Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 Review
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
Old rivalries die hard and when it comes to video games and there are few that lasted quite as long as Mario and Sonic's battles for their respective companies. It's been a long time since the heady days of Sega versus Nintendo in school playgrounds across the globe though and for a long time now there's been a happy colaboration between the pumber, hedgehog and their respective parents. So, as 2020 looms on the horizon and the Oylmpic games stokes interest in sports, it's time to indulge a little friendly competition for both of these iconic company mascots and their casts of supporting characters.
In single player, the machinations of eternal antagonists Bowser and Dr Eggman quickly transport both themselves and our titular heroes to the last Olympic games held in Toyko, in 1964, while the crew of side characters frantically try to find a way to bring them back in the present day. This plotpoint effectively gives rise to a distinct divide between the types of games on offer, with those set back in the 60's effectively playing and looking like NES games, while the modern events make full use of the Switch's 3D graphics and motion controls.
There's a heck of a lot of charm and nostalgia in the presentation thanks to this, with theme tunes changing between the bleeps and bloops of the NES and full, modern production efforts in the present and visuals going from crudly animated NES stylings to gloriously colourful 3D graphics. There are even mini-games made specifically to connect the plot points of this mode, which does nothing but add to the charm on show. Perhaps the only critique of the single player is that the plot points between events sometimes take a long time and are provided purely in text form. Those deeply into their Sonic and Mario lore might find this charming, but it can really slow progress.
Events range from what you might expect from a game focused on track and field events, with the likes of the 100 meter dash, hurdles, pole vault and javelin all on offer, but thanks to the Olympics having opened their criteria for events in more recent years, there's also some unusual and unexpected games on offer like street skating or rock climbing.
Some of these events can be played in either 2D or 3D, such as the 100 meter dash, with the difference being your input method. In the NES styled events, you'll be bashing buttons as fast as you can a lot of the time, where the modern event's focus on motion controls will have you flailing arms. It's a good laugh with friends, seeing faces turn red as people try to hammer that A button or time their movements so that they can hop, skip and jump their way through the triple jump.
As is ever the case with a game made up of mini-games, there are some events that work better than others and you might find, as I did, that some are more frustrating than fun. For me, the discus presented a big problem, where no matter how many attempts, no matter the angle I held my hand at while swinging my arm, I couldn't make a single decent throw. Quickly getting new players up to speed for a party night might be a bit of a challenge when it comes to some events on that basis, but there's enough variety on offer and enough different methods of control on offer to allow most to find the fun. I only wish there was full support for Gamecube controllers, as they will work if you've got the adapter, but some games require the Switch controller's gyroscope even when being played without full motion controls.
The only other minor irritation that holds Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 back from being a truly fantastic party game is the inability to hold tournaments and queue up events. There's no way to create your own decathlon or similar chain of games with a scoreboard keeping track of wins and losses, which feels like a major oversight when it comes to a party game like this. As said, it's a minor aspect when the whole package is a lot of fun, but it would have made it much easier to arrange an evening with friends, focused around finding out who truly is the best at waving their arms like there's no tomorrow.