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Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 Review

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647547545_MarioSonicOlympicsTokyoboxart.png.9117a66ce012c66485567a24c6588d1f.pngAfter missing the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Mario and Sonic are back, perhaps appropriately as the Olympics return to Japan. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 reunites all the familiar faces of both game franchises in another mini-game-packed competition. Like most Mario sports games or mini-game compilations, the crux of the gameplay experience is unchanged here: the local multiplayer options are going to make or break your enjoyment of the game.
If, for some reason, you're looking to play Tokyo 2020 purely for the single-player experience, you might be pleased to learn there is an actual story mode. While Mario and Sonic are enjoying the Olympic games, Bowser and Eggman team up to meddle, which leads to all four of them (plus Toad) being trapped inside a video game based on the 1964 Olympic games, also held in Tokyo. Most people probably wouldn't expect much from the story mode of a mini-game compilation like this and…well, you'd be right, but the way the story weaves together the modern Olympic games and the 1964 ones is a fun concept. One of the most interesting aspects of the whole game ends up being the little bits of trivia you can uncover about the Olympics, like learning when Judo was introduced as an Olympic event. Tokyo 2020 also intertwines these fun facts with bits about the Mario and Sonic franchises, so it's a little awkward to go from learning about sports history to learning how many polka dots are on Toadette's head, but overall it's still a fun inclusion. Otherwise the story plays out pretty much as you'd expect, and in a rather disappointingly slow, plodding way (characters will often repeat something you just heard another character say, which really makes these dialogue scenes drag). The story only takes about five hours to get through and it still feels too long and slow. Still, having a story mode at all—and with Olympic trivia—is a nice addition.
Tokyo 2020 features an impressive 34 events to partake in. That includes 21 3D events, 3 dream events (which aren't based on Olympic games and have more typical "video game" features like power-ups and obstacles) and 10 2D events that take place in the 1964 Tokyo games. Including a "retro" mode with Tokyo 1964 is a pretty cute concept: seeing 8-bit Mario competing alongside 16-bit Sonic is a mash-up I didn't realize I wanted. With 34 events total there's also a great variety available—some standard events are included like the 100m dash or hurdles, but then there are unique new additions like skateboarding or sport climbing. If you're playing with friends, it feels like there's enough variety that everyone will find an event to excel at (and gloat about).
However, the downside to featuring so many events is the need to meticulously explain the controls for each and every one. Moreso than other mini-game compilations like Mario Party, it feels like the controls in Tokyo 2020 aren't particularly intuitive and are maybe a little too complex to grasp in the short amount of time an event typically lasts. The game is also downright bad at introducing and explaining the controls at times. When you first start an event you'll be given a quick rundown of how the basic controls work, but oftentimes there are important advanced controls that aren't explained unless you check the controls in each event. Obviously Tokyo 2020 is a game meant to be played over and over anyway so this is really just part of the learning curve, but it still would've been nice to have better introductions to events. Some of the complexity may even turn off new players in a multiplayer match.
The issue with the controls only gets more complicated when you add in motion controls. First I should reassure anyone that dislikes motion controls that every event can be played with standard button controls. However many events also include motion control options with either a single or dual Joy-Cons. The result is mixed at best—there's definitely a novelty to using motion controls to pull back a bowstring or row a canoe, but button controls always felt more comfortable and more precise (not to mention less exhausting). As is often the case in a game like this, motion control is a novelty that you probably won't return to often.
There's also the issue that the loading screens are just a little bit too long—not excessively so, but when events take only seconds to complete, a three second loading screen ends up feeling disproportionately long. And it definitely doesn't help that Tokyo 2020 doesn't include any kind of tournament mode to play through several events at once. Instead you simply pick one event, play, then repeat or go back to the selection screen. You end up wasting a lot of time on selection screens in the game, which doesn't foster a great "party game" atmosphere.
Depending on your preferences, this next point might be a positive or negative: there's very little to unlock in Tokyo 2020. That means that pretty much everything the game has to offer is available right from the start, but players that enjoy that sense of progression won't have much to latch onto here. Aside from some bonus mini-games unlocked by playing the story, the only other things to unlock are bonus characters for specific events. Although the main roster can compete in any event, specific events might have a guest character available, such as Rosalina who is only able to compete in surfing. It's a little weird to restrict certain characters to certain events, but at least it gives them some opportunity to compete, even if it's a limited one.
In addition to local multiplayer, Tokyo 2020 can also be played online. At the time of this writing though I'll say that the online community is pretty meager. You can play in either ranked or casual matches, but in both cases it was hard to find an opponent. The best option for playing online may just be to coordinate with a friend first.
The presentation of Tokyo 2020 is typical Mario sports game quality: it's clean and colorful and not particularly exciting, but it all looks good. There simply isn't much opportunity for flashy visuals in a game about Olympic events—especially one that draws from realworld Tokyo locations for backgrounds—so the graphics never feel particularly noteworthy, aside from the aforementioned retro look for Tokyo 1964. The soundtrack is pretty decent as well but ultimately doesn't have many standout tracks either; the presentation in Tokyo 2020 is good but unexciting.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is a fun return to the competition between these two titans of the video game world, though it's not without its issues. It's not a surprise that the game caters to the multiplayer experience, but some small annoying quirks can make casual game sessions a little more complicated than they need to be, while the online community is simply lacking. Still, the variety of events offers a little something for everyone, even if the game's staying power is questionable.
Rating: 6 out of 10 Events

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