, Boxing, Football, and Rugby Sevens stand out as deeper games to enjoy, especially in a multiplayer setting. The three dream events, Dream Shooting, Dream Racing, and Dream Karate add some depth, but Dream Shooting is easily the most replayable.
Getting to the Tokyo 1964 events, these retro games take a lot of cues from old school NES titles like Track & Field and Hyper Sports. These ten events all use traditional button controls, which keeps things mostly simple. Of all the events, they all work out pretty well except for Volleyball. For whatever reason, that particular event feels less responsive and has timing issues. It was easily the most frustrating event I had to complete during the story mode. Otherwise, the remaining events are all pretty fun, giving players a set of eight characters in their NES or Sega Genesis appearances. There’s a great sense of nostalgia for people that grew up on those older consoles. The presentation also adds some authenticity, with solid chiptune music and retro sound bites.
The music for other events does sound a bit more on the generic side, which is a little unfortunate. Previous entries gave players the option to use songs from both franchises, and as far as we can tell that option was overlooked here. It’s not that the music is bad, it just doesn’t take advantage of the rich musical history of both of these iconic series. Voice acting is pretty minimal, even during the story where most characters simply have short voice clips. I do have to appreciate the attention to detail of not giving Mario or Luigi and dialogue though.
Given that this series is well known for having several games using motion controls, this entry could’ve handled some of it better. Motion controls do work for several of the games like Fencing or the Javelin Throw. For others like Archery, gestures like aiming are a little harder to read. This is likely due to the lack of a sensor bar for this system, unlike the previous pointer features on the Wii and Wii U. It can work sometimes, but it’s not as reliable as the traditional buttons. The Discus Throw is the only event that absolutely requires motion controls, even if playing in handheld mode or with a pro controller. That motion is a little difficult to work with traditional controls and actually works better with the standard motion controls.
Visually, the game looks fine, though characters take a simple approach to details. The game doesn’t look quite as good as something like Super Mario Odyssey or even Sonic Forces for that matter. The Mario & Sonic titles aren’t exactly games people play for the graphics, but it still feels like there could’ve been a bit more effort. Even the handful of pre-rendered cutscenes in the game have a ton of compression and appear pixelated in some areas. It would’ve been nice to see the effort to use the 12 guest characters in more than a single event. The game still has the same base roster from 2009’s Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games. It would be nice to see it expand after all this time.
While we didn’t have any luck finding a match for the online multiplayer before release, we did notice a few things. The matchmaking has players search for games by event, which could be fine if you’re trying to play a certain event. If your goal is simply to find a match however, a quick play option for “any” event would’ve been great. Odds are the online multiplayer will be mostly people playing Rugby Sevens or Football, so fans of games like the 110m Hurdles may be out of luck. Of course, this may change after launch, but that does seem to be a potential issue. At least it seems like competitive fans can use the ranking system and prove they’re the best around the world.
Overall, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 doesn’t quite reinvent the wheel for the series. As the first Switch entry, it’s great to see a button alternative for every single event. However, it would’ve been nice to see more effort in the presentation. More characters on the base roster would’ve been nice, but it wouldn’t change the overall game much. Regardless, the story mode is a welcome addition that gives players more to do, and there are still some solid events to play. The Tokyo 1964 events add a nice sense of nostalgic fun as well. For fans of the series, this will likely still be a fun entry for them. It’ll be a great option for families and younger kids as we move into the Holiday season. Hopefully, Sega will make a bigger improvement for the next entry.