With the Olympic Games coming to Tokyo in the summer of next year, Nintendo and Sega would be crazy not to take advantage–especially after pretty much making Mario an unofficial ambassador for Japan as the Olympics makes its way there.
To nobody’s surprise, Nintendo and Sega are doubling down with another entry in their Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games series. Unfortunately, what could’ve been an epic showcase of Olympic-themed minigames ended up being nothing extraordinary.
What Is It?
Developed and published by Sega, Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020 at its core is a selection of more than 30 minigames based on the events of next year’s Summer Olympics. From footraces and canoeing to even rugby and shooting, this is a title that looks to be in the same breath as other popular Switch party games like Smash Bros. and Mario Party. The game even has a story mode to add some single player flair to its package, but don’t put too much hype into it, because the story itself is about as horrible as you’d think.
It follows Mario and Sonic on a typical day when they’re delivered a suspicious-looking gaming system, which we find out was developed by Dr. Eggman to trap the heroes in the system forever. So of course, some shenanigans happen to make all of them end up in the system, and it turns out they’ve been transported back to the 1964 Summer Olympics with an 8-bit retro look (which absolutely makes no sense because video games hadn’t reached that visual fidelity yet), and they end up taking part in the games because there’s nothing else to do.
The story mode ends up really being just a whole bunch of pointless, yet humorous, dialog with some Olympic factoids sprinkled in, bookended by some minigames which end up being less fun than you’d hope. Characters and more games are unlocked through normal play, as you’d expect in a single player mode like this.
Why Should I Care?
Obviously the real meat to title is in its collection of minigames. Unfortunately, not all of them are winners. In fact, most of them are mundale sloshes.
Some events, like the 100m dash, are super simple. All you have to do is prep yourself before the gun by holding onto the right shoulder button and rapidly tapping the A button after the race begins. If you’re playing events in order of succession, like going from the dash, to 110m hurdles, to the 4x100m relay to even the Triple Jump, your personal skill with the game’s mechanics will continue to grow since most of the games in the same theme have the same controls. While that’s all fine and dandy, not everybody will play that way, and you’ll eventually find that the majority of minigames have way too many rules making what’s supposed to be a casual package into something nearly unapproachable.
Take the gymnastic floor exercises for instance. It begins with a running start (rapidly tapping A), and then following a series of commands that appear on the screen as quickly as possible, followed by doing a balance move by tilting the control stick in the direction of the screen your character is supposed to move and tilting at the right time at the end of the routine to stick the landing properly. Think that’s it? Nope, you also have to do a cartwheel routine that requires you to follow the on-screen commands in the timing of your character’s specific movements. Bad timing results in lower judges scores, and it feels like the only way to get it right is to play a few times with the same character. That’s just too many things to do and think about for such a short minigame, and this happens for most of the minigames.
Then there’s Equestrian. When you read about how the game controls, it pretty much sounds like a knockoff of the horseback gameplay you’d find in Zelda, and it sort of is — except there’s nothing smooth or remotely polished about it. The camera is horrible, and the maneuverability of the horse is beyond clunky.
That isn’t to say the games are all bad though. There’s a lot enjoyment to be had with games like football (soccer), rugby, diving, boxing, and a handful of others. Football and rugby could’ve both been their own games (albeit for lower prices), so we wouldn’t be surprised if standalone games using the minigames as part of the foundation were made. Besides, we haven’t gotten a Switch version of Mario Strikers yet, so there’s a lot of fun and money being left on the table there.
The game also includes some fun Dream Events in the form of racing, shooting, and karate. The racing event is a minigame that pretty much turns the game into a Mario-themed SSX with hoverboards and simplified controls. The dream shooting event is a third person shooter where you shoot at targets at a dojo-themed map with a kite boss, and Dream Karate is a 4-way melee where you fight other characters on a grid in an attempt to mark you territory on all the spaces.
The biggest draw to both the hardcore and nostalgic crowd who never got into the Mario & Sonic Olympic Games before is its callback to the 1964 Summer Games with its 8-Bit Mode. Thankfully, while there are less 8-bit games, a higher percentage of these games are actually enjoyable, save for some annoyances here and there. The most fun of which is the diving event, where all you have to do is follow the button commands you see on the screen and you have the option of choosing how simple and complicated they can be. Easy dives normally require a four-button combination, whereas more complicated dives have a whole lot more buttons to press. After successfully hitting these buttons, you can also add bonus points to your score with more combinations, thus increasing your judges’ score. Of course, the more complicated the routine, the more points you get depending upon whether you’re successful or not.
The games that were most enjoyable were the simpler ones and while you can attribute human error to most of the bad play you’ll have in the entire game, you’ll at least have a better idea of what you actually have to improve upon when you play the 8-bit games. The modern games are mostly a mess, and it’s really unfortunate because there was a huge opportunity for greatness here, but clunkiness and a lack of polish brings down the experience, which is just about on par with the rest of the series no matter which control method you choose.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
If you’re looking for a fun couch multiplayer experience, Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020 could be recommended, but not at a full $60. The nostalgia and enjoyment are definitely there, especially with the laughs you’ll have with boxing and fencing among others, but clunky controls and the abundance of bad camera angles will leave both casual and core gamers frustrated.
If this Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020 was in the same price range as something like Overcooked 2 or Ultimate Chicken Horse, I’d give it a better recommendation, but it isn’t.