November 8, 2019
Sega, Sega Sports R&D
The fire flower is lit, and the flickies are soaring through the air, which can only mean one thing, that Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is officially underway! This latest entry is the sixth game in the crossover series, so surely they’ve got the winning formula down pat by now, right?
For those who may not follow the series, Mario & Sonic sees the two long-standing franchises meet at the Olympic games, with the iconic characters facing off in a variety of actual sporting events to see who can win the gold. There’s always been a heavy emphasis on multiplayer and on unique controls, and that continues here. With that said, let’s see how the 2020 games stack up, and how much has improved since our first big look at the title.
As soon as you start up the game, you can tell a lot of love was put into the visuals. Everything is bright and cheery, perfectly encapsulating the spirit and optimism of the Olympic Games. Every single character is rendered beautifully in brand new attire, and the venues are full of life and spectacle, with roaring crowds adding to the atmosphere of competition.
This also applies to the sound design, with backing tracks that compliment the pace of each event alongside the cheers of the crowd. Together, these elements truly immerse you in the epic scale of the real Olympics. The polish is akin to an actual medal.
Here’s a great example which showcases the arena and the enormous crowd therein.
Now of course, looking pretty is one thing, but how does it actually play? Well, it plays however you want it to! Because the Switch can be either hand-held or docked, each event in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is fully playable with both motion controls and buttons.
The button controls are very straight-forward, allowing you to quickly get into the groove of things to compete. Everything is as responsive as it should be, allowing you to have fantastic control over your character. This lends itself well to the idea of competing, as the simpler approach means you can focus on developing the muscle memory for each event which will eventually not only win medals, but even break world records!
As for the motion controls, while they can be a bit trickier to get used to, they absolutely do make sense for their events, with the rock wall climb standing out in particular as a great balance of simplicity and realism. You don’t feel at all held back by them as you play, so with enough practice, you can master an event in the same way as you would with the button inputs.
Just be prepared to sweat a bit, because you get quite the workout from a lot of the games on offer!
On that note, it has to be said that there is A LOT on offer within the game itself. There are 21 different events to play with up to 4 people (and online), plus 10 “retro” events, 3 dream events, and even more to discover along the way (but we’ll get to that later).
The regular events are fairly grounded in terms of presentation and rules, but do add a nice flourish to the gameplay, with the characters able to pull off various Super Moves during events to show off their unique backgrounds. For example, during running events Sonic has the ability to spin dash near the end of the race for a final push, while Knuckles will perform a corkscrew; each character has their own strengths and specialties that can give you an edge, and it’s nice to see their superhuman abilities getting shown off with such flair.
Then of course there are the dream events, which are always a ton of fun to check out. The 3 events on offer are each fantastic in their own way, with a much more party style flavour to them to compliment the much zanier antics within.
My personal favourite has to be the Dream Skateboarding, which brought back memories of both Sonic Riders and the snowboarding events of Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympic Games. These events are an absolute blast to play with friends and I would love to see more of them appear in the future.
This leaves the retro events, which take a very different approach both in terms of presentation and gameplay.
Each of the 10 events is rendered as if on the original Nintendo (mostly), with the available characters each retaining the sprites of their original appearances to create a Nintendo/Megadrive hybrid.
The sound and commentary is deliberately bit-crushed, the sprite-work is more primitive, and the controls are much simpler than the main game, creating an experience that really harkens back to games we grew up on. The bit wars are finally canon.
Now what about those aforementioned extras? Well, they’re part of a fully-fledged story mode.
Bowser and Eggman have decided to try and trap their greatest rivals within a classic Olympic Games gaming console, but end up joining them by mistake! This leads to the now pixelated plumber and hedgehog doing their best to win events within the game to return to the real world, while Luigi recruits friends to work out how to free them!
Within this mode you’re free to explore two different versions of Tokyo, one in the modern day, and one in the games of 1964! Each has its own events to take part in, allowing you to compete in both 3D and 2D depending on the setting.
Complimenting this structure is some unlockable unique game modes that bridge together parts of the plot, such as an event in which you must play as Sonic and attempt to catch Eggman as he flees on a bullet train.
There’s also a large number of trivia tickets to uncover, which can give you a nice history lesson on both the games and Tokyo itself. Did you know that the Tokyo Towers are 333 meters tall? I do now, thanks to this game!
“Every event is fun, unique, and filled with personality.”
Every event is fun, unique, and filled with personality. Not only that, but they are all presented with wonderful visuals and sound design that pays great respect not only to their franchises but to the Olympics Games as a whole, celebrating the history of each in a terrific blend of video game spectacle and real-world athleticism.
Combine that with controls that allow virtually anyone to join in, and you have a title that has the potential to provide countless nights of fun with family and friends.
- Wonderful graphics and sound
- A great balance of game and reality
- Plenty of control options
- Needs more dream events
- Motion controls can be quite tricky
I really do hope we see the game thrive enough to build a strong player-base, and with any luck we may even see more content in the future; the Dream Events deserve to be expanded! Overall, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is an absolutely wonderful continuation of the series, utilising the cast and setting to it’s fullest potential to create one of the best multiplayer experiences of the year. I am truly impressed with everything it has to offer.