When Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games was first released, it seemed like an unlikely crossover. Two of the biggest rivals in the 16-bit era, coming together to set their differences aside and compete in the name of sportsmanship, an idea that I can always get behind. Though they’ve never really been especially good games, I’ve always liked the Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games series as they’ve allowed me to live out my once impossible childhood dream of the mascots from opposing sides team up.
They’ve always been a fun and somewhat engaging collection of mini-games centred on a variety of different sports and have become popular enough to spawn an entire franchise; the thing is now a biennial staple to celebrate both the Summer and Winter Olympic games. As next year happens to be an Olympic year, it means we’ve got another game uniting Nintendo and SEGA as they head to Japan for the Tokyo in another collection of minigames that mimic the real-life ones taking place in 2020.
The big hook this year is that there’s an extensive story mode that sends some of our heroes to the past, giving us a selection of retro 8-bit inspired takes on sports that would be at home in something like the classic Track and Field for the NES. It all starts when Bowser and Dr Eggman hatch a plan to trap Mario and his pals in a cursed retro video game. As is usual with this sort of thing, a mishap gets the wrong people caught in the console; while Sonic and Mario are indeed held prisoner by the portable machine, so are Bowser and Eggman. The retro console transports the captive characters to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, where they have to win gold medals to unlock the secret backdoor that will return them to the real world.
Luigi, Tails and an assortment of other Sonic and Mario Characters are in modern times, and they have to come up with a plan to help the stalwart heroes and antagonists escape their videogame vault. What happens then, is a series of chapters that switch between the past and present with simpler, usually single button 8-bit games set in the past, and more complex three-dimensional games in 2020. I do wish the story itself was more engaging instead of just being a vehicle to move from point A to point B on a map and play a short sports mini-game when you get there, but that’s really all there is to it. Sure, you can sometimes interact with other characters and you might be greeted with the occasional non-sports mini-game or a bit of Olympic trivia, but there little to it beyond some low-key caricatured digital tourism through Tokyo. It’s a middling adventure at best, which isn’t really helped by it being the mostly middling representations of the sports of offer.
Don’t get me wrong, with 21 sports in the Tokyo 2020 events and a further 10 sports set in Tokyo 1964, there’s bound to be a handful that offer some semblance of fun. There are, in my opinion, more hits than misses though. I’ll admit that I was first tickled with the 1964 sports that reminded me of halcyon days spent getting blisters on my fingers from rapidly tapping controller buttons in Track and Field. The 100m race was a perfect example of that; tape the button faster and your character moves faster. Deliciously retro, but the charm of it wore of quickly, especially with some games, like Volleyball and Judo that felt so constrained by their 8-bit cage that they just ended up not being fun.
I enjoyed the modern representations far more, but even those were largely lacking. I liked some of the new additions though! The newly introduced skateboarding game was like a simplistic throwback to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, and it’s nice to have surfing represented in some form. Unfortunately, though, rugby sevens in included as one of the sports and it’s not very good. Coming off the high of the Springbok’s magnificent win against England in the Rugby World Cup, I’d hoped for the rugby segment to at least offer up something fun, but like most of the games on offer, they’re just far too simple to be any good. I get that as mini-games, they’re meant to be an accessible collection of diversions, but they’re too simple for their own good; either over in seconds or unnecessarily rudimentary. The Tokyo 2020 games can either be played using traditional button controls, or where applicable, through dual or single motion controls so there are at least options – but, for the most part, I stuck to buttons because the motion controls were a bit rubbish.
Also lacking in this year’s Olympics game are Dream events; the wilder, zanier takes on sports. There are just three of them available in 2020; a single-track racing game that’s a bit like Mario Kart on a hoverboard, a timed target-shooting third-person game and a Karate game that has you jostling for territory on a light-up grid, a bit like a violent game of Othello. The relative lack of dream events and the lacklustre story mode make for a package that just seems lacking.
Of course, games like this are at their best when you play them with other people. While I’ve not been able to test online, it’s an option that exists. I have played the game with my family, and it was a good bit of fun for about 15 minutes until we all got bored and switched to something else.
Last Updated: November 5, 2019