Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games is a franchise that needs no introduction. Anyone interested in video games during the Wii craze of the 2000s will remember the first title in the series, based on the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China. Since then, publisher and developer Sega has pushed out a new entry for every Olympics other than the 2018 Winter Games. The most recent edition, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, hit shelves on November 5 for Nintendo Switch. It’s great to see the franchise return after four years, but not everything in it deserves a gold medal. The game still has a fun multiplayer experience, but the story mode is tedious and some of the controls are barely functional. As a result, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 reinforces the fun party game aspect of the series but unfortunately fails to properly support motion controls or single-players.
In the story mode, Bowser and Dr. Eggman attempt to rid the world of Mario and Sonic by developing a game machine called the Tokyo 64, named in honor of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and, of course, the Nintendo 64. The evil scheme is to permanently transport Mario and Sonic into the game, where the 1964 Olympics are being held. Unfortunately, Bowser and Dr. Eggman aren’t exactly the smartest villains and manage to get themselves trapped in the game too. In the Tokyo 64, Bowser and Dr. Eggman face off against Mario and Sonic to win the most gold medals, hoping it will help them escape the game. Meanwhile, in contemporary Tokyo, Luigi and his friends fight with Bowser Jr. and the other remaining villains over control of the machine as they try to figure out how it works to rescue their friends.
Of course, for a party game like Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, the multiplayer content is typically a little more important to consumers than the story mode. However, if a story mode is offered, it should still be fun at its core. Unfortunately, Mario and Sonic fails to engagingly draw in interested single-players. For a game about the Olympics, the story somehow spends quite a bit of time preventing you from competing in Olympic games. In fact, a solid 75% of the story mode is reading lengthy dialogue boxes of characters arguing with each other. This was disappointing since I picked up the game to make Sonic and Waluigi row in a canoe together for gold medals, not read five-minute monologues from Bowser Jr. about how he refuses to believe in compromise.
When the game did let me play the sporting events, both in single-player and multiplayer mode, the instructions were overwhelming. At the beginning of each event, the game gives you an instruction sheet explaining how to play. However, most events have at least four sentences of instructions while the more complicated ones can hit nine or ten. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but most events only last for one or two minutes and you need to remember everything to win. It gets frustrating trying to retain all the information, especially if you haven’t played before. Once I had the instructions memorized, the minigames got a lot easier and were fun to play but, again, the events are short and there are a lot of steps, so memorization wasn’t a quick process.
Additionally, there are three different control schemes, which makes remembering each set of instructions even more difficult. You can play with motion controls using either one joy-con or two joy-cons or you can use buttons only. Wanting to relive the glory days of the Wii, I started playing with motion controls whenever the game would let me, which was a huge mistake because the motion controls in Mario and Sonic are barely functional.
When I tried to use two joy-cons, I either had to start again with different controls or skip the event altogether if I was playing story mode. One of the worst experiences I had was playing the archery minigame. The controls are generally what you think they would be – hold the two joy-cons like a bow and arrow, aim, and fire. However, no matter where I aimed or how fast I moved the joy-cons, I could never get the reticle to do anything other than fly wildly off the target, assuming I could make it move at all. I tried every combination of movements I could think of at various speeds and absolutely nothing worked so I had to quit.
Using only one joy-con worked better but not by much. It worked fine for less complicated events like canoeing, in which you swing the controller in a downward motion to mimic an oar stroke. Unfortunately, for sports that required more intricate movements, like surfing, it was just as bad as using two. I eventually got so fed up with trying to fight the game that I stopped picking anything other than buttons only, which was the one control scheme that was guaranteed to work.
Once I figured out that buttons were the solution, the minigames were actually really fun, especially when I played with my friends. Even though it was disappointing that we couldn’t compete with motion controls like the good old days of 2008, we still had fun putting Bowser on a horse as an equestrian and yelling at my TV, racing against each other as beloved childhood video game characters. While the short minigames aren’t fun as a single-player, the quick pace of each event is great when there are multiple people. You can easily jump in and out without having to make a big time commitment. Out of all the multiplayer games I have on my Switch right now, Mario and Sonic is the easiest to quickly play with my friends, even if we only have a couple of minutes together.
By far one of my favorite things about the multiplayer mode was that there was an option to randomly pick an event. This was great because even though my friends and I could fight over what to play, we didn’t have to, which simplified the process. In general, there’s a good number of events to choose from and I never felt like I was repeating the same minigames too often. However, the game is not packed with an enormous collection. There’s enough variety to keep players interested but not so many that it feels overwhelming to look at your options. As a result, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games offers a much simpler, compact experience than something like Super Smash Bros, which can be good or bad depending on what you’re looking for in a party game.
The cast of playable characters has quite a bit of variety as well – there’s an even split of Mario and Sonic mascots and the game even includes members of the Deadly Six from Sonic Lost World and a fair number of Koopalings. I wasn’t expecting some of the included characters since the roster is relatively small compared to titles like Mario Kart or Mario Party, but it was great to see non-mainstream choices for fans. Additionally, the bright, colorful, cartoony art style is reminiscent of both classic video game franchises. Nothing ever feels visually out of place and the game seamlessly blends the Mario and Sonic worlds and characters together without it feeling awkward.
Although the game definitely has its flaws, it sticks the landing as a multiplayer experience as long as you’re willing to adapt to the button system. I won’t pretend that Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Mario and Sonic is anywhere near as polished as other popular party games on Switch, but it is still fun to play. My friends and I genuinely had a good time together with the game, so much so that I now mention it in the same breath as Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate when people come over. That said, if you don’t have a group to play with or wanted something similar to 2008 Wiimote controls, Mario and Sonic is not the game for you – the story mode lacks gameplay and the short minigames just feel sad to play alone after a while. Overall though, the franchise hasn’t lost any of its original magic – if you get a group of friends together and avoid the motion controls, it’s a fun game and feels just as fun and bizarre as the first one did in 2008.
Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is available now for Nintendo Switch.
Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
I won’t pretend that Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Mario and Sonic is anywhere near as polished as other popular party games on Switch, but it is still fun to play.