There’s sport, sport and more sport as the Mushroom Kingdom and the world of Sonic the Hedgehog collide in Switch exclusive Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. But is it good sport, or bad sport?
There was a time when Sonic and Mario getting along – let alone appearing in the same game – was akin to Coca Cola collaborating on a new fizzy concoction with the Pepsi peeps. Still, the once warring factions – at least in their roles as mascots of SEGA and Nintendo – came together for the 2008 Olympics, and have been firm frenemies ever since.
The 2020 Olympics have special significance for both companies as, duh, they’re set to take place in Tokyo. This is the second time the Japanese city has hosted them, with the last being in 1964, and this has inspired some neat additions to this latest collection of sports-themed minigames.
There are 24 2020 events, in full now-gen graphical regalia. Most we’ve seen variously before – running, swimming, javelin, fencing, table tennis etc – plus four newies have been added. These next real-life Olympic Games will see the addition of some events that are intended to inject a spot of youthfulness into proceedings, and three are represented here in surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing. Karate is also added, along with three “dream” events (one of which is a thinly-disguised Mario Kart homage).
The selection of events is great, however like in previous iterations many of them are anything but easy to pick up and play, often with several pages of instructions. Gymnastics, for example, requires several super-quick, perfectly-timed presses of exact buttons, while the new sport climbing is, well, let’s just say it’s cumbersome. This flies in the face of the game’s apparent fun-for-all-the-family Super Mario Party-like intentions.
No such control issues hamper the added retro-styled – graphically and sonically – 1964 Tokyo Olympics events. A curious hybrid of 8-bit Mario characters and 16-bit Sonic ones, for the most part these deliver the true Track & Field/Hypersports/Summer Games type of fun that we’d dearly hoped for. Simple to pick up and button mash away at, everything from the 100 metre dash to long jump, diving and the super-fun trap shooting deliver the sort of entertainment that the main event should. So, it’s a shame there are only ten events.
“There was a time when Sonic and Mario getting along – let alone appearing in the same game – was akin to Coca Cola collaborating on a new fizzy concoction with the Pepsi peeps.”
Of course, while the Mario & Sonic Olympic games are generally focussed on being multiplayer affairs, sometimes you may just wish to go it alone. For those types, the big new addition here is a fully-fledged story mode. Basically, Dr Eggman and Bowser have teamed up to take out Sonic and Mario, and their invention – a retro games console called the Tokyo 64 – ends up sucking the lot of them into it. The only way out? Compete in various events – both retro and modern – and snaffle gold medals. It’s a fun idea with an entertaining story, plus you get to explore Tokyo in 1964 and learn an awful lot about the city. If only it didn’t trundle along at such a snail’s pace, as you wait for exposition, stab a button, wait again, stab again, etc. It’s the antithesis of everything “gotta go fast” that Sonic represents, and could have so easily been less of a chore with a few simple tweaks.
This story mode offers a good five or six hours of play and, as an added carrot, it’s the only way to unlock ten bonus ‘Game Room’ minigames, involving anything from Sonic racing against a Shinkansen (bullet train) to climbing the Tokyo Tower and going all Where’s Wally at Tokyo’s famed Shibuya Crossing. Most of these are great fun, but only single player. Still, multiplayer options are plentiful for the rest of the game, with quick play for one to four players locally, and even up to eight being able to compete online.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is, without a doubt, the best and most feature-packed game in the series so far. However, a constant remains in the presence of many convoluted controls that scupper any chance of convincing less gamey friends to get involved. If only SEGA had explored the retro level idea further, as these truly are a treat.