While the MARIO AND SONIC AT THE OLYMPIC GAMES series has never been quite the dream crossover that fans once envisioned between the Mushroom Kingdom and Mobius, Sega has been putting out solid (if ultimately unspectacular) mini-game collections since the original Wii release back in 2007. The latest installment comes ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games, and features 34 events in total ranging from new additions like karate and plenty of track and field mainstays. The first installment on Switch has seen more hype than recent years due to the addition of 2D sprite-filled retro events that take place during the Tokyo 1964 Summer Olympic Games. And despite flubbing a few events, it deserves some of that hype.
In total, there are 10 retro events to choose from. Many of these are also available in 3D, but there are a few unique ones like volleyball, shooting, and a marathon race that features 68 participants. It’s a strange mix of visual styles as the Mario sprites are from the original Super Mario Bros. from 1985 and 1991’s Sonic the Hedgehog, but the games do a good job of replicating the sort of Olympic titles you’d find on the Nintendo Entertainment System in the ’80s. As such, you can expect a lot of button mashing to run, and these mostly range on the simple side beyond the deceptively fun inclusion of volleyball.
Except for the aforementioned retro events (which can only be played via traditional controls), most of the Olympic events feature two or three ways to actually play them. All of them support traditional button controls (which are ideal if you’re playing the game in handheld mode) or a one or two Joy-Con variant that take advantage of the motion trackers found in the versatile Switch controllers. Unfortunately, this means that a lot of the player’s time is spent looking at a how-to-play section before events, and since a lot of events only take 30 seconds to complete, it can feel like you’re looking at menus more than playing actual games.
The best competitions are ones that have a little bit more meat to them such as seven-on-seven rugby, football (of the European variety), and boxing. While none of these will be confused for a proper Mario sports title, they offer longer matches and have some super moves that add some much needed flair to the proceedings. However, they lack of a proper structure. All of these sports feature a tournament to crown the actual winner, but players can only do a single event. This lack of progression more limited than it should be and there’s much less accomplishment in winning just one boxing match rather than establishing yourself as the cream of the crop after taking others across a variety of games.
Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 Review | A disappointing story mode
Aside from that shortcoming, Tokyo 2020‘s bizarre premise even tops the London 2012 Olympic Games’ absurd story and is better for it. While competing at the actual Olympics, Mario, Sonic, Dr. Robotnik, and Bowser all get sucked into a game console of Robotnik’s creation. It’s an in-game solution as to why players are playing a bunch of pixelated Olympic events, and it’s set up so that the story features the entire cast of character from past and present as they try to save their friends from being stuck in a virtual version of 1964 for all of eternity.
While the actual setup is fantastic, the execution is so by the numbers that it really is quite boring. The dialogue is dull and that’s a shame considering that the game is bringing two iconic gaming universes together, and the progression is built around competing in a bunch of events in order to escape. There are a few highlights in the form of unique mini-games (such as playing “Where’s Waldo?” with different looking Toads in the famed Shibuya crossing and scaling the Tokyo tower), but the story surrounding it gives no real motivation to keep on playing. It’s entirely too long as the developers fit in nearly every event through its many chapters. What could’ve been a true selling point is instead just an OK mode that serves as a solid single-player offering but is nothing special.
Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 Review | Lacking an it factor
As with previous titles, there are also several dream events that aren’t based upon real Olympic events. The rather ridiculous creations this time around are dream karate (which has players knocking their opponents to claim squares on a board), dream shooting (a competitive shooting range with multiple competitors), and dream racing (a hoverboard event filled with big jumps and long rails to grind on). These are all pretty cool ideas, and they wind up being some of the best multiplayer events. However, with just one track for racing and not that much depth to the other two, meaning they all have a very limited shelf life and appeal.
Tokyo 2020 is best when played with friends locally as some trash talk goes a long way in freshening up some of the more simple games. But there’s also online play for players to check out as well. Featuring both ranked and free matches, it supports up to four players and has all of the room filtering options one could want. Throw in a solid netcode, and you’ve got a game that is fun with friends either locally or online.
Ultimately, Sega has produced yet another solid Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games installment. However, it’s far from the must-own that it could have been with some further refinement. The middling story mode wastes a really solid concept, and the best events lack the structure that could make them appealing to play for hours rather than just a few minutes. It’s a fun party game to whip out at social gatherings, which is what it was designed to be after all, but it could have been so much more.
GameRevolution reviewed Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by the publisher.