Despite being a fan of both the Olympics and the franchises involved, I’ve managed to stay clear of the Mario & Sonic Olympic series until now. Chalk it up to indifference to the party game if you will. Between the generally lackluster quality of titles based around the Summer Games and the fact that there are better multiplayer experiences out there, I just never felt the need to waste my time with it. However, since the series is hitting the Nintendo Switch for the first time with Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, I figured I might as well bite the bullet and see what the big deal is.
As you would expect, Tokyo 2020 sees Mario, Sonic, and their respective friends and foes facing off in the events of the Olympics. Everything from hurdles to badminton to football is represented. This year’s release even adds events that are new to next year’s Olympics. With skateboarding, karate, surfboarding and sports climbing getting representation, this is arguably the most accurate depiction of the games we’ll get. Outside of the traditional events, Mario and co. can even participate in unique retro-style competitions and over-the-top Dream events.
My issue with most games built around the Summer Olympics is that it can be tough to translate competitive sports into fun minigames. Watching the 100 meter dash is exciting. A button-mashing minigame depicting the same is not. That’s one of the more simple ones too, as other events are laden with convoluted directions. Trying to do the javelin toss with the Joy-Con is a major lesson in frustration. Unintuitive motion controls and poor directions make for a terrible combo. Most of the events included suffer from at least one of these issues. There are some decent activities, such as sports climbing and gymnastics, but most of the 3D events just aren’t that enjoyable to play.
The 2D events fare a little better. They’ll bring you back to the glory days of track & field games, and the more simplistic gameplay feels right at home with the style. It’s unfortunate that there are significantly less of these activities than their 3D counterparts. With only 10 to try out, it won’t take players long to run through them. Only a select few of the 20+ characters are also allowed to compete as well, which is unfortunate, but understandable — after all, most of them don’t have existing 2D sprites to begin with. Between these minigames and the Dream events, I think Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 could have been better served by leaning more into its sillier aspects. Those parts work in a way the regular events don’t.
Ultimately, what will make or break Mario & Sonic for most will be if you have friends around to play with. With the right crowd, it’s enjoyable enough to overlook how simplistic it is. The quick and simple minigames are perfect for the casual crowd, and it’s easy to see why the series has been as successful as it has been. And really, I’m not sure how else Sega would have depicted these real-world competitions. Again, they don’t particularly lend themselves well to gaming. There’s only so much that can be done, and I believe they tried their best. Unfortunately, their best is only good enough when you have someone else to play with.
That’s not to say that multiplayer is the only option for Tokyo Games 2020. For the first(?) time in franchise history, a full-fledged storyline is included. Even in a celebration such as the Olympic Games, Eggman and Bowser are up to no good. They have developed a retro videogame system that will ensnare Sonic and Mario once they turn it on. Unfortunately for them, the dynamic duo is rightfully suspicious of the machine. In a move that should surprise no one, Luigi ends up turning on the device and sucking in all four of them. Everyone will need to work together in order to get their friends out of the system, else they’ll be permanently stuck in a digitized version of Tokyo.
Honestly, it’s a pretty fun set-up for a story. You get retro versions of Sonic, Eggman, Mario and Bowser hanging around in Tokyo circa 1964. You get to compete in the 2D events and even learn some facts about the cast of the game and the history of the Olympics. Outside of the meta-game, the rest of the cast will be competing in the regular 3D events. There are also unique non-event minigames sprinkled throughout the campaign to break things up.
Still, those sporadic interventions aren’t enough to save the campaign, however. While just about everything briskly moves along, the single-player mode unfolds at a glacial pace. Long, unentertaining cutscenes are frequently placed between only brief snippets of gameplay. There’s a lot of just sitting around as these characters mess around and try to stumble their way into a solution. As iconic as these franchises are, neither of them are known for their storytelling, and that pattern continues here. The set-up is fine, but the execution is lacking.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 will assuredly have a strong audience, from gamers who are excited about the upcoming Olympics to the more casual audience looking for a breezy multiplayer experience. However, the Switch is chock full of excellent party options, and it’s tough to recommend a title that lacks both the depth and enjoyment of its contemporaries. I don’t have a lot of love for Mario Party, but even its minigames are better than the offerings here. Call it screaming into the void if you must, but there are just better ways to waste time with friends.
This review was based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided by Sega.
A mostly lackluster collection of minigames, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is fine enough for a general audience. However, the Switch's potent line-up of multiplayer titles makes this offering worth ignoring.