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Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 review: Repetitive retro escapades

Mario and Sonic go head to head and prove once and for all who’s the king of console mascots. Tokyo 2020 is the sixth entry in the series of Olympic themed mini game collections developed by Sega that began all the way back in 2007 with the Beijing Olympics.

Tokyo 2020 feels very similar to Mario and Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games for the Wii U and 3DS. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and this time we’re being treated to new events like skateboarding and sports climbing, as well as a throwback treat for old school (or simply old) gamers.

This new edition brings the plumber, hedgehog and associates to Tokyo to once again inexplicably take part in various different Olympic competitions . As someone who grew up in a time when seeing these two gaming titans together would have been considered ‘radical’, ‘tubular’ and utterly mind blowing, there’s still a small giddy thrill in seeing Mario and Sonic share a screen.

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The dastardly Dr Eggman and Bowser have trapped our heroes in a retro world based on the 1964 Tokyo Games, complete with NES-style art. Mario and Sonic have to work together and go for the gold to escape from their pixelated prison. Meanwhile their friends in 2020 have to find a way to help free the pair and save the day.

It’s not exactly groundbreaking as a plot, and although I found it funny at times, more often than not it felt a tad tedious. The game often crowbars ridiculous reasons to compete in another race or whatnot, yet without the writing or self awareness to really make it work.

Despite the cartoony, colourful stylised graphics you’d expect from a Mario/Sonic title, the character models lack detail and certainly don’t look their best. The lighting is also a disappointment, with a flat and bland appearance compared to many of the recent Marioverse outings on the Switch, especially Super Mario Party or Luigi’s Mansion 3. However the environments look good and the frame rate is consistent.

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The graphics don’t have much detail but animate well

The 1964 segments filled my heart with nostalgia and are a joy to look at even if they were a tad basic. Admittedly I found the 16 bit sprites of Sonic and his Sega cohorts really jarring next to the very basic 8 bit Mario counterparts. I understand they wanted the spiky blue blur’s classic look but I don’t see why they couldn’t use Sonic’s Master System sprite or include the Mario 3 or Mario World character models.

Tokyo 2020 features 24 varied and fun mini games, with an additional 10 retro games and 10 more to be unlocked in story mode. The story mode will last you roughly six hours and you can skip events if you fail three times in a row. These vary and most are simple to pick up but very difficult to master.

Some are simple one button affairs that feel practically automated, whereas others like Gymnastics requires fast reactions, good timing and practice to excel at. There are also the more fantastical Dream Events that involve hoverboards and shooting kites, which are less realistic but feel more like typical mini games and are more engaging to play.

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The retro portion of the game features classic Mario and Sonic sprites

 

There are 20 characters to choose from with the usual roster like Sonic and Mario to Silver, Wario and Waluigi with some being particularly skilled at some events e.g. Sonic is good at running and Mario is an all rounder. Some are only playable in certain events, and the roster is further limited to eight in the 1964 events.

In story mode you navigate an overworld map of Tokyo allowing you to travel to famous real world locations like Shibuya and Tokyo Tower, which is great for the Japanophiles like me out there. Once you meet a character you often have a tenuous reason you need to compete against them at an event for them to join you and help on your journey to free Mario and Sonic.

Retro gamers will love the 2D classic 1964 Olympic events. While they have basic pixelated graphics and less interaction, they are charming and the story sections are awesome. Reminiscent of the plethora of NES sports titles like California Games, most involve old school button bashing action.

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The motion controls can be fiddly in some events

 

Controls can take a few goes to get the hang of, especially if you opt to use the Switch’s motion controls. Most activities have three options: a straightforward button mode, motion controls with a single Joy-Con, or motion controls using both Joy-Cons. The accuracy of the motion is frustratingly hit and miss, and I was often slightly worried that some events like kayaking could damage the Joy-Con due to the heavy rotation of the thumb stick.

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The lack of a proper tournament mode for multiplayer is disappointing

Tokyo 2020 supports up to four players locally and online play with up to eight players in ranked and free matches. The online play delivers reliable performance with hardly any lag, but the rare instances of stutter interfered with the timing of some moves and actions.

One of my biggest gripes is the way every event is treated as stand-alone. This means you can’t play a tournament and track which player is winning overall. The addition of a tournament system or round-based mode is really needed here as even sports games from the 80s had this function.

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Tokyo 2020 features lots of the same games as previous entries but with few changes, so it might not be worth getting if you have played those instalments to death. Character interactions are pretty dull with bland writing and simple character models next to text boxes to progress the story.

Without a doubt the best Mario and Sonic Olympic Games title to date, this is a solid collection of great mini games, although often with limited replayability. Some of the games are much stronger than others but most are fun to play if a little frustrating with the controls.

Tokyo 2020 is great if you have some friends around and serves as an enjoyable party game due to its pick up and play nature, although the lack or rounds or a tournament mode is noticeable especially with some events being over very quickly. The retro 8 bit world is by far the most interesting and creative element, I only wish there was more of it.

Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is out now on Nintendo Switch for £49.99




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