My best gaming memories are the ones tied to playing games with friends and family as a kid. It wouldn’t be much of a nostalgia trip if I did not mention NES Track and Field at least once, as well Dreamcast gem-in-the-rough Sydney 2000 adaptation. Even though the combination of button-mashing gameplay and the Dreamcast less than ergonomic controller buttons are probably the culprit behind me pretty much not having fingerprints anymore, I still consider the experience of playing through it multiple times in a group my personal favorite olympic compilation game to date.
That’s not to say I did not like Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, regardless of its freakishly long name. It’s just that it’s a game that albeit its beautiful presentation, Mario and Sonic’s newest endeavour has a short life span, regardless of the amount of events it offers. That’s because mostly all of the 30+ olympic sports that are available, only a handful of them can be set apart from the others in terms of gameplay, as the rest only very timidly move away from being button-mashers, or minigames with very little in the way of actual gameplay, with rare exceptions.
You could make a good case about how I basically praised the same sort of game at the intro only to disparage it only a paragraph later, but let’s consider that it’s been quite a while since Track and Field became a thing. And to its credit, Sydney 2000 tried to change things up by adding a little bit more interactivity thanks to analog inputs. Sadly, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games doesn’t really go out of the box in any way in that regard. Still, for what’s in its package, for as repetitive as it can ultimately be, it makes for a fun multiplayer game in quick spurts, and is especially playable for people who don’t play videogames often, thanks to its overall simplicity.
The big thing that this game has going for it, outside of having a large and colorful cast from both franchises, is the fact that it’s representing the upcoming Tokyo Summer Games. Like last time’s Rio entry, the newest compilation does a fun job at giving character to the location where the games are taking place next year. That’s the case for Tokyo during the game’s story mode, where after a mishap with one of Dr. Eggman’s newest inventions, Luigi and friends are left looking for Mario and Sonic, who along with Bowser, get taken back to the very first time Tokyo hosted the Olympics back in 1964. The way that Sega treated this trip through time is particularly charming, borrowing sprites from the old Mario and Sonic games and having them partake in a bunch of olympic events in a mix mash of 8-bit and 16-bit graphics.
All the while, outside, in the “real world”, Luigi is on a mission to find some help in order to rescue Mario, running all over Tokyo’s sport arenas and taking part himself in a bunch of the games, bafflingly earning medals along the way. The little there is of story in this mode serves merely as an excuse to have you play through most of the sport trials included in Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, and as a solo experience, it’s pretty barebones in terms of actual playable content. It’s cool enough to get a fairly accurate but simplified map of Tokyo to run around on, even letting you stop by and tourist around famous spots like the Shibuya crossing or Asakusa’s famous Kaminarimon gate and its gigantic lantern, which are prominently shown during the game’s gorgeously animated intro scene. You also get a bunch of Olympic trivia and tidbits pertaining to Tokyo’s history as a host city to pick up along the way. It’s cool and all, but it won’t hold your interest for long if you’re only look to play by yourself against the CPU, even more so thanks to the laughably easy AI you more than trounce over in this mode.
The real reason to play Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games is having friends over and messing around with the 30 odd events that the game includes either in Tokyo 1964 or regular mode. Both styles play basically the same, ranging from having events that have you rapidly press buttons in order to try and win, or more involved control inputs, like drawing circles with the analog sticks, or inputting commands in quick succession. There’s a host of different olympic sports to choose from, but for as numerous as they are, there’s not really a whole lot of variety when it comes to taking part in them. The race events like the 100 meter dash tend to mash together with others when it comes to what is required to do in order to play, and for as little as there is of different buttons you end up pushing, it all ends up in a lot of frantic mashing or waggling, in case you choose to play with motion controls.
On the other hand, there are a scant few events like wall climbing that sort of manage to break away from the mold, which works a lot like Heave Ho, having you connect with sports on the wall as you climb up, and in that, it’s probably one of the more involved and fun trials in the game. Other less intensive events don’t fare so well, like the skateboarding one, which is not only way too on rails, guiding you along by the hand nearly all the way, but also painfully slow. Team sports like soccer and rugby are very simplified and are cut short for brevity’s sake, only giving you a limited number of options to play around with, like passing and running, but they pull it off somehow and work as part of the package as a whole.
The few fighting events included are as technical as the simple controls allow, which is not a whole lot. If you’ve played Wii Sports’ boxing, you’ll know what to expect. I’ve always had a soft spot for the olympic shooting segments in the old school games that I mentioned before, and sure enough, they are present in this as well, fairly as well as you could expect within the simple control scheme you have to work with. The skeet shooting present in Tokyo 1964 mode leaves a little to be desired though and feels like a toss-in, no pun intended. It has you merely aiming a reticle on a screen divided by squares, sort of like whack a mole. Frankly, I could’ve done without it.
Then there are some fantasy events that take place outside of Tokyo and are separate from the rest of Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, Dream Racing, Dream Shooting and Dream Karate, the first a very barebones version of Super Mario Kart 8, and the rest following the same suit, but not sticking to anything resembling an actual olympic event. Weirdly enough, for as many olympic events that are included in this, there are some glaring omissions, like field sports such as basketball, baseball, and tennis. Given that there are events in this game that are way better represented by other titles on the Switch, it feels a little odd not seeing them on the list. Even in this simplified format, Mario and Sonic could’ve done with them, considering how well the Mario sport franchises have done in the past.
This is the type of game that can be played by people who are only casually into videogames, and as far as that goes, this is by miles its biggest draw, along with the flashy, colorful visuals. I also want to mention the fantastic work done by Sega in localizing this to my native Brazilian Portuguese, which surprised some of the folks I had playing with me while testing it. Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games is very visually pleasing, and the soundtrack is exciting enough to keep the energy up as you watch your friends or family make a fool of themselves in the middle of your living room.
For the moments where you might end playing on your own but your goal is to be taking on the Olympics competitively, the game also includes an online mode, but at the time of writing this, I had no luck getting a lobby together, in either casual or ranked modes, in order to play with anyone. You can also call in friends to play via game invites over the web or if you prefer, even locally, with multiple Switch units, but like the online multiplayer with randos, I haven’t had a chance to try it out. Taking into account the fun I had with my girlfriend and our mutual friend playing on the same system, I assume that the latter option works just as well, even if it’s a much more expensive proposition overall.
As a multiplayer package, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is a good option for anyone looking for an entertaining time with their friends and family. Its reliance on simple gameplay favors newcomers, but will probably not be enough to hold players looking for depth. The Olympic event list included in this game is fairly big and each minigame can be played in a couple of minutes, making it very easy to pick up and play with very little commitment. I wouldn’t recommend getting this if you are merely looking for something to play solo, as you’re most likely to be disappointed by the lack of challenge provided by the pushover CPU and the repetitive nature of the minigames included in this otherwise very eye-catching compilation.