(Sega for Nintendo Switch)
By Mike Delano
Let’s be real: the Olympics can be boring to watch. The highs are high — the drama of elite athletes representing their countries on the world stage can be captivating — but the lows of midday discus throws or curling matches can test the patience of even the most devoted sports fan.
Thankfully, Mario and Sonic make everything more fun — the Olympics included. If it’s Wario running the 100m dash, or a crocodile wearing headphones throwing the javelin, I’m on board. Thus, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 justifies its existence, enabling 1–4 players (locally, up to 8 online) to compete across more than 30 events.
The events themselves are short minigames that work best in a party setting. The act of swimming, or doing a gymnastics floor routine, or performing a long jump, etc. is represented via old-school button mashing, pattern identification or (most appropriately) motion controls using the separate Joy Con controllers. The best events conjure up fond memories of Wii Sports and even NES mega-hit Track & Field, since many of the events are presented in a charming 8/16-bit style.
In Story Mode, Bowser and Dr. Eggman (Robotnik) team up at the Tokyo 2020 Games to trap Mario and Sonic in a retro game console, transporting them back to the Tokyo 1964 Olympics. The two heroes and their franchise friends (Luigi, Princess Peach, Tails) go scooting around to the various landmarks of an adorable mini-Tokyo while competing in minigames in both modern and retro styles. The concept is cute and the different scenarios can be charming (a karate battle against a descendant of Dr. Eggman, a judo match against retro Bowser), but the pacing is lethargic, with way too much slow-moving dialogue in-between the events.
The fantastical ‘Dream Events,” which veer off from the Olympic theme to more video game-y concepts like third-person shooters and racing games, look and play the best. “Dream Racing” is pretty much Mario Kart, and “Dream Karate” feels like an old match of Power Stone. The unlockable “Game Room” games from Story Mode are the least exciting. These basic scenarios would have been a great time to throw in some classic Mario or Sonic gameplay in a short, timed burst, but instead they’re bland auto-scrolling levels that focus on dodging obstacles.
The game always looks sharp. The modern day events share the same clean, colorful look as Switch titles like Mario Tennis Aces, while the retro events specifically channel NES and Genesis memories. With its bright, cheerful presentation and charming Sega and Nintendo characters, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is a successful minigame collection — just make sure to play in a party atmosphere to make the most of it. Added bonus: no Bob Costas in sight.