Mario & Sonic are back at it again for the 2020 Olympics in a game comprised of 30+ new minigames inspired by real events with wildly varying results.
Tokyo's Summer Olympic Games are almost half a year away, but fans of sports and video games alike can rejoice, because Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is here! This much-loved (though often overlooked) franchise returns with more content than ever, including a robust story-mode and plenty of mini-games to keep players active - if you count button-mashing as an activity. But the game falls short of a gold medal victory because, put simply, its activities are more often lackluster than not.
This party-game extravaganza marks the 6th time the heroes from disparate worlds have crossed paths at the Olympics. SEGA first united the hedgehog and plumber in Mario & Sonic at the Olympics in 2007, and though the graphics and scope have greatly improved, the general format remains the same here.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 has several gameplay modes, the most preeminent one being a sort of quickplay. Here, players select to either play alone (with computer opponents) or with up to 3 friends as they compete in short minigames. They select a type of Olympic event (all real Olympic events with some fun new additions) and then a character from either the Mushroom Kingdom or Earth (Sonic’s Earth of course). Characters each have small advantages depending on the event: Mario is all-around, but Sonic might have a speed boost, and Donkey Kong high hit-potential. But it’s less about strategizing a pick and more about watching your favorite character compete; the differences seem negligible. After all in “reality,” Sonic would never lose to Mario in a race. At the Tokyo Olympics though, anything could happen.
There’s a wide range of events to choose from, like the newly added Skateboarding or Karate to old classics like the 100 Meter. Some minigames are simple, involving just one or two buttons. Others are multi-staged, like gymnastics: involving accurate button presses, balancing, and sticking a landing. The games are similarly varied in execution. While free-style skateboarding may sound fun in theory, when the result is simply a toned-down Tony Hawk Pro Skater, the replayability just doesn't cut it.
Other events like karate manage to be both fairly straightforward, while still maintaining a bit of difficulty. There are only a few buttons to learn, not endless combinations like in gymnastics, but the back-and-forth gameplay is a bit more high-octane than the other sports. Swimming is too basic, rock-climbing too complicated - there are only a few mini-games that hit that "goldilock's zone" of being the perfect size of fun, the zone that nearly every game in the hard-not-to-compare Mario Party universe. And any lack of multiplayer segues or story between games - the game just kicks you back to the menu to select the next game, no rolling dice blocks and moving around a board - makes play sessions feel go even shorter.
In both a nod to the Nintendo 64 and the Tokyo ‘64 Olympics, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 also features retro minigames in 2D style. There’s Judo, Maraton, and 8 more throwbacks that allow for varied play. These stylized time-capsules can spice up a play session, but not long enough for it to really feel like any added meat on the bones. At least every minigame is unlocked right away; there’s no waiting to play your favorite with your friends. There’s also plenty of ways to play, with either handheld mode (allowing for online Local Play over wireless), using the motion controls on Joy-Cons, or just using a single Joy-Con. With such a low barrier-of-entry, it's a shame that none of the mini-games are that fun.
The most surprising addition to Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 (and by far the best) isn’t the crazy games, but rather the robust single-player campaign. The story serves not only to introduce the player to each of the events, but also as a fun wrapper to the new 2D stylings. In this mode, Mario and Sonic find themselves trapped in a videogame inspired by the Tokyo ‘64 Olympics, created by Dr. Eggman using MagiKoopa’s magic. Thanks in part to Luigi’s clumsiness, the nefarious Eggman and Bowser ended up trapped inside the game with our heroes. As they compete in 2D events in the “past” in order to win gold medals and unlock a way out of the game, Luigi leads a team of supporting good-guys across modern-day Tokyo, looking for a way to free his brother. With a giant over-world map, Olympics (and Mario and Sonic) trivia, and events that need winning, the campaign appears to be comparable to the recent Super Mario Maker 2 in terms of scope. There are ton of amazing and unique character interactions, some fun, quirky dialogue, and plenty of cutscenes to make die-hard fans happy. It won't win any new supporters however; it's mostly for the fans.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is a mixed bag. It’s a sure way to get your sporty friends into gaming and your gaming friends excited for next summer in Tokyo. The delightful campaign has a lot of great single-player content, but unfortunately the game doesn't sustain that momentum when it comes to the really important thing: multiplayer. As a mini-game focused title, it just can't compete with similar offerings, it's games either too obtuse or too quick and easy to capture the hearts of players. If it went to the Olympics, it would get bronze at best.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 releases November 5, 2019 on the Nintendo Switch for $59.99. Screen Rant was provided with a digital copy for the purpose of this review.