For some mysterious reason, back in 2005 someone thought a game about two of the most popular characters in video games history playing table tennis was a great idea. It never ceases to amaze me that the first crossover game to include both the emblematic Italian plumber and the blue hedgehog was a compilation of poor and basic mini-games based on the 2008 Beijing Olympics Games. But it did happen. In addition, this “franchise” has been very popular since then, leading to a sixth title late last year. Shooting from the hip, I never found the charm of any of these games. Basically, the sports were too simple and dull to gain my interest and continue playing. But hey, this one it’s not that bad, actually.
My first steps in Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 were in Story Mode. I imagined it was going to serve as a tutorial or introduction of sorts to the plethora of mini-games -called “events”– available in this opportunity. I was unsurprisingly right, but at the same time I had to go through a journey which didn’t have the greatest beginning. Normally, the main reason to jump into an event is that the character we are looking for has recently left the area. Looking for Tails? No, Amy is here, and now you have to beat her in Gymnastics. Because reasons.
This sequence repeats itself a lot, and just switches the characters and the sports you have to play. There isn’t much else to do either: you can “explore” the different stadiums and locations (in a very limited way), “speak” with NPCs (whom spit a few irrelevant lines) and learn about the Olympic Games (so this was an educational game all along?). However, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy some of my time around the 20 chapters the story offers. The dialogues between characters might be basic and uninteresting most of the time, but also I found sympathy and entertainment in them, as well as enjoying unique story events against characters that can only be unlocked in this mode.
What’s really special about this entry is the feeling of nostalgia it exhales. Mario and Sonic are trapped inside a kind of portable console with Bowser and Eggman. The interesting part about this is that they are transported to the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games, in more sense than one: the complete art, design, music and even gameplay is downgraded to 8-bit (Mario characters) and 16-bit (the Sonic ones). While at first I didn’t find the appeal of these “retro events” -some of them require just one button and end in seconds- it reminded me of golden times with the NES and SNES. There’s love put in these sections, and the narrative creates a silly but cute tale that might steal you a smile.
Apart from the Story Mode, you can indulge yourself with all the common or retro events that you want. Luckily, a good bunch of them can be pretty entertaining. Karate, Table Tennis, Archery, Surfing and Skateboarding are the ones that had me coming back over and over again. Others like Floor Gymnastics, Javelin Throw or Triple Jump felt quite humdrum. A selection of 24 modern mini-games and 10 “oldies” are waiting for you to try them with your favorite athlete. Speaking of characters, you have a minimum of twenty to select from both franchises, and some “special guests” for a specific sport. Honestly, I don’t understand why I can’t play with them in all the events. Not that I’m really sorry I can’t choose Espio -sorry, who?– in any other thing except Triple Jump, but it feels like an extremely arbitrary decision.
Apart from the IA’s difficulty, which can be easily avoided by playing offline or online with friends and strangers, the main issue with this title has to be the lack of customization. If we already are going to play events that don’t require much practice or ability, and logically don’t have the same deepness of Mario Tennis or Strikers, why don’t give the opportunity to shake the rules a little? Or at least have the possibility of making the matches last longer? I really enjoy my table tennis against friends, but it can be frustrating to start a match over and over again in a matter of a few minutes because they end so quickly and we can’t just make it lengthy from the get-go. In a title so well thought and crafted in its details and presentation, it seems like a missed opportunity to make it more replayable, or even more exciting.
I had a genuine good time with Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. It isn’t the best party game I have played in recent memory -you should instead pick the latest Mario Party for that-, but it does work when you have a meeting with mates and you all want to laugh at the derisory fact that Yoshi can beat any of the hedgehogs in a race. Moreover, there is no where else where you can kick ass in Karate as Waluigi. Think about it.