Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 06/07/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is the sixth installment in the “Mario and Sonic” series, and it showcases what I personally consider to be one of the worst things about 2020; they moved the city and year to the end of the title. It should be “Mario and Sonic at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games” if they were going to keep the pattern they’d previously set, but no, they had to go and break the trend and make it “Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.” Sure, it may not matter to literally anyone except me, but it bugs the hell out of me, so it’s starting off this review with a strike against it.
This is basically a collection of mini-games with different sporting events from the Olympics. You’ve got 24 events – 21 real Olympic events and three “dream” events – and ten minigames. These minigames and events can obviously be played solo against an AI player or against another player in local multiplayer, but you also have the option of online play here. In a first for the series, though, they include a story mode. Normally, I’m all about story mode in games, but it just felt kind of pointless to me here. The basic premise of the story is that Eggman and Bowser have this plan to trick Mario and Sonic into activating a mysterious game console that sucks them into a game world and traps them in a pixelated Tokyo for the 1964 Olympics. That’s great and all, but because Bowser is an idiot, he and Eggman (plus Toad; poor Toad) end up getting sucked into the game, too. The story then jumps back and forth between Mario and Sonic trying to figure out how to get out of the game and Luigi and Tails trying to figure out how the rescue the two protagonists. It’s basically just an excuse to go through the different events and minigames, but it’s not bad, per se. It just felt unnecessary. I didn’t feel like it really added anything. What I would have preferred, personally, is if they made it like a team management mode where you have to assemble a team of Mario and Sonic characters and compete through each event to try to get the most medals. The way they did the story mode definitely didn’t hinder the game, though. I do have to commend them for using the 8-bit (for Mario characters) and 16-bit (for Sonic characters) sprites in the Tokyo 1964 parts of the game and modern 3D models in the Tokyo 2020 parts of the game. That was a very nice touch.
A lot of the events feel fairly similar, to be honest; 100m spring, 110m hurdles, 100m rally, and marathon, for example, all feel pretty same-y. Some are really unique, though; I thoroughly enjoyed the discus throw, rugby sevens, archery, and canoe racing. I would have enjoyed fencing if they hadn’t made one major (and in my opinion unforgivable) mistake; the bout stops and both fencers return to starting positions after a point is scored. This is more than just a former fencer nit-picking video game fencing; because they don’t stop the bout and have the characters return to the starting position, you and just cheese it by thrusting repeatedly until you rack up enough points to win. It definitely bugs me more than it would bug most people since I am a former fencer, but that’s a pretty big flaw in general. Still, though, that aside, the selection of events and minigames does give the game a lot of variety, and even if you end up disliking some or even most of the events, there’s bound to be at least a few that you find enjoyable.
One thing that my roommate and I both noticed is that some of the character models (but not all) look rather jaggy. Part of this is definitely because I use a big screen, so those things are more noticeable, but Mario, for example, looked as if his model had more jagged edges than Sonic. I don’t know if it’s that he was at or if there really is something with the models, but a lot of the game appeared a bit more jagged than I’d have expected. It’s not a huge thing, and most people would probably never noticed, but my roommate and I both did, so I figured that I’d mention it here. Sound design is fine but nothing to write home about. No real voice acting aside from a few short lines here and there that get repeated to denote when characters speak, and background music is good but forgettable. Overall, it’s a wholly okay auditory presentation.
Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is a solid but not stellar sports minigame collection. It doesn’t really excel at anything aside from variety, but all of the events and minigames are fun even if simple. It’s definitely best suited for local multiplayer. Get some of your friends together, get drunk, and have a tournament. You’ll probably get bored pretty quickly if you’re playing solo, and I can’t see playing online having a lot of lasting appeal, although I’m sure there are those who would disagree. I mainly bought this for the novelty of having a game based on Olympics that didn’t happen (at least not when the game says they did) given that this game released a month before the first reported case of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China. Still, though, the events were more entertaining than I was expecting. I wouldn’t say it really impressed me much, but I had some fun with it and certainly don’t regret my purchase. Pick it up if you have friends to play with, but if you’re a mostly solo gamer, this probably isn’t a necessary purchase.