Thanks to SEGA for the review code
Title: Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games 2020
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 11/05/2019
In this sports minigame compilation, you take control of several members from the worlds of Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog as they set out to get the gold medals! The actual in-game story for the story mode is a bit more absurd, however.
Here we have Dr. Eggman and Bowser teaming up to make a video game device to send Mario and Sonic to the Tokyo Olympics in the 1960s, only for the two evildoers to also get sucked into their own contraption. Now it’s up to Luigi and Tails in 2020 and Mario and Sonic in 1964 to work together and find a way to get the gang back to the modern times! The story scenes in the story mode aren’t honestly much to write home about, as they’re mostly portrayed in basic dialogue boxes and there’s almost nothing surprising or shocking that happens whatsoever. It’s fairly straightforward and pretty stupid at times, and if you were hoping for some sort of explanation for why Mario and Sonic’s groups know each other, don’t expect one.
For the game’s menus, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how clean and snappy they were, as each aspect of the UI is very easy to identify and navigating the menus of minigames takes almost no time at all. Going from the clunky mess of the 2008 Olympics title to this one, I was very happy to see the eleven years of improvements play out for the better.
The game itself also looks fantastic, with stunning colors and great lighting that helps this game really pop on the big screen, leading to the prettiest looking Mario and Sonic game to date. The characters were a lot more expressive in the minigames than I expected as well, though I can’t say the same for how they act in the game’s story mode.
There, they all interact with dialogue boxes and emote according to the situation at hand, and while it kinda works, most of the time it just looks really awkward as they reuse the same animations of disappointment and surprise over and over again. The fact you can’t speed up or skip these dialogue sequences whatsoever also really hurts, so you’ll have to sit through each and every single one. The framerate also takes a noticeable dip here for whatever reason, which is really jarring compared to the rest of the game, but not a dealbreaker.
The great news is that when you’re exploring 2020 Tokyo, the game still looks just as stunning as it does in the minigames. Each part of the city is enjoyable to look at and the game runs buttery smooth in these exploration segments, leading to a good treat for the eyes. The music in general is pretty eh at best however, with some pretty generic background themes for the cutscenes and some minigames having little to no background songs at all! The dream events do have a few remixes of some older songs from the franchises, but I didn’t find any of those to be memorable either.
But all that is just for the Tokyo 2020 side of things. Since Mario and Sonic visit the 1960s, the entire world gets a retro makeover! Here the game shifts to a pixel art look, and it doesn’t look too bad for the most part, with some pretty background sprites that do a good job at recreating Tokyo in 8-bit. The minigames in this timeline look pretty crisp as well, and look, sound, and feel like something that would be right at home in Konami’s Track and Field franchise. I even found some of the Story Mode themes to sound much better in the chiptune style that accompany the times.
With all that said, there is one very noticeable gripe I have with the art direction for the retro Olympics, and that comes from the character sprites. You have a much more limited roster here compared to the modern events, consisting of only eight characters for minigames. You have four Mario characters, four Sonic characters, and NPCs from each franchise, and while Mario and his friends are in 8-Bit, sporting their sprites from the original Super Mario Bros, Sonic’s gang is lifted straight from the 16-Bit games. Sonic and Eggman are using their Sonic 1 designs, and Tails and Knuckles use their Sonic 3 designs.
So as you might imagine, using these 16-bit Genesis sprites in a world that’s otherwise 8-bit causes a visual clash, especially if you end up pairing a Mario character against a Sonic one. I get that Sonic and Co are better known by their Genesis looks, but they seriously do look out of place here and I really wish they just went with the sprites from the Master System Sonic games for consistency.
From the main menu, you have a choice between playing the minigames or going straight into the story mode. The minigame mode contains all the sporting events for the modern and retro Olympics, and each allows the player to choose from one of three CPU difficulties. Going over every single minigame ever would take an eternity, so I’ll just go over some of my favorites and note the different play modes.
