The Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games series is a curio of crossover history. Featuring two of gaming’s most famous icons who were once bitter rivals in the 90s, and meshing them together with the Olympics was an unexpected turn of events when the first title in the series debuted on the Wii in 2007.
Thereafter, Mario & Sonic games became something of a tradition. A new game in the series was released every two years to coincide with each Olympic Games event. All was well with the world.
That is, until 2018 when the series seemingly came to an abrupt end. The Winter Olympics took place in South Korea, but Mario and Sonic were nowhere to be found. Many online forums speculated that there would be no more Mario & Sonic games. I won’t lie, I was saddened by the the rumors that the series was over. Not because I was a fan of the series, but because I never got a chance to play any of the Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games titles and with the success of the Nintendo Switch I was ready to experience the series for the first time.
Then, during a Nintendo Direct, the news was casually dropped that the next installment in the series would indeed be coming to Nintendo Switch as early as this year. I was ecstatic. Now only would I finally be able to see what all the hubbub was about, but I would have another great multiplayer Mario spinoff to add to my collection. I’ve been collecting a lot of the Mario sports titles lately, like Mario Strikers, Mario Hoops 3-on-3, and the more recent Mario Sports Superstars. An Olympic Games title is a perfect addition to the collection.
So, how is the newest Mario & Sonic game? Does it live up to my expectations? The short answer is yes.
Taking place at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the game made a very good impression on me right out of the gate as I started the story mode. Sure, story modes in these kinds of games are usually perfunctory at best, but I wanted to begin my Mario & Sonic journey with a more structured experience. To my surprise, the story was pretty entertaining.
It found clever ways to work in the game’s features, like the new retro style versions of the sports mini-games that take place during the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games and showcase 8-bit Mario and 16-bit Sonic characters. It reminds me of my days as a teenager reading sprite comics online.
Contrasting those with the 3D world in the modern Tokyo 2020 Olympic Game is sublime. Sometimes this level of fan service would feel gratuitous, but here it feels organic in service of the story. The script has a lot of comedic charm too that is very reminiscent of Bowser’s Inside Story (which makes a lot of sense seeing as how developer AlphaDream also pitched in to help in the development of Tokyo 2020).
I was expecting the retro element of the game to feel rushed and tacked-on, but it doesn’t. It’s incorporated well as the gameplay in the 2D throwbacks feel very faithful to the original games in both of the series. Not to mention, the special mini-games like racing a Japanese bullet train in classic 2D, are super fun. The attention to detail is impressive, too. Sega went so far as to even include both a 2D and 3D map of Tokyo. They essentially made two versions of the game, a classic old-school one and a modern one.
There’s just one nitpick I have. While the gameplay fits like a glove for the old-school iterations of the mini-games, that same gameplay usually feels outdated and cumbersome when playing the same mini-game with the modern 3D graphics. It’s not the case for all of the mini-games, but it is true for too many of them. Honestly, it felt a lot like Mario Sports Superstars. Perfectly serviceable, but a bit too watered down with shallow controls.
This is something Sega has struggled with for a long time. Back in 2D heyday of gaming, they could compete head to head with Nintendo as a developer. However, Sega’s transition to 3D gaming was much more bumpy than Nintendo’s. So bumpy in fact, that they got out of the hardware side of things after Dreamcast failed to catch on. They still haven’t fully perfected controlling characters in a 3D space. Something just feels… off.
Still, you have to give the game credit. It’s not chintzy on the content. While Mario Sports Superstars only featured five sports, Mario & Sonic at the Olympics Tokyo 2020 features 21 events in 3D (24 if you count Dream Events) on top of the 10 events in 2D.
There’s also an additional 10 mini-games that aren’t related to Olympic events (like the previously mentioned race against the bullet train), which essentially brings the whole package up to 44 mini-games/events overall. Not a bad deal.
And a handful of the events, even the 3D ones, are really fun. Dream Shooting stands out with its Overwatch-inspired level design and gameplay. Honestly, I’d like to see Dream Shooting expanded with even more levels. Fencing is a blast if you increase the CPU difficulty. Table Tennis and Badminton are both nice bite-sized versions of Mario Tennis. Both Football and Rugby Sevens are nice stand-ins for Mario Strikers Charged. The list goes on with well over a dozen events that you’ll likely find yourself happy to revisit.
Moreover, the game offers both local and online multiplayer. Local multiplayer is fun and offers a nice alternative to Mario Party. Come to think of it, the local multiplayer brings back memories of gathering around with friends to play Wii Sports back in the day.
The online play runs smoothly with no connection issues as far as I’ve seen. s loads of fun… when you can find other players, that is. Having a release date sandwiched between Luigi’s Mansion 3 and Pokémon Sword and Shield seems to have affected user turnout for Mario & Sonic‘s online features, but again, it’s satisfying when other players are around.
Single-player is worth it for the story mode alone, and for trying to beat previous high scores in the 2D. There are a few 3D events you’ll want to play over and over again to beat previous high scores, but most of them will feel lacking without multiplayer or the structure of the story mode.
The soundtrack is a bit overly generic. I would’ve preferred more from the vast catalogue of both Mario and Sonic’s respective music tracks, but I’m sure licensing issues came up. It is what it is.
Otherwise, the graphics and presentation are overall very pleasant. As previously stated, the 2D sections loyally adhere to the classic games. The 3D sections aren’t anything to sneeze at either. Sure, they’re not groundbreaking, but some of the events, like surfing and swimming, are downright beautiful (what can I say, I love those water effects).
In the end, I enjoyed Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. While the overall experience wasn’t as solid as the first impressions I got from the story mode, I still had a lot of fun with it and I think most other people will too. It’s available now on Amazon for less than $50, which is a steal. At that price it definitely deserves a place in your Switch library.
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