When it was first revealed, the Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games franchise seemed like the most unappealing way imaginable to bridge the gap between two of gaming’s most iconic characters and worlds. Besides being a mouthful of a title, the idea of this once-in-a-lifetime crossover boiling down to an Olympics advertising minigame collection seemed like such a snore.
As the years have passed and the Olympics have continued, though, so has this series. Growing and expanding with each iteration, it’s only now that the franchise is hitting the Nintendo Switch that it seems like there are countless eyes on it. It’s good that people are paying attention to these games now, too, because the latest one has to be one of the most impressive entries in the series yet.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 packs in a huge amount of sports festivities to partake in, but calling these mini-games would be a disservice. Sure, some of the 21 sports available are a bit basic; once you’ve done the 100m run once, you likely aren’t going to be raring to return to it right away. Others, though, pack in enough depth to be the groundwork for their own standalone video games.
The lengthy, 4-on-4 action of Football made me reminisce about the good old Super Mario Strikers days, packing in just as much strategy and teamwork potential as the original Mario soccer games had. Then there’s Karate, a 1-on-1 fisticuffs bout that is the only time – besides Smash Bros. – where you’ll get to see Mario deliver swift knuckles directly onto Sonic’s face. This game mode tasks you with utilizing a kick, punch, throw, and block, on top of special directional attacks, to land enough point-earning hits on your opponent to win. The rock-paper-scissors mental warfare of this mode is addictive, and on higher difficulty settings the CPU challenged me relentlessly.
While the 10 additional old-school events might seem simple in nature, some of these have impressive replayability as well. These 1964 sports see everything from the characters to the music rendered in old-school style. Mario and Sonic characters rock their original sprite art, and all of the music has a delicious chiptune twist to it. There’s an addictive Judo event here that, much like the 2020 Karate event, gives you simple tools to use in order to engage in addictive head to head combat. The Marathon event is equally addictive, seeing you and your opponents racing across a lengthy track full of impeding obstacles and crowds of racers.
It wouldn’t mean much if you had to experience all of these Events with no context, which is where the story mode of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 shines. It sees Mario, Sonic, Bowser, and Eggman sucked into a mysterious machine that sends them back into the world of the 1964 Olympics. While they’re stuck there competing in old-school events, Luigi and friends back in 2020 need to figure out how to get their friends out of the machine. You’ll swap between both worlds, exploring small interior maps connected by a larger overworld map as you visit new arenas, compete in Olympic events, and find your way back home. While the writing and narrative aren’t incredibly funny or impressive so far, the fully explorable locales and talkative NPCs were a lot more than I expected from the story mode in this game.
There’s a lot to Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. Not only does it bridge the worlds of Mario and Sonic together, but it also connects the past of the 1964 Olympics with the future of the 2020 Olympics. Hopefully, this love letter to the legacy of Japan continues to impress as we spend more time playing it leading up to our full review next month.