Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 Review
When former rivals Mario & Sonic first came together in the name of unity and sportsmanship in the first At The Olympic Games title way back in 2007, I have to admit that I was more a little incensed. Had we really waited all these years just to see the two titans finally join forces in... a mini-game collection?
True, the two mascots would start pounding seven shades of poop out of each other just a year later in Super Smash Bros Brawl, but I was never really convinced that Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games was the best use of the two titans of gaming.
Over two decades and multiple entries later, and as I sit down to play the snappily titled Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, I'm still not convinced.
Don't get me wrong, Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 (which I shall henceforth simply be referring to as Tokyo 2020 for the sanity of myself and my readers) is not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination.
It looks beautiful, there are some fun mini-games, the story mode is a neat addition, and it's always a thrill to see Dr Eggman pulling off gnarly tricks on a surfboard, but at the end of the day? I really can't see it as anything more than a mixed bag of mini-games, and with virtually nothing else to try and hold the package together, it rapidly falls apart.
This is, to be fair, kind of how I've always seen the Mario & Sonic franchise, but Tokyo 2020 does so little to change things up that it's hard not to feel like I've seen it all before, which I actually have from a good chunk of the minigames. Meanwhile, most of the stuff I genuinely haven't seen before does little to impress.
Let's start with the story mode itself, as it's easily the best new addition in the game and an element that's sure to have plenty to offer for retro gaming enthusiasts and modern gamers alike.
After being sent back to the 1964 Tokyo Games by time machine imaginatively named Tokyo '64, Mario, Sonic, Bowser, and Eggman find themselves transformed into their NES/Mega Drive era sprites and have to compete in a series of "retro" events which, I have to say, are absolutely charming.
The attention to detail here is to be admired, and while the NES was obviously decades away from release back in 1964, it's an absolute delight to play through a series of mini-games that could easily have appeared on Nintendo's first home console. True to the era, there are no extravagant visuals, sound affects, or control waggling. Instead, it's good old-fashioned fun with limited buttons.
Some of these retro events I genuinely got a lot out of, like a marathon in which you have to pace your button taps to conserve energy for the final sprint, avoid fellow racers, and grab drinks along the way for boosts. I was also a big fan of the shooting, which had some real Duck Hunt vibes but let me down massively when I realised there was no option for motion controls in any of the retro events.
Unfortunately, there are some interminably dull stinkers to be found in the retro event lineup, too. Volleyball is an absolute mess, for example, while 2D Judo also never felt quite right to me. Really, it's the events that try to do too much and don't take into account the "limitations" of the era that seem to fail the hardest.
More often than not though, these simple-looking events make for delightful mini-games both in the context of the story and in multiplayer - although the 100m sprint takes longer to set up than it does to actually play, which isn't exactly ideal.
While story mode sees Mario and Sonic screwing around in the past, it's up to Luigi and Tails to work together in present day to try and bring them home. Thus, an excuse to bounce between modern and retro events is born.
Modern events, like the retro events, represent something of a mixed bag. The main difference here of course is that the modern events don't have to the power of nostalgia to fall back on when I notice problems, so they're an awful lot quicker to irritate me.
There are 21 modern (or 3D) events to play through, including past hits like football, boxing, swimming, and archery. There are also a few new events, including the totally rad surfing and skateboarding mini-games which I assume were included at the behest of Sonic himself in an increasingly desperate bid to stay relevant to the young'uns.
As has always been a fault of the franchise, some of the more complicated games do fall foul of poorly-explained controls, and while you can pick up and play almost all of the 2D events with someone who hasn't played a video game in years (or ever), a good number of the 3D events will become a chore as you have to sit and wait while your non-gamer mate, through no fault of their own, tries to get to grips with amount of button prompts the Swimming event wants you to keep track of.
Of the new events, Karate is probably the best, although it really does just feel like a poor imitation of a better, more robust fighting game. Skateboarding and surfing too, are incredibly limited - demanding little but going on for far too long - and simply make me wish I was playing another, better skateboarding or surfing game.
Oh, there are a couple of more ambitious Dream Events too, including a pretty fun little shooting game in which you explore a map taking down targets and another racing game that just made me wish I was playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
Now that I think about it, Tokyo 2020 did a great job of reminding me of other, better Switch games that I could be playing instead. Not really what you want from a game, I have to admit.
And so, before long, the story mode starts to get bogged down in a mix of mini-games that just aren't all that fun to play. With that said, you'll probably be happy enough to see the six-hour story mode through to completion just to see the charming cutscenes and unlock a series of genuinely fun Game Room events, including an inspired beat 'em up in which you play as Tails laying down a world of hurt on hordes of Shy Guys.
Overall, Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is probably the most content-stuffed and robust offering in the franchise to date. There are more ways to play than ever before, either on the go or in handheld mode, and there are enough genuinely good events that you'll be able to gather up a few mates for several hours of fun at least.
The problem is that even the best events get pretty dull pretty fast, and I became increasingly aware that my Switch is home to countless more entertaining multiplayer games.
Hell, if I'm that desperate for a mini-game collection I can just boot up Super Mario Party, a titles that offers a much more diverse and engaging selection of mini-games, and one that hangs them together in an infinitely more entertaining manner.
As it stands, Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 has its fair share of genuine fun to offer, but the clunky mini-games simply pail in comparison to what else is out there on Switch, making it kind of hard for me to recommend it to anyone other than genuine fans of the franchise.
In my opinion then, this is easily the best game in the Mario & Sonic series to date. Unfortunately, all that really means is that your mileage with the game comes down entirely to your own experience with the franchise, as this latest effort just doesn't do enough to tackle the problems inherent in its predecessors, and does precious little to keep players invested and engaged for more than a few dozen hours.
We played Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Nintendo Switch, using a code provided by the publisher.
Featured Image Credit: Nintendo/SEGA