If you went back to the 1990s and told people that Mario and Sonic would eventually co-star in a collection of sports mini-games, how many do you think would believe you? I certainly don’t think it would be many. And yet, here we are with once bitter rivals Nintendo and Sega bringing Mario and Sonic together for the sixth time to partake in some manic Olympics action. While Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 isn’t quite worthy of a gold medal, it does manage to make it to the podium.
If you’re in the mood for some frantic multiplayer mini-game action, then this is definitely the game for you, with a total of 34 different 3D and 2D Olympic sports for you and your friends to take part in. This is where Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 really shines. Each separate event is unique mechanically and visually, making sure that you’re never lacking in variety. For example, while the 100m Sprint has you mashing buttons to get the fastest time as you look on from a side on view, Archery has you behind your character’s back aiming at a target while accounting for distance and the wind. I felt that a couple of the events, such as Football and Rugby-7s, were a bit too long for my liking, but most other events are relatively short, making sure you can fit in a great variety during a short amount of time. My one issue with the events is that there’s no way to queue up multiple events or create a playlist; instead, if you want to change events, you have to jump back to the selection screen and deal with the load times that come with that. While it isn’t a deal breaker, the ability to create custom playlists would have been welcome. As my time was spent playing the game pre-release, I wasn’t able to really get online with the game and see if there is any latency or lag in network play, so I’m unable to comment on that.
Visually, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 almost feels like a victim of the other amazing games we’ve seen on the Switch so far. Specifically, games like Super Mario Odyssey and Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, which give you a clear benchmark to measure the Nintendo models in this game against. Which is to say that the models in those two games look significantly better than in this game. It isn’t that Mario & Sonic is a bad looking game, it just doesn’t look fantastic. Jagged edges, blank stares and weirdly shaded skin abounds, with the humanoid characters in particular looking somewhat off. Something similar can be said for the game’s music which, in all honesty, is completely forgettable. While music is hardly the focus in a game like this, with crowd and competitor noises the primary focus, a little bit more punch and oomph would have been nice.
One of the biggest selling points for Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is its story mode. Through a combination of cunning skill and bumbling idiocy, Mario, Sonic, Bowser and Dr. Eggman have all been transported into an 8/16-bit game version of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Quickly, Mario and Sonic find out that the only way to get back to the real world is to win gold medals; although they don’t know how these will secure their way back home. Meanwhile, outside the game, Luigi is left frantically protecting the game from wrongdoers, while also trying to find a way to restore his brother and Sonic to their 3D forms. In concept this could be a fantastic story, but in reality, it’s far from it. Delivered in visual novel-esque form, with little in the way of grunts or noises (even by Mario standards), the story is delivered in small snippets that move at a glacial pace and feature average-at-best writing. I’m not normally one to ask for less story in a game, but this feels like one of those exceptions.
In between the story segments you’ll travel across both 2D and 3D game worlds representing Tokyo, finding new events to compete in and new characters to compete against. From there you’ll enter the marked small hub, trigger a new 1-5 minute story sequence before finally getting into one of the game’s incredibly fun mini-games. Unfortunately, even within these mini-games the balance feels completely off, especially when the game gives you only the most cursory of explanations as to what you’ll need to do. The difficulty varies wildly, with some CPU characters so easy that you annihilate them, while in other events you can set in-game records and still be handily beaten by the AI. There doesn’t seem to be any reason as to why these sudden difficulty spikes happen, but if you do find yourself in trouble, the game allows you to skip a mini-game in the story after failing 3 times in a row. While I’m certainly no pro-gamer, the number of times I failed left me frustrated and annoyed, especially after seemingly nailing a mini-game.
In the end, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is a fun mini-game collection to bring out when you have some friends over, but beyond that, it falls flat. The short and surprisingly difficult story mode fails to meet its potential and doesn’t do enough to elevate the game. However, while there certainly are better games you can pick up for your Switch, there are also worse ones as well.
- Mini-games are all unique mechanically and visually - Great variety of characters
- Story is short and has difficultly balance issues - Character models don't stack up against other games - Features are extremely limited