Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020 (NSW) Review

After Thursday's Mario Kart Tour review, let's continue with our Mario theme we have going on with our reviews. It's time to take a look at Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020, the first of two Olympic-themed games coming from Sega to commemorate the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Here's the SPC review.

A solid effort, but not enough to earn the top place on the podium.

It was over a decade ago that the gaming world was rocked with the announcement of longtime gaming rivals, Mario and Sonic, putting aside their differences to join forces to face off in the most unlikely of places--the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Nowadays, we take for granted that Mario and Sonic face off every two years, be it summer or winter, and occasionally in a once-per-console-generation offering of the Super Smash Bros. series as well. The year 2020 approaches, as does the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games. Sega seeks to jump in on the Olympic hype ahead of next summer's games with two separate titles. The first released last month: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020, and with new features and new events, it aims to go for the gold.

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020's biggest new feature is that of a story mode. While strictly handheld versions of previous titles in the Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games series had story modes, Tokyo 2020 is the first for a major console version. It involves Mario, Sonic, Bowser, Eggman, and Toad being transported into a video game console based on the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games, the very first time the Olympics were held in the city.

The Story Mode clocks in at just over five or so hours, depending on how fast you race through it.
The story transfers between chapters where Mario and Sonic compete against Bowser and Eggman in various retro events as well as unique one-off mini-games such as Sonic making a mad dash to pursue a bullet train, and chapters where the rest of the gang, led by Tails and Luigi, compete in real world events against various characters. Both story perspectives give players the opportunity to explore a world map with real life Olympic locations, though the locales outside of the Tokyo 1964 game are the most impressive. Obviously not just due to polygon and pixel difference, but the areas that Luigi and Tails visit are recreated with great detail, such as Tokyo Tower, for instance, among many other Tokyo points of interest. Inside the areas of the game that can be quasi-explored, there are multiple statues that reveal bits of trivia about Tokyo, the Olympics, and characters within the Mario and Sonic universes. Overall, the story mode lasts anywhere between 5-8 hours, but a good portion of that is cycling through text scenes which unfortunately cannot be skipped at the time of this review.

The participants have lined up at the starting gate, and this race is ready to be run!
While I mention the Story Mode first in this review, it was not my first destination within Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020. Instead, and I imagine it will be this way for a majority of players, my go-to mode when I initially started up the game for my maiden session was Quick Play. This mode allows you to dive head first into every individual event in the game--all 34 of them. The majority take place in the--for lack of a better term since this is a game we're talking about--"real world of Mario and Sonic", while the others play out in the Tokyo 1964 retro-themed events. The latter are the most basic and easiest to understand of the games as they utilize incredibly simple controls, which are a cinch to learn. Unlike the main events of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020, only half of the roster is available to play as in this mode, and from my understanding, they don't have any specific pluses or negatives to them like the main events in the game.

The retro-themed events include the 100 meter dash, hurdles, and long jump--but they also include retro exclusive events like the diving, Judo, shooting, and the Marathon, my favorite of the bunch. The Marathon is a side-scroller that starts out in the Olympic arena before quickly going to the streets. You compete against 99 other competitors, and you're trying not to run into them or other obstacles, as doing so lowers your stamina. You can regain stamina by slip-streaming off other runners when they form packs, as well as grabbing water at intermittent stations. This is all the while mashing the running button in a satisfactory rhythm that you're not going so slow that you can't catch up to first place while not going so fast that you exert all of your stamina too quickly.

Waluigi says, "Later, Gator" to Vector.
Meanwhile, there are the main Olympic events that take place in full HD glory. These feature more complex controls than what is offered in the retro events, and an issue I have with them is that they can become so involved and so different between events, that it can make remembering them a chore. Thus, many times when I returned to an event after a long absence, I had to reacquaint myself with the controls to remember what buttons did what action. If I had this trouble, imagine the trouble that more casual players of games would have.

Furthermore, so many events have little intricacies to the controls, such as pressing the jump button upon landing after your horse leaps over a fence in Equestrian to achieve a bonus boost or pressing L + A to perform an arcing kick over the goalie in Football. These are easy to forget when you're playing over 30 different events in the game with 30 different sets of controls. It makes a supposed pick-up-and-play game quite challenging to actually move from game to game without needing to reestablish what the controls are to each event. Thankfully, like Rio 2016 before it, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020 also features an option to select between motion controls and much more consistent button controls with the occasional need to use the Joy-Cons' or Pro Controller's gyro functionality.

