The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are quickly approaching, and you know what that means? We once again bear witness to a meeting of characters from the worlds of Mario and Sonic and find out just who is better at floor gymnastics: the (forever edgy) Shadow the Hedgehog or…Bowser Jr? In all seriousness though, the continued collaboration between past rivals Nintendo and Sega for a series that only comes out every two to four years (depending on Winter Olympic releases) is a great way for players of all ages to pit their favourite characters against each other in a barrage of varied and fun mini-games.
For all intents and purposes, Mario and Sonic 2020 is a ‘pick up and play’ party game, but its story mode is surprisingly entertaining and even a little bit educational. The story mode follows the headline characters Mario and Sonic, who have been trapped inside of a portable, retro version of the Tokyo 1964 Olympics along with arch rivals Bowser and Eggman. In an attempt to help their friends, Tails and Luigi team up to enlist the help of other characters competing in events all across Tokyo to help them free Mario and Sonic from the blocky 8-bit world they are trapped in.
Watch your language Bowser! It’s the 60’s not the 40’s
The story serves as a way to showcase all of the events across 2020 and 1964, with writing that is actually quite funny at times, creating banter between the friends and foes from both universes. Along with all of the normal 2020 and 1964 events to compete in you’ll also get to partake in a bunch of special story events – from playing as Sonic and racing against Dr.Eggman driving a bullet train in 1964, to defeating Metal Sonic and his forces by kicking field goals between the ‘uprights’ of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
As you might have gathered, the events of Mario and Sonic 2020 take place in real world renditions of both modern day and 1964 Tokyo. Both have world maps that allow you to move between event venues as well as well-known landmarks around Tokyo city. The amount of detail that Sega have gone into to recreate some of Tokyo’s most famous landmarks is truly breathtaking. As someone who has visited Tokyo, a wave of nostalgic memories was triggered as I visited Asakusa’s Kaminarimon Gate and Tokyo Station. It serves as not only a great detail for those who have visited Tokyo but also as a tour guide for those looking to attend the games next year.
Scattered across all of the different sporting venues and landmarks in both 2020 and 1964 Tokyo, you’ll find a bunch of little factoids about the history of the Olympic Games, the local area or in some cases information on some of the characters that you meet along the way. All of these little details really help immerse you in the games and everything that Tokyo has to offer for their second hosting of the Summer games.
In Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, not only do you get 21 events that show off the best of what the 2020 Olympics have to offer, but in celebration of Tokyo’s hosting of the Summer games in 1964 an additional ten retro pixel art-themed events are also available. Most of the 2020 events have multiple ways to play – either with one or two Joy-Cons (making use of both buttons and motion controls) or with buttons only – whereas the 1964 events can only be played using buttons (keeping in line with the retro theme).
Started from the bottom…
… Now we’re here!
Playing purely with button controls is definitely the optimal way to enjoy a majority of the events. Unfortunately, Mario and Sonic don’t escape the jank that can come with motion controls, with some events being almost unplayable due to some very particular movements that often refuse to register. There are a few exceptions like Archery and Javelin Throw where using the motion controls feels really natural and creates a fun level of immersion, but overall you’re probably going to want to stick to the good ol’ button controls.
Along with staples like the 100m sprint and swimming events, a few of the new events that have been added to the upcoming games also make their debut here. Events like skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing are welcome additions to the series, allowing for some more unique play styles to be included as well as highlighting their appeal for those looking to spectate something new for the games next year. The 8-bit events from the 1964 selection add an amusing contrast to the modern events of 2020. There’s something oddly entertaining about seeing the old school Bowser sprite rotating through the air during the vault event, and it’s hard for it not to bring a smile to your face.
The one thing that didn’t bring a smile to my face was the return of ‘Dream’ events. These three events (Dream Racing, Shooting and Karate) felt like a last minute addition to this new instalment. Dream Racing is just a toned down Sonic Riders clone that feels rigid and unimaginative, Dream Karate plays like an Wii-Era Mario Party mini-game (and not a good one) and the worst offender of all is Dream Shooting, in which gyro aiming is on by default and can’t be turned off. The entire time I was playing this event, it just felt like the switch was fighting against me. Just not well thought through. Their universal terribleness demonstrates exactly why they were left out of the previous game, to the point where I would have much preferred they added more of the 2D retro events in place of these.
As a concept, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 seems like one of the most ridiculous IP crossovers possible, and it is. But despite that, Sega has proven once again that if you put the effort in and hit that nostalgic nerve just right, you’ve got the recipe for an entertaining title that can pull in crowds of all kinds.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch // Review code supplied by publisher
Photography supplied by the author, Zac Reardon @simplydaft on Instagram