Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 Review – Long Title, eh?

Twelve years after the series began, we’re still here. Mario and Sonic take to the track again – bringing a cast of characters with them – to compete in the Olympic Games. They’ve visited Beijing, London, Rio, Vancouver, Sochi, and now they travel to their country of origin: Japan.

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games had regular biennial releases until recently; Ubisoft obtained the rights to the 2018’s Winter Olympic Games. Evidently the series isn’t quite dead with the announcement of this game, the Summer Olympics perhaps providing more popular events for the mascots over its Winter counterpart anyway.

As is tradition, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is releasing several months before the real Olympic Games. Also as is tradition, the title is ridiculously long, so we’ll shorten it to Tokyo 2020 from here.

Let’s jump right in

First impressions of Tokyo 2020 are promising. The number of events absolutely dwarfs its immediate predecessor Rio 2016, with over thirty events across the modern 2020 and retro 1964 games. There’s a lot of variety too, with only a few games overlapping their mechanics. Each game has the predicted amount of depth – that being not much – but there are small details and extra commands in each that give the player the edge when utilised. Secret hints get unlocked every time an event is played, encouraging at least a bit of repeat play in early stages.

The controls for both motion and non-motion are satisfactory, although there’s a slightly uncomfortable lean towards rapid button-pressing that may wear players down quickly (or their controllers). It’s commonplace for this kind of game to feature it, but some events go one further by requiring fast movement of control sticks. On the other hand, it’s pleasant to see that the game accommodates non-motion control options for Joy-Con users.

The new events include Skateboarding, which is a fun addition that rewards the player for variety as they skate around the park performing tricks. Sport Climbing is a more laid back affair that relies on timing and decision-making as the player moves further up the wall while retaining stamina. Karate is a slightly awkward fighting mini-game which, alongside Boxing and Fencing, seem to reward blind button-mashing as much as it does for a tactical approach. Surfing is the final addition, and while it’s a creative idea, controlling the surfboard can be awkward at times and it’s not always clear what trick the player can do under the conditions.

Tokyo 2020 also features ten 2D events using characters’ old sprites, under the name “Tokyo 1964”. While the 8-bit Mario sprites clash somewhat with the 16-bit Sonic ones, it’s barely noticeable once play begins, and paying homage to the original sprites is probably the better decision. The 2D events – accompanied by a commentator who quickly becomes irritating – have simpler control schemes and offer a nice variety, although Judo and Volleyball feel weaker than the other games. The Marathon is the best 2D event, as players run through the city streets while maintaining stamina through various means.

The 2D events use the classic sprites of eight characters: Mario, Luigi, Peach, Bowser, Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Dr. Eggman

The “Dream” events this time round are Racing, Shooting, and Karate. Racing plays like a downhill snowboard race as players race through various pipes and ramps to the bottom. Shooting has all the players roam around an area shooting targets, and Karate involves attacking each other to turn floor tiles into the player’s colour, played in front of Peach’s Castle. Karate doesn’t play quite as well as the other two, which are probably two of the best experiences the game has to offer, not least because they actually last longer than thirty seconds.

That’s where the big issues with Tokyo 2020 start to become noticeable. The vast majority of games are over very quickly, and the only option outside of Story Mode is “Quick Match”. Gone are the tournaments & Amiibo leagues from Rio 2016, and there is no return of circuit mode from Beijing 2008, or a board-game mode like the one in London 2012. While Rio 2016 was oversaturated with game modes for its small number of events, Tokyo 2020 has the inverse problem of no modes at all for its plethora of events.

The problem is apparent in events too. Match-play events like Badminton, Football, Rugby Sevens, and Karate, don’t have any tournament setup, so you either win a single match to earn Gold, or lose and get nothing. When playing with three or four players, teams must be formed so it remains a single match. There’s also a strange insistence to have everyone playing simultaneously; events that would benefit from a turn-based system such as Triple Jump, Javelin, and Archery, instead include split-screen so all players play at once.

Enforced split-screen gets events finished quickly, but isn’t always welcome

Besides 3 computer difficulty levels, it’s strange that the series has removed all sense of progression for each event. It seems too focused on quick play, with the majority of work being put into a brand new Story Mode.

Story Mode is where the developers get to show off their work on the host city. The various locations and event venues look beautiful. The story itself is nothing groundbreaking, giving the central characters an excuse to go back in time to play 2D events while the other characters stay in the modern day. As you might expect, most events get played once through Story Mode, and this is also where the event-exclusive characters are unlocked. One wonders why these characters can’t compete in every event to increase the standard roster a little, especially when they include popular choices like Rosalina, Rouge the Bat, and Toadette.

You get a better look at Olympic venues and city landmarks in Story Mode

The player’s enjoyment of Story Mode will depend on their investment in the characters involved. There are a lot of interactions, but the dialogue and exploration are stretched to a considerable degree, so much so that more time is spent reading dialogue and roaming the overworld than competing in events and mini-games. The mode is more of a celebration of Tokyo and the Olympics than a place for continuous playing.

In fact, that sentiment could apply to the whole game. A lot of work has been put into Story Mode and the city of Tokyo, but with events being over so quickly, players won’t see much of it. Once Story Mode is over (and perhaps before then), interest in Tokyo 2020 relies on sustained enjoyment of events and pre-existing interest in the characters. As is the standard for the series, Tokyo 2020 will keep most people entertained for as long what as the real thing lasts.

Give us your view on this article..

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Categories

  • Tags

%d bloggers like this: