Though we’re still almost 9 months away from the next Summer Olympic Games, it’s apparently already time for a portly Italian plumber takes part in sporting endeavours against a blue hedgehog that can literally do everything at supersonic speed. This is computer games though, so while we all suspend our belief – and ponder about whether the Mario & Sonic games are canon in either series – we might as well crack on with an Olympic event or two.
Of course, it’s not just Mario and Sonic who’ve made it to Tokyo 2020, they’ve got a raft of pals in tow, from best friends like Luigi and Tails through to mortal enemies like Robotnik and Bowser, and they’ve got a fair old number of events to try their hand at too. There’s something very funny about watching Eggman trying to get the crowd going before attempting the Triple Jump, or Donkey Kong doing Gymnastics, but surprisingly events are played pretty straight the majority of the time. For each event every character has some kind of advantage, like how Sonic can run really fast in the 100m, but Waluigi can more easily gain a super start. I’m not sure if that’s canon.
Before you can get to each of the events, you’re going to have to pick how you want to play. Each event has its own particular options to play with motion controls, whether dual or single Joy-Con, or just buttons. With a bunch of friends or family in multiplayer it’s often a lot more raucous fun waving the Joy-Con around than not, but some things only work with button controls, such as the returning Rugby Sevens mode. While they’re probably more enjoyable for experienced gamers, it definitely makes these events tougher for younger family members to take part in.
The accessibility of the motion controls is pretty good, and some events like Discus and Table Tennis are reliably close to the real-life motion. For lamps, TV screens and other family members’ sake, you will need to have those Joy-Con straps attached tightly – at least they don’t have quite the heft that a Wii-mote used to.
Even when you’re using motion controls the game occasionally still relies on some slightly more complicated use of the buttons though, like using L to block high and ZL to block low in the boxing, which means that young kids will have to know their way around a controller a little more than is probably ideal.
Competition is largely balanced by everyone being subject to the same controls, but some events are simply less fun than others. New addition Sport Climbing is intriguing enough with standard controls, but the necessary timing to get it right is tough, while what Gymnastics expects of you is virtually super-human.
In some events the motion controls simply don’t work. Whatever the on-screen prompts look like, they don’t match up to what the Joy-Con think you’re doing, and you’ll likely find yourself and your friends shouting angrily at the screen, the Joy-Con and each other. That’s kind of funny I guess, but not in the right way.
Whether you’re enjoying each event or not, everything at least looks bright and cheerful, with each of the character’s looking and sounding like themselves. The short repeated musical themes will probably have you searching through the options, as you’ll have heard them a thousand times within the first hour of playing.
The selection of events is nice and broad, with some nice new additions making it in. Having Skateboarding, Sport Climbing and Karate definitely bring some modern flavour to proceedings. Things do get a bit more wild for the three Dream events, which are more game-like, and allow players to bust out of the relative constraints to the Olympic model.
Since the last Tokyo Olympics took place in 1964, there’s some nice ’64 based synergy going on, with a number of the cast finding themselves sucked into the Tokyo ’64 retro console for some 8-bit Mario vs. 16-bit Sonic shenanigans. It’s a nice idea, and older gamers will definitely get a little kick out of seeing the characters in their old pixel art forms. There’s also some games, like Judo, that are unique to the ’64 setting, growing the selection of events even further.
While there’s probably not too much of a draw to play the standard events on your own – unless of course you’re practicing so you can grind your family into the dirt… not that I would do that – there is a single player Story mode that adds some narrative to the experience.
You hop between the 3D and 2D events throughout the course of the story, with your downtime filled by meandering around the Olympic stadiums of the past and present. It all feels pretty pointless with the often unbearably slow, fun-sapping story told by speech bubbles, though there’s some minor incentive to explore through finding the occasionally interesting trivia notes about the Tokyo event. There are also some much less interesting ones like ones that tell you what Luigi’s moustache is shaped like. It’s two swooshes. That’s canon. Good.