I'm a plural trans woman who's been gaming since she was little. I grew up on Mario, Sonic, and Mega Man X, and I still love to play all sorts of games to this day. I'm also learning to make my own sprites and figurines! I'm the whole nerd package!
Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch,
June 22, 2021
Hey gamer, are you a bad enough dude, dudette or non-dudery to be in the Olympics!? Well, thanks to the official video game of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, you’ve got your chance to prove it, without the years of training, abs, or love of green and gold shorts!
For those who may not really follow these sorts of things, the Olympics is a very big deal in the world of sports, where athletes come together to see who can come out on top in a variety of events, win glory for their respective countries, and come home with a shiny new medal to put over their mantle. It’s a true test of will and the human body, so getting a chance to have a fun romp into that world from the comfort of your couch is certainly an interesting experience, and one that can be easily shared with friends.
The first thing you do upon booting up the game is make your avatar, and they really knocked it out of the park here. For starters, instead of picking a gender, you pick a style, and no body types or haircuts are tied to any other choices you’ve made in terms of your presentation. On top of that, your body proportions have NO bearing on your abilities in-game, and are instead dictated by a specialisation that you can pick alongside your avatar; this means you can be as big and meaty or small and lanky as you want without it being a hindrance in the events whatsoever. You have heaps of control over your avatar’s appearance, which does wonders for the game experience as a whole since you’ll be playing with them through each event.
Once you have your avatar, you’re ready to enter an event. There are 18 to try out, and each plays very uniquely, but make sense quick enough. I played on Switch, which surprisingly had no motion controls and instead opted for buttons only, I suppose to keep it on par with the other platforms. Thankfully the controls that are used are designed to emulate some of the real life motions of the movements you’d be making. A great example of this is during the swimming medley, where you’ll use the left and right sticks to either rotate in time or stroke in the appropriate direction whilst keeping the right pace.
The replay value comes in with the ability to not only compete for medals and setting records but also in unlocking both tips and avatar points. The tips teach you new tricks as you go that will help give you an edge in each event that weren’t evident on the first playthrough, such as ways to boost yourself at certain moments, so it’s a sly way of encouraging you to try again with a larger bag of tricks up your sleeve. These tips can really make the difference between coming first and coming dead last in certain events, as the AI will really make you work for your gold in this game. When competing in the main Olympics mode, you’ll start in the Qualifiers, then move on to the Semi-finals, and ultimately the Finals, which is your true shot at a medal.
The AI ramps up as you progress and does not hold back, using more and more of the hidden tips to outperform their predecessors and leave you in the dust. You can overcome some of them through sheer mashing in some events, but most of the time if you want a real shot at success you’ll want to heed the tips you unlock along the way; remember that you aren’t losing, you’re practicing.
As for the points you collect, they allow you to unlock new outfits and accessories for your avatar, and specialise your avatar further into certain strengths, such as becoming slower but much stronger. Play around enough and you can quickly gain the ability to run the 400 metre relay in a full set of Knight’s armour, or dressed up in a Sonic the Hedgehog costume, which is what I chose because why on Earth would you wear anything else? It didn’t make me any faster, but by Jove I felt faster.
This segues nicely into a familiar feeling that crept up on me as I played more of the game. The presentation is bright and lovely, everything has a non-serious but highly charming polish to it (complete with some Street Fighter-esque special moves), and the controls were even beginning to feel very reminiscent of something I’d played years earlier… and I had, in the form of Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, which I was lucky enough to review back in 2019.
Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is very much built from the same framework of that game, which I even verified by going back and replaying the mascot-packed predecessor. The graphic style, music, and controls are equally focused on being well-made without pushing for realism, and in some cases with the control schemes very little had been altered aside from what buttons had to be pressed when playing. Add to that the presence of the Sonic costume, and it dawned on me that what I was playing now was essentially the same game but without Mario and co. or the dream events.
Of course, this isn’t entirely a bad thing. Mario and Sonic 2020 was a great game to play with friends, and this title has maintained that feeling here, not only by refining the formula of the previous entry, but also by opting to lean into the more cartoony style of presentation. Being able to play as yourself in a soccer match with whatever physique you wish and the ability to kick the ball hard enough to set it on fire as a special move is always fun. This game knows what it is, and while that may turn away those looking for a more realistic outing, it’s sure to appeal to plenty of other players out there who just want to play some rugby or tennis without having to buy separate games for it.
As stated earlier, what we have on offer here is 18 different events, and each sport has had a good amount of work put into it so that you’re getting an authentic experience, albeit with a bit of dramatic flair thrown in. Take the boxing for example, wherein you’re able to pull off a number of different punches and hooks, block at the right time, and side-step in order to throw your opponent off-balance. This is capped off by a super move that you can access upon doing well enough, during which you can throw realism out the window for a moment and deliver what is essentially a SHORYUKEN into your opponent’s face! Would it get you thrown out at the real thing? Probably. Does it feel amazing to do here though? Yes.
Every sport on offer has that welcome “fun over realism” approach, and has had enough work put into them to really stand out on their own. For those wanting a decent soccer game, you’ll find it here, with the ability to tackle, steal, everything you would expect from a standalone product, which goes the same for the basketball and tennis. These could be dismissed as mini-games but they really don’t feel that way; instead, they’re bite-sized representations of their respective events, done with enough detail and polish to let each event shine in their own right.
Then of course there’s the little touches that bring it all home, like the fact that during your attempts to earn medals, the time of day will change throughout the qualifiers, semi-finals and finals. This can be seen best with sports like soccer or rugby thanks to the open arena and it’s just a pleasant little detail that adds more weight to your avatar’s efforts.
“Would it get you thrown out at the real thing? Probably. Does it feel amazing to do here though? Yes.”
Now let’s talk a bit more tech. During my research for this review I’d heard complaints online about peoples’ Switches overheating while playing this game, but personally I never ran into this issue, and I own a launch Switch. This may be due to the fact that this game actually first released solely in Japan back in 2019, and supposedly had four fewer events back then too. In that regard this international release can be seen as a more updated version, which is a nice concession for the delay.
In addition, the online play from my experience worked very smoothly. In fact, the boxing footage above was recorded from an online match hosted by the other player. They won, for the record. Every event is available to play online, and you even bring a local friend with you to face off with others around the world, either in one-off games or a list of pre-set events. Make your own Olympics! And don’t kick the router if you’re losing.
Honestly, I think your enjoyment of this game will come down to two things. First, whether you’re wanting a sports title that’s less serious and more party-game based, and two, and this is mainly for Switch owners mind you, whether you’d rather have a similar experience with the addition of even more silly events and the ability to play it all as other trademark characters like Shadow the Hedgehog or Princess Peach. Then again, with how versatile the avatar creation is you could probably make a decent Peach yourself…
Overall, Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is a game whose only real sin is having been beaten to the punch by Mario and Sonic. Each event plays well and is backed up with solid presentation, tight controls and AI that offers a proper challenge when against you, while having your back when on your team. Add to that a soundtrack that feels properly encouraging and some solid reasons to keep trudging at the elusive medals and you have a solid title that clearly wasn’t rushed by any stretch. That said, if you prefer your sports to be on the realistic side, or you want things even wackier with a touch of spiky hedgehog, this probably isn’t the game for you. For everyone else – go for gold!