Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 Review: Not Gold Medal Material

It's got heaps of minigames but not much heart. Here's our review of the new Mario and Sonic game

Release Date: Nov. 5, 2019Platforms: SwitchDeveloper: SegaPublisher: SegaGenre: Sports

Once again, iconic characters from Nintendo and Sega franchises are coming together to provide us with minigames based on real-life sports. Yep, the time has come to review Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

The game, as you’d expect, is stuffed to the brim with little challenges that are easy enough to pick up and play. There’s a wide variety of experiences on offer, from button-mashing sprints to memory-testing diving routines. And if you’ve ever wanted to see Waluigi on a soccer field, here’s your chance. Plus, there are even some “Dream” events which offer a more fantastical vision of what the Olympics could be, if only the organizers had thrown in things like hoverboard race courses and group karate battles on light-up dancefloors.

In the main set of minigames, the graphics are solid and the controls are intuitive. Sometimes the motion-control options are bit tricky, but there’s normally a way to avoid using them. It’s easy to imagine families and friends gathering around to pit their skills against each other for an hour or so, trying out a bunch of different minigames, but it’s not so easy to imagine them picking up the game again after that initial session. Also, although solo play is possible and there is something of a story mode, it’s hard to imagine the average player bothering to load this game up on their own time.

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That’s not to say that there aren’t any good ideas in here. The “Dream Shooting” minigame is particularly enjoyable – you pick a character and then run around a map shooting at targets, which you can aim at with either the joysticks or the motion controls. The core idea is a good one, and the presentation is so strong that it’ll leave you wishing for a Mario and Sonic FPS game, but like all of these minigames, it is over quickly and then you’ll move onto another one.

Another fun feature is the Tokyo 1964 mode, which allows you to tackle a smaller selection of minigames that are presented in a pixelated retro style. This can be quite surreal, serving up mind-boggling moments like watching Princess Peach’s totally static character sprite tumbling off a diving board. Even if it is just gimmick, you’ve got to applaud the fact that Sega bothered to make this mode when it could’ve just stuck to the modern-day action.

The problem is, across both time periods, that everything is taken quite seriously and there’s not much of a sense of humor. You’ll find yourself longing for the silliness that accompanied some of the great minigame collections of the past – like the ones in Pokémon Stadium, for example, which were wacky and chaotic and made you guffaw as well as stress out. With Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, you kind of need to add the jokes and the zaniness yourself. And for a game that has so many beloved characters in it, there’s not much in the way of heart or personality from any of them. 

You might jump into the story mode in search of something that will make the game as a whole feel a bit meatier and more worthwhile, but you won’t find much of anything really. There’s no real voice acting, just text-on-screen dialogue and the occasional audible grunt from a character, and the main narrative thrust is simply Mario and Sonic trying to defeat their villainous foes in various different sports. This mode is very uninspiring, even if does make admirable efforts to explain why the 1964 stuff is in there as well.

To give you an example of just how bland the story mode is, here are some actual words that are spoken by Dr. Eggman when he realizes he’s trapped in the sixties: “I’ve got an idea, you see. Why not give the competition a try? Just trust me… Besides, we’ve got plenty of time to spare! Wouldn’t it be nice to experience a piece of history like this?” The chilling words of an iconic villain there. But let’s be honest, there aren’t many people that buy a game like this for its story mode.

This game exists to be brought out at parties or family gatherings, perhaps over the holiday season, so that gamers of various skill kevels can have a laugh and play something together for a while. There is fun to be had when you all jump into a new minigame and try to master it quickly, but once you’ve all worked it out, you’ll just want to forget about it and move onto the next one. There’s not much depth beyond that basic gameplay loop. This is a reliable time sink if you’ve got people coming over, and you might have a good time if you play it online, but you couldn’t exactly say it deserves a gold medal.

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