Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is a party game for up to four players locally and as many as eight online, comprised of a collection of minigames based on events of the Summer Olympics. With so many exciting events to choose from, you would think there would be plenty of fun to be had, especially to a person who really loves the Olympics. Unfortunately, the fun seems to be in short supply here.
There are over 30 events to play, many of which are from track and field. There are also major sports like football (soccer) and rugby, and staples of the Summer Olympics like swimming, gymnastics (floor exercises and vault), volleyball, table tennis, fencing and archery. Notably included are 4 of the new events coming to the 2020 Olympics, with Karate, Skateboarding, Sport Climbing and Surfing all in the lineup.
There’s a problem though: The vast majority of minigames in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 aren’t fun on their own. Not even kinda. While this is probably stating the obvious for a party game, any fun to be had is absolutely dependent on who you are playing the game with, and if you happen to be a solo player, you will find very little substance in this game.
For example, the track and field events such as 100m dash, 100m hurdles, 4 x 100m relay, etc, are almost all the same in terms of mechanics. Hold R to charge up for a burst of speed at the start, mash to run, and then, if necessary, press another button to jump and maybe use a charged up ultimate move of sorts (which is just as likely to lose you the match as win it if the charge up animation for it allows your opponents to blaze past you). There isn’t much else to it, honestly, and most of them are over before you even finish comprehending the controls. By the end, the player is left wondering if that was really it, and in fact, it was. If you think finding out which of your friends can mash buttons faster for 10 seconds is a good time, perhaps you’re closer to this game’s target audience than I am, but I found myself reliably bored in the remarkably short amount of time it took to play these events, and the only hint of fun that arose came from hanging out with my friends rather than from playing the game itself. I even tried turning on the motion controls hoping to make things more interesting, but if you think frantic waggling is any more entertaining than frantic mashing, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.
And when things aren’t too simple, they’re overly complicated. That’s the case with gymnastic floor exercises and diving, where button inputs flash across the screen faster than they can be comprehended, and surfing, where you are kind of following on screen indicators but mostly just hoping for the best. These games end up being a bit more interesting than the mindlessly simple track and field events, but they also end up frustrating when it seems like the game’s design is working against the player by not communicating what is expected clearly, or providing enough opportunity to fathom the instructions.
Fun & Games
There are a few standout games though. I particularly enjoyed archery, with its subtle aiming, and wind to take into consideration when lining up the shot, and table tennis, which, while overly simplified in that you don’t manually move your character, still manages to play well and provide a bit of that good old fashioned fun that’s missing from most of the other games. Table tennis is one of the few events that really does benefit from using the motion controls as well!
Shooting is another fun event, and is one of 10 events that are played with 8-bit stylized graphics and sound. It starts out a bit dull, with the target going to one of only three possible locations, but eventually you get to a bonus round that makes up for it in which you need to shoot a target that can fly through one of several locations that corresponds with the 8 possible directions on the dpad, or neutral for center. Sometimes the target will pass through more than one location as it flies through the sky. It actually is fun, but like most things in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, it’s over rather quickly, and doesn’t really get much more involved, even on the hardest difficulty setting, which really is part of the biggest problem with this game.
While 30 minigames might sound like a lot, for a party game, the number is rather paltry, and there is a lack of depth in all of them. If we were to compare this to Super Mario Party on Switch for example, that game has 80, and every single one of them is more fun than what’s on offer here. I would hope that with the small number of games, the quality would be higher for each of them, but only a couple even come close.
The best of them, football (soccer), is somehow absent from story mode aside from a penalty shootout, but is fully present in multiplayer. It features different roles based on the characters you select for your teammates and even the option to choose from a variety of formations! It has plenty of the fun inherent in the world’s favorite sport. You can pass the ball to your teammates to set up a high accuracy shot, shoot corner kicks, steal the ball, and play a very silly video game version of the sport. I even managed to cross the ball into a spectacular header on goal, and even in this somewhat critical review, I have to say, seeing Bowser pull off that shot while flying through the air upside-down was genuinely fun and entertaining. I just wish this kind of fun was the norm in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, not the exception.
Rugby, likewise, is very fun to play; though that isn’t a sport I’ve followed much in my life, so I can’t say much about it in terms of authenticity. But it’s close enough to American football that I got the gist, and I enjoyed what I played of it. Still, both Rugby and Football only exist in this very limited form, where entire halves are over in a single minute. So the fun is often over just as it gets going.
And that’s really the story of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. In the rare circumstances that fun threatens to sneak into the game, it gets snuffed out just as quickly. Worse still, much of the game left me feeling flat-out bored!
