Mario & Sonic is a franchise that started on Wii, the console that capitalized on motion controls. It’s been a few years since the last installment, but the series is back on a new home with an all-new overarching location that also happens to be the home turf of the two mascots. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is the sixth core entry in the series and marks its debut on Nintendo Switch.
As a sports compilation, the game consists of a little more than 30 minigames that are based on real-world Olympics events, most of which were introduced in previous titles. Gymnastics, Swimming, Hurdles, Football (Soccer), Archery, Fencing and Boxing are among the events that return. Although they appear more refined due to updated visuals, they essentially replicate the same experience, which means they might feel all too familiar to series fans. Newcomers may have more to look forward to by comparison, but it’s safe to say that none of the existing events scream innovation.
There are a total of four brand-new main events – Skateboarding, Karate, Surfing and Sport Climbing – but none of them stand out in particular. Skateboarding is arguably the best of the bunch but suffers from something that all events share in common. There’s virtually no learning curve and all events tend to be controlled in a similar fashion. In almost every single event, you can easily excel by repeatedly using the same sets of inputs, whether you use traditional or motion controls. If this is the approach you take, don’t be surprised if you come out on top with little to no effort, even by a considerable margin over CPU opponents.
Although Joy-Cons are more advanced tech compared to Wii Remotes, motion controls are virtually the same and those dreadful waggle controls are back. If you choose to opt for traditional controls, you’ll notice that button mashing also makes a comeback and can take you far for better or worse. With the recent release of the Ring-Con and Leg Strap via Ring Fit Adventure, it also feels like a missed opportunity to use the new accessories, which would’ve accomplished the notion of significantly mixing things up.
Despite some notable drawbacks, there’s still enjoyment to be found, particularly for a younger audience or potentially newcomers to the series. It’s the most polished game in the series with its continued use of vibrant colors, crisp graphics and a clean interface throughout. In addition to local multiplayer, there’s also a solid online component that allows you to compete against your friends or strangers from around the world, upping the replay value for those who want to beat their records and show them off.
Akin to all other Mario & Sonic titles, this year’s installment serves as a love letter to the Olympics, particularly Tokyo 2020 and Tokyo 1964. In the story mode, you get to travel back to the Olympic Games Tokyo 1964 after Mario, Sonic, Bowser and Dr. Eggman are pulled into a mysterious game system, which finds them competing in a 2D version of the previous Tokyo Olympic Games. Simultaneously, other characters like Luigi, Tails, Daisy, Amy and Bowser Jr. are in the present trying to find out how to bring those stuck in the ‘60s era back to 2020. Across both periods, your journey takes you to explore recognizable landmarks and learn fun facts about Tokyo and the Olympics in general. At the same time, there are some considerable omissions for an international sporting event that promotes inclusiveness. For whatever reason, some countries are unrepresented, which is bound to leave certain demographics feeling left out. Similarly, there are a number of fan favorites who aren’t part of the roster of playable characters but, hey, at least Waluigi made the cut.
For a sports game, there’s a significant amount of dialogue to be found. While this manages to push the dialogue further, conversations between characters tend to be lengthy, repetitive and awkward thanks to Mario and Luigi’s inability to speak. Whenever either of the two bros appears during an interaction segment, he is accompanied by another character that the developers decided to give a voice. Although there is no vocal dialogue, gibberish would’ve helped lighten the mood à la the Mario & Luigi series.
All things considered, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is essentially more of the same with a small handful of minor additions. It’s still a sight to behold to witness the unity of a couple household names in gaming, especially in retro-inspired settings, but two of the most iconic faces in the entertainment world deserve better.
A review copy of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Nintendo Switch was provided by Nintendo UK.