Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 Review — Going for Gold
The latest entry in the Mario & Sonic franchise is a complete package in the party game genre offering a fun single-player mode along with a cascade of engaging Olympic sports to compete in alone or with friends.
This is the first time I have revisited the Mario & Sonic franchise since it’s conception back in 2007 on the Nintendo Wii. While the series has been commercially successful with each new additional entry, I never felt obliged to pick any of them up until the most recent successor, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. After seeing glimpses of a story mode including retro Olympic events, new sports, and most importantly, fewer motion controls, I wanted to take a leap of faith to see if the series is at a point where I could be satisfied with the end product and consciously willing to recommend it to friends looking for a new party game. With have a wide variety of events to choose from and a surprisingly pleasant story mode, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is an engagingly polished experience that I think all Switch owners should look to pick up.
The Mario & Sonic franchise isn’t unfamiliar with a story mode as there have been implementations in previous titles. However, it is creative how the history of the Tokyo Olympics has been translated into this latest entry. In real life, the Olympics haven’t been hosted in Tokyo since 1964, over fifty years ago. While Mario, Sonic, and the rest of the gang competing for gold, Dr. Eggman and Bowser have something else up their sleeves. Eggman creates a gaming system known as the Tokyo 64 with the plan to suck Mario and Sonic in the device getting rid of them for good.
While the plan actually works out for Eggman and Bowser it, in turn, brings them into the system as well. To get themselves out, Mario and Sonic need to win gold medals from the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games (which the device is based on). Attempting to fix what happened in current-day Tokyo, Luigi and Tails work together recruiting members to help win gold medals along with achieving a number of other different objectives throughout the story.
As I progressed in the story, I would visit famous locations in the city including Shibuya Crossing and Tokyo Skytree, which would teach me more about places I previously didn’t know much about in Tokyo. Additionally, whenever you compete in a new event, you can find trophies in the area which will give you some historical information behind the sport and its relation to Tokyo. These trophies will also provide you fun facts about different characters in both the Mario and Sonic franchises respectively.
This feature was easily my favorite during my playtime because I’ve always enjoyed the Olympics. I’m not big into many sports, but whenever the Olympics come around, I am infatuated with tuning in and seeing the competitions. Having a bit of educational value included with what I was playing was incredibly welcoming and made me more inclined to collect all the trophies to learn as much as I could, regardless of an in-game reward.
On top of the Olympic events, there are certain points in the story where there are mini-games that characters will participate in. In Tokyo 64, I played as Sonic chasing after Dr. Eggman while dodging passing vehicles as meanwhile, in modern-day Tokyo, I helped Yoshi find his friends in Shibuya. It was a really nice change of pace from the normal activities as well and brought some nostalgia from the old school versions of Mario and Sonic. After completing one of these mini-games they will be unlocked in the “Game Room” where you can play them freely.
Whether it be in single or multiplayer, most of the games you play are a grand old time. There are a few that I didn’t enjoy due to motion controls or poor explanation of the controls, but this didn’t hurt my time in the long run because of the several events that I could participate in. Even events that I didn’t think I would enjoy, such as Equestrian horseback riding, turned out to be fun.
In multiplayer, there can be up to four players at once for the 2020 events, but there can only be two for the throwback 1964 games. This seems like an odd decision because none of the retro games felt like there was a specific reason as to why there couldn’t be four players present. It is also disappointing because I liked the 64 sports overall more than the ones in 2020 with diving and vaulting being two of my personal favorites. However, there are still tons of great modern-day sports including my favorite of the entire game, soccer, which gave me a much-needed reminder of how badly we need a new Super Mario Strikers. There are also new events like climbing and new dream events including Dream Racing which is a cool, but simplistic, mixture of Sonic Riders and Mario Kart.
Just like events, there are a vast number of characters you can choose to play as. While Waluigi has yet to make his debut in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, fans can be delighted to know that you can shoot for gold with him here. That being said, with there being such a large cast of characters in both franchises, don’t expect every well-known figure to make an appearance, let alone be playable. For the 2020 sporting events, each character has a perk that will benefit them during the competition. Sonic, for example, can (shockingly) run faster than others when it comes to the 100-meter dash. This mechanic, on the other hand, does not take part during the retro games, which doesn’t truly matter but is worth noting.
Overall, Mario & Sonic is a welcoming surprise that I can see myself playing with friends regularly. Even with such a diverse option of events and mini-games, in reality, I will likely be returning to play soccer more than anything else. The game is wonderfully polished with a triumphant soundtrack that I always took notice of. Learning more about Tokyo and its timeline with the past and present is an unnecessary addition, but it solidifies the amount of care that went into the development of the game. Twelve years later, I can confidently say that the Mario & Sonic franchise has evolved into a series that I think is worth the time of every Switch owner.