The competition between Mario and Sonic has always been fierce throughout the years, especially for fans who grew up during the 16-bit console wars. But that fiery competitiveness has been dulled over time, and replaced with a more lighthearted and friendly competitive nature for many games that have come out since. As is the case with Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, which brings Mario and Sonic together with their friends for celebration of athletic events that will be featured in the 2020 Olympic games. But it’s not solely the sporting events taking center stage this time. A story mode and online play attempt to give this new entry of the ongoing series a shot of adrenaline.
While the different mini-games based on Olympic sports are still a big part of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, this story mode in this game is where you’ll spend most of your time. It’s a silly story that has your favorite Mario and Sonic characters interacting with each other in goofy ways, with some fan service mixed in there for good measure. Dr. Eggman and Bowser have a gaming machine that traps Mario and Sonic, as well as themselves in a pixelated past based on the 1964 Tokyo Olympic games. And while the rest of their friends try to do what they can to save them, Mario and Sonic must compete against Bowser and Eggman to gain gold medals in the past and escape back into the real world. It’s as cheesy a story as you can get by pairing Mario and Sonic together, but it goes along with the overall lighthearted tone of the game.
The fun part of this story mode is seeing everyone in their sprite versions from older games. While Mario and friends appear as their 8-bit NES versions, Sonic and his crew have their 16-bit style from the Genesis. The only issue with this is how out of place they look when juxtaposition to each other. Sonic just looks better with the 16-bit visuals and more frames to his animations, while Mario retains his 8-bit look that isn’t as fluid. Even though the story does have a setting in the past of 1964, it probably would’ve been a better decision to have Mario’s SNES visual style from Super Mario World, or try to render Sonic and his friends with an 8-bit aesthetic. It would’ve look a lot more consistent and not have the two groups look so radically different from each other.
Unfortunately, the rest of the story mode isn’t as interesting as it looks. Most of the time you’ll be traversing maps in both modern day 2020 and 1964, either completing events that sometimes last seconds or speaking to one random character standing idly nearby. The cutscenes and dialogue between characters will keep fans of either side happy to see these characters actually talking to each other, but the gameplay of the events won’t always match up to the time you spend with cutscenes. The game still looks great on the Nintendo Switch, whether you’re in 2020 or in 1964, and has a very upbeat and exciting mood throughout. The music gets a little repetitive in most areas, but still manages to make the Olympics seem very exciting, possibly a lot more than what it might be for some in real life.
All of the mini-games included in this entry of the series are varied in quality. Some of them are very good and fun to play, while others are a bit more mediocre or don’t last very long. There’s a total of 21 events for the 2020 games, with about 10 retro-styled events for the 1964 events. You change between the visual style depending on which event you choose in any mode, you can’t mix and match them. The big stand out events for the 2020 games are Rugby, Surfing, Boxing, Skateboarding, Fencing, Archery, Karate, and Football. These are the events that are done very well and almost feel like they can be their own games separate from everything else.
Whether you’re running the field in either Rugby and Football or outwitting your opponent in Karate and Fencing, these events just feel very good to play and last long enough to make you want to come back again. On the other end of this are the lackluster events like the Discus Throw, Javelin Throw, and Swimming. While not bad events in concept, they don’t last long and can be annoying to play. Getting the right angle for your throws with the motion controls on the Switch can be a pain, and there’s no way to change that in some events, even if you decide to stick with the buttons on the Switch as your primary controls. This can lead to botched throws or terrible aim in some events, unlike others that have more grounded controls.
For the 1964 2D events with retro visuals, you’re getting exactly what you expect. Events like the 100m dash and Vault require you to press buttons to run and jump, as well as have good timing with your finishes. They aren’t hard to get into, but not as complex as other events. However, Judo and Volleyball are a lot of fun. Judo has the same premise as the Boxing or Karate events in the 2020 section, but you’ll be able to throw your opponents in clashes that look funny with the retro-styled sprites. Volleyball is probably the best event since it last longer than other events and has the most happening on screen. It’s volleyball as you expect it to be done in 2D, but the controls and fast pace of everything make it fun.
Luckily for everyone, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 has both local and online play for just about every event. You can jump into quick play either alone or with up to 4 players and partake in any event you like. If you have enough joycons and controllers to go around, you can have fun with both the 3D and 2D events on one Switch console. Going online will be a hit or miss depending on your internet connect and how many people are active online. There’s leaderboards where you can register your records for every event, but Ranked and Free Match is where you’ll find the most to do. You can search for opponents or gather with other players into a room to compete against each other. Either way you’ll end up playing through the same events as the offline modes, which depending on the event will either be very fun or a laggy mess.
There is some bonus content in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, especially if you play through the story mode before anything else. You can unlock some guest characters and bonus mini-games that are different from the main events for both 2D and 3D modes. There’s also trivia to gather across the Story Mode, which focus more on Tokyo and the Olympics themselves rather than Mario and Sonic. The majority of them will give you information about Tokyo Tower, past Olympic games, and other innocuous facts; but you’ll still find the occasional nod to either the Super Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog series here and there.
And then there’s the few Dream Events, which are more like Mario Party inspired versions of events in the main game. Dream Racing, Dream Shooting, and Dream Karate are all fun to play, especially with other players. It would’ve been great to see more events like this, even if they were unlockable, since they don’t restrict themselves to being like the actual Olympic games. They do feel very separated from the rest of the events and could even hold their own as a separate game if their concept was taken further.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is a good game if you enjoy either franchise or a collection of mini-games. The story mode isn’t the greatest, but it’s just enough for you to enjoy all of the events included within a single-player game mode. Multiplayer can be fun locally and varied when going online, even though the events you play can be a joy to experience. It would’ve been great to see more unlockable content and even more nods to both the Mario and Sonic series scattered throughout. As a new entry into the ongoing series, this was a successful year for Mario and Sonic at the Olympics. Let’s hope that the next one will go even further and bring more interesting and fun things to both gaming icons.
This review was based on a digital review code of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 for the Nintendo Switch, provided by SEGA.