There are a few minigames that fall outside of the scope of Olympic Game events for example. One of them, Museum Sneak, stars Mario, and has him stealthily moving through a building while koopa troopas, cheap-cheaps, and hammer bros patrol about. The goal is to stay out of their line of sight. We finally have Mario in a room full of traditional baddies, and he can’t even stomp on them! Am I the only one baffled by this? The minigame is not fun; it is absolutely tedious, and a pretty terrible example of a stealth game. The last floor is awful. Most of the enemies aren’t a problem, but the hammer bros are quick, and can appear before you have a chance to react since you can’t zoom out the camera to see the whole play area. I had to play this floor multiple times, but rather than get frustrated, I was just bored by it. The other 9 games in this category are not quite as bad as Museum Sneak, and many of them represent play styles that are nostalgic to say the least, like a 16-bit style racing game, or a side-scrolling shoot’m up, but none of them lift the game up in any significant way, and I didn’t see any reason to play them more than once.
Perhaps the worst source of blatant boredom in the game is story mode. I get that it is supposed to be some sort of sampler of all of the events in the game, but whoever’s idea it was to separate each minigame by 5+ minutes of absolute drivel needs to be politely told what’s what. With a cast of characters spanning the Mario and Sonic franchises, you would think something remotely interesting would happen once throughout the entire campaign, or that there would be any sort of—well, not character development—but at least have something charming or funny happen using these legendary characters! Instead, the player is forced to endure some of the worst written content I’ve ever seen in a videogame, and this is no exaggeration. The characters were let down completely by the writers. The story almost exclusively consists of the good guys trying to either collect something or retrieve something they previously collected that had been stolen, and to chase the bad guys from venue to venue only to have whatever it was they were chasing after stolen again. It’s asinine, and I’m sorry to say that about a game featuring characters that have been not just important to me, but a defining aspect of my entire life.
But the truth is these characters were not used well. In fact, they were utterly wasted. You need only look at Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle to see a game use its license well. The Mario characters in that game were a delight, and resonated with everything that made those characters as iconic as they were. In Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, all of the characters fall flat, even Sega’s own Sonic characters. And the result is a story mode that is painfully boring to play through. Perhaps it may be of interest to a child, but every great movie, show or game ever aimed at a child was great because it worked well for an adult as well.
Even worse, the story mode fails to do the main thing it is supposed to do, which is introduce all of the events in the game. You literally play each event exactly one time, and with so many of them being as short as 10 seconds, you really don’t get to know them at all before they are done, never to be played again throughout the rest of the story. Then you get dumped back into the story for 5 more minutes of cringe-worthy dialogue. I hate to be this blunt, but story mode completely fails to justify its own existence, and the game would be better off without it. It really seems more like an excuse to show off the map and provide occasional bits of trivia related to the Tokyo 2020 and 1964 Olympics than anything else.
So the only possibility this game has for redemption exists in multiplayer. Surely, with the right friends and opponents, this game might finally be fun. Though online multiplayer was a ghost town during the review period, I was able get in some playtime locally with a friend of mine, and that was definitely the most enjoyable time I had with the game. Even the track and field events that I complained about earlier were given at least some meaning when playing against another player. But I still can’t exactly use the word fun to describe them. The best, most entertaining games (like football) absolutely come to life in multiplayer, but are still heavily overshadowed by other products that better represent them, and which my friends and I would much sooner play. The best thing I can say about the game is that it might appeal to a child learning about video games or the Summer Olympics, but some of the events are so complicated–despite their brevity–that even that is a hard sell.
I suppose this is blatantly obvious at this point, but I don’t have much nice to say about Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, and if you know anything about me and my reviews over the years, this is a very unusual circumstance. I tend to give developers and their products the benefit of the doubt. My most recent review for Catherine: Full Body gave it a perfect score, just as an example. So to arrive at this depressing moment with a game doesn’t fill me with any kind of vindictive pleasure. There is no schadenfreude to be found here. I really wanted this to be a better game, as it is my first experience with the series, but in my kind of old and jaded opinion, the game simply isn’t fun. Other party games just do it so much better. If Super Mario Party set the hurdle, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games 2020 crashed right through it and tripped spectacularly for good measure before even coming close to the finish line.
Ari played the entire story mode of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, and continued playing several events to experience them with different control setups and in multiplayer. He received a copy of the game for free from SEGA of America.
+Football (Soccer), Rugby, Table Tennis, Archery, and Shooting resemble fun from time to time
+Visually provides an early look at the vistas and venues of the Olympic Games of Tokyo 2020
-Wastes a perfectly good license
-Abysmal story mode
-Mostly boring to play, small number of minigames
Available on: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: Nintendo Switch