The latest instalment of Sega and Nintendo’s Olympics crossover series takes Sonic, Mario and friends to Tokyo to compete in more than 30 summer sports mini-games. There’s a single-player story mode, online and offline play of single events, and that’s about it. No online or offline tournaments, no creating custom event playlists. Just pick and play. As charming as Sonic and Mario at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is, it could use more ways to play.
It’s always a good time when Sonic and Mario get together for some friendly competition. Seeing Tokyo landmarks and sports venues with Toads, Shy Guys, and Chao warms my crossover-loving heart. There is something magical about these colourful worlds colliding that’s as delightfully novel as it was when the first Mario and Sonic Olympics game came out on the Wii in 2007. There are 34 sports mini-games this time around, including new retro 2D and futuristic “Dream” events, but it’s Mario and Sonic sports mini-games. Even if we’re just tapping a button rapidly to run along a track, it’s better when those guys are involved.
That’s right; along with 21 3D mini-games, including new additions like the simple-yet-satisfying skateboarding and surfing, Tokyo 2020 includes 10 retro-style 2D events. For these special events, Mario, Sonic, and crew are transformed into 2D sprites to compete in mini-games reminiscent of arcade classic Track and Field.
These cute throwbacks are included as part of the game’s expansive single-player story mode, which hops back and forth between real-world Tokyo 2020 and a digital version of the Tokyo 1964 Olympic games inside of a handheld gaming system. Eggman and Bowser, never to be trusted, get Sonic, Mario and themselves trapped inside the game, and the only way out is to collect gold medals. Meanwhile, in 2020, Tails and Luigi team up to try and find a way to rescue their friends. Spoiler: It involves playing Olympic mini-games.
Story mode is the perfect way for solo players to get the hang of Tokyo 2020’s various events. Through the course of its 20 chapters, players take on every event, from 2D sprinting to 3D rugby 7s. The narrative, as with everything in this game, is light and casual. If a player fails at any event three times in a row, they get the option to skip it and continue on with the story as if they won.
With the stakes so low, story mode is also a great place to experiment with the various control schemes for each event. Most mini-games can be played with either Joy-Con motion controls or “buttons only,” for those using classic controllers, Switch Lites, or those simply averse to swinging their arms. In my impressions video below I play buttons only, because if I wanted to exercise I’d buy Ring Fit Adventure.
As with any party game, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is best played with other people. The game supports local splitscreen or pass-and-play multiplayer, depending on the event. Multiple Switches, each with their own copy of the game, can connect for local play as well. And subscribers to Nintendo’s online service can take the game online to play with people from all over the world. I’ve played a few rounds of “football” and rock-climbing with some friends from across the pond. Connections were stable, and the games played quite well.
Multiplayer is great fun, but it’s also incredibly basic. There are 34 different events here, and no way to select a group of them and just run through them in sequence. While playing online I had the choice to either create a room for a single event or join a room with other players and vote on which events we wanted to play, which is how I wound up playing and losing a game of footy. With 34 different events to chose from, I should have more control and more options for how and what I want to play.
Look at that menu. It needs something. Maybe an option to randomise a number of events and play them in sequence. Perhaps an “Olympics mode” of some sort where players pick a country and compete in everything. Let me set up a tournament where multiple players compete in events in a bracket. I don’t know, I just need more than pick an event, play an event, pick another event.
Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is a lot of fun to play. I’ve had the game for a couple of weeks now, and seeing my colourful game mascot pals playing together never fails to bring a smile to my face. I just wish I had more, better ways to play them, that’s all.