I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not really into sports video games. Although I know that there are masses of people that are very passionate about the various wrestling or soccer games, and even though I’m a big fan of cricket, I still don’t get much long lasting enjoyment out of cricket video games either. I’ve felt the same way for most of my gaming life, but there was one series that made me rethink my stance on sport focused titles and won me over. That was Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games on the Wii when it launched back in 2007.
It may have been the arcade-y nature of the games, the short, digestible mini-game structure or that it contained a cast featuring characters from some of my favourite franchises. All I know is that I played it endlessly on my Wii. Now, to celebrate the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games, the world’s of Mario and Sonic are coming together in an Olympic setting for a 6th time. But although it contains more characters and sporting events than previous entries, it’s removed some of the things that made those games feel so fun to play.
When you first boot up Mario and Sonic 2020 you’ll have open access to pretty much all the game modes and events the game has to offer. You’re able to jump in and free play some Olympic sports, check out multiplayer locally with a friend or online, but what I’d suggest doing is jumping into the game’s story mode. Not only does it deliver a quirky, yet fun narrative to play through, it will also guide you through the various sports on offer, giving you a chance to try them all out using various characters from the game’s story. Here you’ll also learn most character’s strengths and weaknesses, what events they’re better at compared to others and also learn a little bit about their motives and attitude in case you’re not familiar with who they are within their respective franchises.
The story focuses around a plot devised by Bowser and Dr Eggman intending on capturing Mario and Sonic within a retro gaming console that will trap them inside the classic world of the 1964 Tokyo games. But after a mishap results in them also being sucked into the world of the past they’re left to compete in the games and find a way out of the console, while Tails, Luigi and some other iconic characters try and work out a plan to rescue Mario and Sonic.
I found the premise for the story to be a really clever way to naturally feature both the game’s 3D and retro 2D events, providing some context as to why they’re included in the event list, not that they had to though. If they had just thrown them in and said they did so because they thought they were a cool idea, I would have completely agreed. But there were some issues I had with the game, one of which includes the structure of the story mode presented in the game. The whole thing lasts about 5 hours, but to be honest I wish it had been shorter. The pacing of some of the dialogue sequences in between the gameplay go on far longer than required and even go around in circles and become highly repetitive at times. Quite often I couldn’t wait for the interactions to just end so that I could get back to competing in the next sport.
I was also disappointed to see there were no multiplayer event playlists included in the game. I remember some of the previous Mario and Sonic Olympic titles featuring a mode where you could select and play through a number of sports back-to-back, similar to how the cups work in Mario Kart. But here, when playing with others, things were boiled down to a single sport at a time, requiring a new sport and character selection screen followed by a loading screen each time. And with some of the events able to be completed in minutes, this process and the loading screens gets old fast. I would have also loved additional incentives to keep playing, once I wrapped up the story mode such as unlockable secret characters or additional events as once you’re finished with the story and had your fill of the single player events, you’ll likely only return to the game in a group setting if you have friends around or you’re really competitive in the online multiplayer.
But enough of the things I wish were better, because there is a lot here that is incredibly enjoyable. First and foremost, it’s the thing that most of us play these games for, the sports. Many of the sports that have featured in the previous games make their return, some of which having control or mechanical revamps but for the first time, you’ll be able to compete in sport climbing, skateboarding, karate and surfing. As with the other games in the series, there are some sports that I prefer over others and I naturally gravitate away from the ones I don’t really enjoy or find cumbersome, but is definitely something here for everyone. Each event comes with it’s own challenges and learning curve, some I did find to be overly complex but as with any sport, the more you practise and understand it, the better you’ll become. I also liked that each sport had the option to utilise the Switch’s motion controls, with sports like javelin replicating the actions required to throw the spear and running requiring arm movements. For those not into the physical movement, each sport has the option to turn off the motion controls in favour of traditional button presses too.
Presentation wise the game looks fantastic, as most Nintendo titles featuring the core mascots do. The characters and environments really pop on screen and the game’s vibrant use of colour constantly kept me interested and living the celebratory nature of the Olympic games. The game also runs great performance wise too, throughout my time with the game I didn’t encounter any technical issues or performance problems outside of a few slight framerate drops during certain events when playing in handheld mode.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is the perfect game to get you excited for the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games. It’s fun challenges and iconic cast of characters make it approachable for the whole family and it’s certainly fun when played in groups. Although it does have some story pacing issues and design choices I wasn’t a fan of, it’s a solid sports game that looks and runs great on the Nintendo Switch.
A Nintendo Switch review code was provided by Nintendo for the purpose of this review.
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