Mario and Sonic's Olympic escapades have gone on for over a decade, and across three different console generations we've seen the unlikely pair battle it out in a multitude of events across hosting capitals Rio, London, and now Tokyo. The sixth entry marks the debut for the series on Nintendo Switch and it looks poised to make some pretty hefty changes.
A standout feature of Tokyo 2020 is its fully-fledged story mode, which is perfect for those playing alone and takes roughly five hours to complete. In it, Dr Eggman's plan to enslave Sonic and Mario in a mysterious gaming device known as the Tokyo 64 backfires as he accidentally sucks himself and Bowser into the console. The gang find themselves in a pixelated version of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the only path to freedom is to supposedly win all of the gold medals awarded from the various events. Elsewhere in the present, Tails and Luigi find the device and after learning of Eggman's failed plans they decide to compete in events across Tokyo in an effort to free their trapped companions.
We found the story mode a great way to sample all of the 30 or so events but we disliked how you can choose to skip these without repercussion if you've failed at least three times. For us, it really hurt that competitive spirit as we knew if we endured enough frustration we could just opt to skip the event and all NPCs would pretend we had rightfully won the gold. We also liked that it provided a way for us to unlock supporting characters such as Rouge and Toadette, but strangely these remained limited to one particular event. With the roster of characters remaining largely the same as when the series began back in 2007, it would have been great to have more variety outside of a few restricted sports. At least we're not restricted to using only motion controls, and here we have the option to use button presses during certain events instead.
What we can praise about the story mode is that it introduced several minigames that encompassed other gaming genres and provided a deviation from the main sporting events. One minigame offered a nod to NES classic Solomon's Key as we had to swipe keys from under the noses of Bowser's goons in a stealth-like sequence, and in another, we had to play a giant game of 'Where's Wally?', locating Yoshi's friends in a busy city square. Once completed these minigames can be played at your leisure from the Game Room in the main menu, but do note that these can only be played with buttons (so no motion controls here) in single-player.
With Tokyo 2020 being the fourth collection of Summer games there is some overlap and many of the events previously seen on the Wii and Wii U make a return on the Switch. Staples such as Archery, Table Tennis, and Football are all here but they are joined by new events such as Surfing, Skateboarding, Karate, and Sports Climbing. We found all of them to be welcome additions but it was Sports Climbing that felt the most distinct when compared to the others. It's a tricky thing to balance as you are encouraged to move quickly up the climbing wall but one false push of the analogue stick will cause you to lose your footing and tumble down.
Dream events have been a prominent part of the series up until the present, where they delve into the worlds of both respective franchises and provide distractions that go beyond your typical Olympic events. Sadly, however, Tokyo 2020 only features three and these are Dream Karate, Dream Racing, and Dream Shooting. Dream Racing takes place on a track inspired by Metropolis from Sonic Forces and sees you frantically race on hoverboards using grind rails and Mario Kart-like powerups to help dash your way to victory. Dream Karate was a standout as it reminded us an awful lot of Pogo Pandemonium from Crash Bash, as we had to karate chop and kick our opponents down to occupy the most panels on a grid.
The 8-bit events here though are where Tokyo 2020 shines and they are easily the most charming part of the package. These events offer us insight into what this crossover may have been like when Sonic and Mario first started to compete for platforming dominance in the early '90s, and the chiptune soundtrack and pixelated visuals are a treat on both the eyes and the ears. A subtle but appreciated touch is that you can turn on a filter that makes it appear as though you are playing on an old CRT television. Shooting, Volleyball, and Long Jump all transition wonderfully over to this style but it's the marathon mode that we enjoyed the most. Here we had to best a group of 68 competing runners by managing our stamina, chugging precious water, and avoiding hazards such as puddles, tornados and bees (typical stuff, right?).
Just when the series appeared in danger of growing stale, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 has emerged and revitalised the formula with its 8-bit take on the titular games. The new story mode has provided those playing alone with hours more fun and the 8-bit Tokyo 64 events are charming and mechanically different from what we've seen prior. We did find the lack of Dream events a little disappointing though, and we do wish that additional characters could have been added to the roster and not locked behind specific events. That said, Tokyo 2020 is a solid minigame collection that marks a promising start for the series on its new home on the Switch.