REVIEW – Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 (Switch)

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is the perfection example of how far the Mario and Sonic rivalry has come. Even though they were mortal enemies in the 16-bit era, these fan favorite characters are the biggest buddies here in this Olympic mini-game compilation and it will warm the hearts of fans around the world.  Thanks to humorous writing in the story mode, high production values, and tons of mini-games with online and offline mulitplayer, there is plenty to enjoy in this Switch exclusive.

The story mode, the biggest addition to this Olympic game when compared to previous titles, is the glue that ties everything together. If players want to immediately jump into the multiplayer party game aspect, no worries as most games are available from the start. There are games that become unlocked as the story mode progresses, however.

Eggman and Bowser wind up trapping themselves inside a retro video game machine, dragging Mario and Sonic with them.  Stuck in this old-school world, everything is composed of either 8 or 16-bit sprites including Mario, Sonic, and many other characters from these two gaming worlds. In order to escape this retro game, you guessed it, Mario and Sonic need to earn gold medals.  Along the way, Bowser and Eggman try to thwart the success of the protagonists using their evil wits, cheating tactics, and humor. The story is always ridiculous, rarely makes sense, but is all the better for it.  Bowser, for example, is written as a dumb oblivious idiot which creates fourth wall breaking humor for the player.  This is amplified by the fact that Mario’s original 8-bit sprites talk, a new take on these iconic symbols. These classic sprites have also been handled with care.  While it is sort of strange to see Mario’s 8-bit sprite standing right next to Sonic’s 16-bit sprite, everything has been fluidly animated.  Hold the run button in the overworld, for example, and Sonic’s leg spinning Sonic 1 animation triggers. It is a charming effect that will undoubtedly please fans of these original games.  It is even more hilarious when Peach, a sprite wasn’t drawn with the highest amount of quality in Mario 1, is competing in Judo against other classic characters.  Being out of place actually makes the 8-bit mode more memorable.

Back in the real world, Tales teams up with Luigi to find a way to bring back their friends. Along the way, they meet up with characters from both series in which they are forced to compete in Olympic events.  Eventually the battery in the classic game console that is trapping Mario and Sonic starts to run out of juice and the only way to recharge it is to hear the crowd cheer in excitement.  Again, the story is always nonsensical and never takes itself too seriously.

The features of each character doesn’t apply in this world and just seems wrong.  For example, Sonic, as his name implies, is very fast.  However, Mario, or any other character from the Mushroom Kingdom, can beat him in the 100m dash.  There is even a mini game where the player has to outrun a train but yet takes Sonic a normal amount of time to complete an Olympic race. You would think Knuckles, as another example, would be great at fighting games but isn’t any better or worse than other characters. The story is stupidly charming and tying it together with the Tokyo 64 game console is a simple excuse to merge the world of Sonic and Mario. It is just too bad the highlighting features of each character do not apply to the gameplay.

The story mode takes about six hours to complete and is basically there to ease the player into most mini games, learning some Olympic trivia along the way thanks to optional, but collectable, trivia icons that are often hidden just out of sight. Most mini games are completed in just a few seconds and involve little more than button mashing or timed button presses. In addition, many games are confusing during the first or even second attempt, often forcing a restart. Luckily, the player can instantly try to beat the computer again without penalty in the story mode. Also, if a game is too difficult, there is an option to skip it.

Here is a list of events:

2D events:

  • 100m
  • 10m Platform (Diving)
  • 400m Hurdles
  • Gymnastics – Vault
  • Judo
  • Kayak Single (K-1) 1000m
  • Long Jump
  • Marathon
  • Shooting – Trap
  • Volleyball

3D events:

  • 100m
  • 110m Hurdles
  • 4 x 100m Relay
  • Archery
  • Badminton
  • Boxing
  • Canoe Double (C-2) 1000m
  • Discus Throw
  • Equestrian – Jumping
  • Fencing
  • Football (Soccer)
  • Gymnastics – Floor Exercise
  • Javelin Throw
  • Karate – Kumite
  • Rugby Sevens
  • Skateboarding – Park
  • Sport Climbing
  • Surfing – Shortboard
  • Swimming – 100m Freestyle
  • Table Tennis
  • Triple Jump

Dream events:

  • Dream Karate – fight to conquer the most spaces on the floor
  • Dream Racing – Hoverboard race to the finish complete with tricks and speed boosts
  • Dream Shooting – aim and shoot at targets to increase score

There are also mini games that become unlocked during normal play of the main campaign.  These include climbing Tokyo Tower, searching for specific characters Where’s Waldo-style in the crowded streets of Shibuya, or shooting down enemies from a side scrolling shooter that is a callback to Sonic riding on top of Tales’ plane. One mini game has the player tackling Eggman’s robots, getting them to drop an exploding footfall.  However, the first time I played this game this ball never spawned due to a bug, leaving me wondering what to do and forcing a reload. These bonus mini games won’t keep your attention for very long but glad to see other games besides Olympic sport titles make it into the final product.

Since most games are little more than button mashing or playing a quicktime event, nothing really has any staying power. The highlighting feature is the number of games available but the quality is ultimately watered down.  For example, the 100m dash is little more than tapping one button as fast as possible. Boxing and Fencing incorporate difficult attacks, parries, and blocks, but is difficult to play strategically since tells are much too fast to react, essentially naming the winner as the best button masher. After playing Skateboarding and Surfing a few times, I still don’t understand the trick system or how any of it works; I just jump and hope for the best. Horse racing also controls like a tank, Rugby is pretty brutal, and triple jumping is just about timing.  Some games, like the disc throwing, use forced motion controls which will always take a few attempts before the play control is fully understood. And again, it is a shame that each character performs similarly.  Online leaderboards add some replayability though.

If there is one thing Tokyo 2020 does right is the impressive level of visual detail in every shot.  The game looks beautiful on a high def screen, filled with the brightest and clearest of colors.  The opening video is also created with visual fidelity, each shot depicts a vast space thanks to a minimal UI in the story mode, and each character looks like it was created by Nintendo as opposed to Sega and other third parties. Even the retro world is fluid and looks like a lost original Nintendo game you never played.  The soundtrack is also well done and there is an occasional announcer that makes the whole experience feel like a Sega arcade game.  My only complaint with the presentation, although minor, is the slow pace in which the characters speak.  While there is no voice acting, each character provides a grunt or a huff during text bubbles, forcing the player to wait through these animations. It is not the end of the world and provides emotion but it could just be a little more efficient.

The story mode, even with its silly humor, doesn’t last long and is used to provide little more than fan service and extended playtime.  The mini games, are also short lived despite being able to play local multiplayer, online, and with leaderboard rankings. If your idea of fun is pressing a button as fast as possible, or hitting a timed button press like Simon-Says, then Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is the Nintendo Switch exclusive for you. This is a party game after all. Others will find nostalgic pleasure in the 8-bit retro campaign but at the end of the day, playing mini games of this type has limited appeal even if they are composed of high presentation values.

SCORE: 6.5/10

Also Try: New International Track And Field (DS)
Better Than: Petoons Party
Wait For It: Wii Sports 2

By: Zachary Gasiorowski, Editor in Chief
Twitter: @ZackGaz

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