Right off the bat, I have to say that I vastly enjoyed all of the retro minigames. Limited roster aside, each of these games provide simple scorechasing fun for single player purposes, and as multiplayer games they’re incredibly fun with friends, and their brief length make them perfect for picking up and play. From the competitive battling in Judo, the button mashing madness of the 100M run, to the obstacle course of Marathon, each of these minigames stick to the basics and were the easiest ones for my friends to start off with. When playing solo, aiming for a new record is really the most you can do here, although challenging the AI on the hardest setting can provide quite the fight, and also help to unlock the in-game achievements. There’s online leaderboards for these too, so you can share your best times and scores with people all over the world and take them on, which gives these games a bit more replay value than I initially expected. You can also complete in some of these games online with friends or rivals around the world, but I wasn’t able to find a match before this review, even after the game’s Japanese launch.
For the modern minigames, they tend to provide several control options for you instead of just the buttons. A lot of them have optional motion controls, which honestly don’t work so well in my opinion. For games such as running, table tennis, or swimming, the motion controls are just repetitive and gimmicky, while more in-depth games such as boxing have them work pretty OK. There are also a few modern minigames that do mandate these motion controls. Dream Shooting forces you to tilt the controller all around for aiming, which feels very clunky, while the hammer throw mandates it as well.
Still, the majority of the minigames do allow for button controls and while some games are shared between the Retro and Modern Olympics, they still control slightly differently. In the Modern Olympics, the running games now allow you to hold the R button to charge a boost before you start running, while the retro version just lets you time holding the A button. Add the fact there’s quite a bulky roster of characters for the modern games, and there’s a lot more gimmicks to mess around with here. Oddly enough, there’s even some exclusive characters for the modern games, some assigned to their own events. For example if you want to play as Toadette, you can only play as her in the hurdles game, leaving her locked to that event. It’s pretty silly and I honestly don’t get it, and you can only play as said characters upon beating them in the game’s story mode.
Speaking of which, the Story Mode is where the majority of the single player content is found, and as noted above it’s very basic. One chapter you’ll play from the 1964 point of view, while another will switch back to Tokyo 2020. Both versions allow you to roam a map of Tokyo to progress the story and find new characters to face against or trivia cards to collect, and while you can go off the beaten path to gather said trivia cards, the story still locks you in a linear fashion, and I found myself getting pretty bored of it by the ninth chapter. The aforementioned fact that you cannot skip or speed up cutscenes in the slightest makes this mode slow down to a crawl at points, though if you end up getting stuck facing a CPU you can’t beat, (who are pretty easy here for the most part) you are allowed to skip the minigame after several tries.
The best part of the story mode by far is not the actual story or exploration aspects, but rather the unique minigames that are thrown at you to progress the plot. These are single player focused games that are incredibly fun, and some of them are very replayable for a better time or score. From a minigame where you have to race a train in order to catch up to Eggman, to one where you have to find keys in a maze, to another where you have to identify characters in a packed Shibuya crowd, these are great ways to break the pace and upon clearing them you can play them anytime you want from the options menu. Thus, I ended up getting to a point where I could barely care about unlocking the exclusive characters or the plot and instead wondered which new minigame the story mode would throw my way next. I just really wish the pacing to get to those points weren’t so much of a drag.
In conclusion, Mario And Sonic 2020 is easily the most polished and enjoyable game I’ve played in the franchise to date. I found myself enjoying nearly every minigame, and the retro games in particular are outstanding score chasers that are a great fit for the online leaderboards. With several different difficulty modes and plenty of in-game achievements to find and unlock, this game will give score-chasers quite a bit of stuff to do.
However, the story mode is arguably the bigger portion of this game, and it’s sadly a lot more underwhelming, with unskippable dialogue sequences and a gameplay loop that consists of little more than going from point A to B to play a new minigame and repeating the process. Easily the best part of this mode comes from hunting down all the olympic trivia cards, and unlocking the exclusive characters and special minigames, but the dialogue sequences and the wild goose chase it sends you on is such a drag from the fun minigames.
Still, if you can get past the bumpy story mode, you’ll get one of the most enjoyable minigame compilations that I’ve played to date on the Switch, and those who like picking these games up to play with friends or family, or for those who want to take on the online leaderboards or play with friends online, you’ll be very satisfied with this game’s quality. For those hoping for the story mode to be super engrossing and worth the price by itself however, you should hold off on this one.
I give Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games 2020 a 7 out of 10.