It has been over ten years since the first time Nintendo & Sega shattered all expectations by having their biggest mascots share the spotlight on the same game, all in the name of sportsmanship. It is a true representation of that Olympic spirit to have gaming’s most prolific rivalry burying the hatchet in exchange for the torch. While some of the novelty has worn off over time, both franchises are experiencing a bit of a renaissance thanks to the success of 2017’s Super Mario Odyssey and Sonic Mania. That, along with the 2020 Olympic games being on Nintendo & Sega’s home turf this year, meant the time was right to bring the series to the Switch, and in a big way.
The result is Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 (that easily rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?) – developed and published by Sega with Nintendo texting on its phone in an advisory role. For those unfamiliar, the Mario & Sonic titles are mini-game collections themed around actual Olympic events. Like any mini-game collection on the Wii, they make for great party games, but are pretty underwhelming as anything else. Critics always noted how the Nintendo/Sega collaboration never really felt like it was living up to its full potential. Like, imagine a Star Trek/Star Wars crossover, but it was just Kylo-Ren & Spock hanging out & playing board games for two hours.
At least, that was the case – until this latest entry, as Mario & Sonic 2020 is easily the most robust game in the series to date. In the jump from Wii U to Switch, Sega took a look under the hood and gave this franchise the tune-up it absolutely needed. Taking a page from the book of Mario Tennis Aces, the biggest focuses were perfecting online play, as well as beefing up the single player content.
Mario & Sonic 2020 comes with a complete story mode. Just as the actual Olympic games are about to begin, a strange gadget developed by Dr. Robotnik sends everyone back in time to the 1964 games, where everything is 8 and 16-bit – because of course it is. Retro and modern gaming sensibilities collide, as you must compete through multiple generations of Olympic events in an attempt to get back to your own time. The retro sections are complete with campy dialog and chiptune music to round out the experience. It’s still just a way to tie all of the mini-games to a narrative, sort of like how Super Mario Party kind of has a story, but it’s an incredibly charming campaign mode and definitely more in line with the amount of content you’d expect from a 2019 Nintendo release.
There are more than 30 playable events this time around including not only the 2D events, but also new 3D ones like surfing and rock climbing. If you want to go even crazier there are also new Dream Events. These are essentially Sega letting the Olympic canon be damned and making up their own mini-games. These are like you’d see at an Olympic event, but a little bit more fantastical, like massive shooting ranges and futuristic hover boarding. The latter was easily my favorite of the new events, but I’m still docking points for it making me remember Sonic Riders was a thing.
Locally you can play up to four people in most events and you can have as many as eight players in online play. There is also a smattering of different control combinations, which I really liked. Obviously the preferred method is with a single Joy-Con, motion controls, & eyes full of dreams. With Nintendo’s help, the motion control gameplay is smoother than ever – even without a Wii sensor bar. But if you’re not about that life you can play with two Joy-Cons, Joy-Con on its side, or Switch Pro Controller – pretty much whatever floats your boat. As someone who got really annoyed when Pokémon Let’s Go forced me to play with a single Joy-Con, support for multiple controllers is something I will always endorse. A word of caution though, this game was designed a lot more closely with motion controls in mind. You can play through all of the events using face buttons, but some of them get really boring if you do. We’re talking like PS2 Quick Time Event boring.
Another snag I found with the game is how the campaign starts you with the 2D retro events and you work your way up the 3D ones. The difficulty on the 2D events is a bit less balanced compared to the rest of the game, and if you’re someone less interested in the nostalgia of ‘90s era sprite artwork and gameplay the throwback aesthetic may grow old fast. Alternating between the modern and retro events would’ve made for a far more interesting dynamic in my opinion. There could have even been a plot reason explained in the story as to why the time period keeps changing back and forth.
Nit-picking aside, seeing a game so distinctly of the Wii-era make this impressive of a comeback is absolutely a feat on Sega’s part. While the Switch was a massive step forward for Nintendo’s reputation as a serious industry contender, there’s still more than enough shovelware making its way onto the platform through the eShop and via half-baked ports. This could’ve easily been the fate of Mario & Sonic 2020 but fortunately Sega saw the potential of this series and recognized which parts needed refining. The result is an excellent party game that I’d even go as far as to say rivals Wii Sports or Mario Party in terms of fun factor.
Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 Review
- Graphics - 7/107/10
- Sound - 7/107/10
- Gameplay - 9/109/10
- Lasting Appeal - 9/109/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
With Nintendo’s flagship Switch party title 1-2-Switch receiving mixed reviews at launch, Mario & Sonic 2020 may be the replacement to Wii Sports fans have been waiting for. It still suffers from some of that budget title awkwardness we all remember so fondly from the Wii era, but its new ideas combined with the refreshing of old concepts will wow and impress anyone who picks it up.