When you think of returning sports franchises you have your NBA, your Madden, and your NHL. All tentpoles of what sports fans expect to play on current-gen hardware. A big part of returning sports that get overlooked are the Olympics. Launching well ahead of the Summer Olympics next year Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 brings Mario and Sonic together in their first joint outing since Rio 2016. Unfortunately, it seems they weren't able to get their visas lined up for the most recent Winter Olympics.
Mario and Sonic takes a step back in time
For the first time in Mario and Sonic history, Tokyo 2020 includes a Story Mode. As this is the first Olympics game that has taken place in a city that has hosted it twice SEGA has been able to incorporate that. Mario, Sonic, and Toad end up getting pulled into a retro video game created by the devious Dr. Eggman. This would all be according to Eggman's plan too if it weren't for him and Bowser also getting pulled in. Inside the game, they return to 8 and 16-bit representations of themselves and compete in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. The story plays out in two parts; Luigi and Tails in the real world trying to keep the game safe, and Mario and Sonic trying to find a way out.
The story does its job, creating a conflict and a reason that Mario and Sonic need to compete in the Olympic Games. That reason is a little ham-fisted but it works. It's not going to bring up questions like in Mario Kart, where people might ask "If Mario and Bowser hate each other then why are they having fun racing?" Just because it creates conflict doesn't excuse its weird pacing. Bowser will be threatening Mario in one moment, and then competing in an Olympic event the very next. It feels like the stakes should have been lower to keep a consistent pace with the sporting events. One of the biggest benefits of the campaign is creating a reason why Mario and Sonic get to return to retro forms. However, if the team at SEGA included this feature with no explanation, I'm not sure many would question it.
Bowser and Eggman leave it all on the mat in Mario and Sonic
Like previous entries in the series, gameplay comes in the form of a series of minigames based on different Olympic sports. You face off head to head in the 100m dash, Archery and more with your choice of Mario and Sonic characters. There are 21 3D sports and 10 2D events in total. While not all the games in the proper Olympics appear, andy that do can be quite fun. Skateboarding is an early standout for me. While it's certainly not Tony Hawk, players can use the simple controls to flip, trick, and grind around the stadium.
While competing for points or in a race can be fun, it's the head to head events that truly shine. 2D Judo or 3D boxing and karate have a footsie gameplay style to them. You can go in for a quick lunge, but it leaves you open for a short period. You've got to bait out opponents while making sure you don't get hit in the process. The simplistic controls won't see you pulling off any crazy combos, but even a simple game with a good core can be a lot of fun. Boxing against friends keeps the rounds fast for fun party rotation.
Simplistic yet enjoyable Mario and Sonic Gameplay
The real-world 3D event games usually have three different control styles; Two Joy-cons, One Joy-con, or Buttons Only. When playing in handheld mode, you're likely using the Buttons Only configuration. It's for the best, as the Joy-Con motion controls in Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games are not that great. Playing with two Joy-cons in Sport Climbing, you are able to position your hands to grab higher. At least, you can if the Joy-Con recognizes a change in position. Using motion controls, I could only climb 15m, whereas using the bottoms got me up to 23m. I haven't tested them all both ways as of yet, but this first test isn't promising.
Like any mini-game collection, there are some standouts and some that will likely collect dust. Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 tries hard to work in a story, but the experience just might not be worth it. For those wanting to get competitive for game night, this could be a fun title to get into. The conclusion of the story may redeem itself, but it seems more likely that the pacing issues will bring it down. A title like this really comes down to how much you're in the mood for some light-hearted fun.
TechRaptor previewed Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Nintendo Switch using a code provided by the publisher.