The idea of teaming up Mario and Sonic’s universe into something Olympic theme sounded like a dream come true for Nintendo and Sega — and, for that matter, gamers, as the two had been rivals in the 90’s and 2000’s for a while there. But, lately, the series has seen a bit of drag. While the original Olympic games were treats, the latest entries we’ve seen were anything but gold medal affairs.
Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games (whew) was a nightmare for the Wii U, leaving fun behind in favor of gimmickry that wasn’t needed. And as rare as Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games has become on the Wii U, it too had come up short compared to previous versions.
That puts an immense amount of pressure on the debut of the series for the Nintendo Switch, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. It attempts to return it to form with a focus on multiplayer and a single player story, along with a new retro mode that caters back to the “good ol’ days” of gaming. Does the effort pay off? Well, actually, yes, but it’s not without its hitches. But I am pleased to see that Sega learned from its past mistakes and, at the very least, made this game a contender again.
First, let’s talk about the range of events this time around. There are 21 in all, with a return of some favorites, including Equestrian, traditional track and field events, and even a little bit of perfectly timed dancing. But there’s some new stuff as well. Perhaps my favorite out of the bunch is Skateboarding, which gets fine representation here. It’s no Tony Hawk, but it certainly beats the heck out of the lame skateboarding games we got during the PS2 era. (Even without Solid Snake.) I liked Karate as well, and Sport Climbing had its moments of sheer intensity.
That said, the “Dream” Events were a little disappointing. There are only three this time around, and the main one, Dream Shooting, is anything but, mainly due to Sega’s insistence to include motion controls. Didn’t we learn from StarFox Zero that this shouldn’t be a mandatory choice? Dream Karate and Dream Racing fare much better, but there could’ve been more variety here.
Fortunately, that’s made up for with a wonderful retro mode. In this, the game takes a throwback to the classic gaming era, with old-school visuals and characters, including official sprites from Mario and Sonic games. I mean, never mind that Luigi and Dr. Robotnik get into a high-diving competition fully clothed. It works so well. It’s a lot of fun to play through multiplayer with these games, flashing back to the retro themes of Track & Field.
There’s a story mode tied in with this mode as well, which revolves around Bowser and Robotnik working together to sabotage their foes (I almost said nemeses, whew) within a game console. It gets a little lengthy in dialogue, and ends way too soon with little reward, but there’s something charming about it. Plus, Luigi and Tails get to work together as the unlikely heroes, so it’s great to see them get more screen time. Especially Luigi, after he shone so brightly in the amazing Luigi’s Mansion 3. (Review coming, I swear.)
The single player stuff could’ve been a little more plentiful, but there’s still some great stuff for players to enjoy. Obviously, though, Mario & Sonic was built for multiplayer speed. The four-player local stuff is an absolute blast, creating a “game of the year” contender with its range of awesome events that you can play against others. The available characters are great too, even if they’re somewhat condensed in retro mode to a few select favorites. No matter — the game is still a delight when you’re going up against others on the couch.
As for online, it’s a mixed bag. Some events have some lag that could use a little cleaning up with a patch, especially in full eight player contests. But it’s not too bad in some cases, and if you don’t have local friends around, it’s worth trying a few times just to see if it’s your thing. But I do hope Sega figures out the problems, especially on the game’s launch day.
The presentation for Mario & Sonic may be my favorite in the series to date. Whereas the last two games were a little lacking in the design department, Tokyo 2020 really nails all the bases. The retro mode is fantastic in design, particularly in the sound department, and is just as much fun to watch as it is to play. The modern stuff looks excellent as well, with each event offering a solid 3D perspective. And it performs equally well on both the handheld and TV front, so you win whether you play on-the-go or at home. This is easily one of the best looking entries in the Mario & Sonic series yet…if not the best.
So there you have it. Mario & Sonic and the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 feels like a comeback kid, even if it does stumble a bit in its performance. That’s mainly due to some questionable choices, like the Dream events not being so, ahem, “dreamy”, and single player not offering enough unlockable content.
The gameplay is lots of fun for most of the events, especially the new ones and the retro games; the local multiplayer is still king, even if the online needs a little work; single player is surprisingly fun, harkening back to the olden days of Olympic favorites; and the presentation is razor sharp in both old and new school alike.
It may not achieve a flawless gold medal, but it definitely earns the silver. And that, folks, is a step in the right direction. I eagerly await to see what the team can do if it decides to go for a Winter compilation in a couple of years. Let’s see what these competitors bring.
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