Mario hopes to score a goal for the ages to put his team on top and earn a gold medal in the process.
Continuing on with some negativity, while new events like Skateboarding and Sport Climbing are satisfying new event additions to the summer series of games, the absence of events from previous entries like BMX and Beach Volleyball disappoints. Still, it is hard to complain too terribly much when the majority of the events play well and are enjoyable--especially when there are 21 varieties to choose from, some of which in singles and team varieties, as well.

Move over, Tony Hawk--Miles "Tails" Prower is here to throw down.
In addition to the 21 real life Olympic events, there is the return of Dream Events. Unfortunately, this is a part of the game where I must complain a tad. While the Dream Events included in Mario & Sonic Tokyo 2020 are indeed a load of fun, there are only three of them in total. Compare this to the majority of past games in the Mario & Sonic series--both summer and winter--and it's a bit of a disappointment. Not only does this mean there's less Dream Event gameplay to enjoy, but it also means one of my favorite features of the franchise, the wonderful remixes of Mario and Sonic music is also less prominent--only featuring one remix from each respective platforming franchise TOTAL.

Still, like I mentioned, the trio of Dream Events, while small in number, add up to a load of fun. Dream Racing takes place in Sonic Forces' Metropolitan Highway and features Sonic Riders-like gameplay on hoverboards, where leaping off ramps, grinding rails, and using Mario Kart-esque items are what matters to achieve victory. Meanwhile, Dream Karate takes place at Super Mario Odyssey's Mushroom Kingdom with Peach's Castle resting in the distance. Here, players punch, kick, and otherwise launch other opponents on to tiles that flip to their character's color. The player with the most tiles flipped to their color at the timer's end is declared the winner. Finally, Dream Shooting takes place at a real life Japanese castle, and the goal here is to move through the arena, aiming and shooting at various targets, while trying to keep your combo going to acquire the most points before time runs out.

Blaze the Cat hopes to achieve a purr-fect run down this hazardous highway course.
Events can be selected to feature normal, hard, and very hard AI. In events where direct competition is not available, the point values and times logged in by the AI are made more difficult on the more challenging AI settings. It gets to the point where on Very Hard AI you basically have to beat an Olympic Record to stand a chance at competing on the AI's level. Those events where you are competing directly against the AI--such as Fencing, Football, Rugby Sevens, Badminton, Table Tennis, 100M Dash, Hurdles, 4 X 100 Relay, and so on--simply pit you against much tougher opponents.

In addition to local play on the same screen and the same Switch, there is also the ability to connect several Switches together for local multiplayer that way as well. Expanding upon the multiplayer is online play, which allows you to share your records worldwide with other players, compete in events with friends and strangers alike in lobbies, and participate in casual or ranked play. However, waiting in lobbies for specific events is quite troublesome, as for one, there's more waiting than actual playing in the case of events like the 100m Dash, and secondly, it can be quite hard to find anyone playing in an event you might like to try out online... or any event at all.

Between a race featuring two Sonics, who would have guessed it'd be Luigi leading the pack?
If online play isn't your bag, then aside from completing the story mode and perhaps beating Olympic records within the game or getting a gold medal on every event, there's not much to keep most players engaged with this installment of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, despite its--for the most part--quality. There are achievements to complete, but these are merely for your own personal sense of accomplishment, as unlike past installments of the series, these don't unlock anything. There isn't even an option to play as Miis, so there are no character-related costumes to unlock. Even that was something enjoyable to do in past games to keep me playing, which Tokyo 2020 lacks.

As an aside, the amount of characters in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020 remains the same after several installments of the series, using the same cast of 16 characters, eight from the Mario series and eight from the Sonic series with unlockable characters that can only be played in specific events. For instance, if you love Espio from the Sonic series's Team Chaotix, then I hope you love the Long Jump, as that's the only event he can participate in.

"My name is Luigi Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!"
Like some of the events in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020, some elements of the game just seem half-baked. The amount of content is a major one, especially when you're comparing it to past entries in the series. This seems like a step back in that regard. That notwithstanding, Mario and Sonic's trip to Tokyo to compete ahead of the official 2020 Olympic Games nails the landing when it comes to being enjoyable to play. While you will find yourself scrambling to the menus to read up on a given event's controls more times than you might care to admit or care to like, the actual events are mostly entertaining, and the retro-themed events and minigames also sport plenty of opportunities for fun as well. It wouldn't be a review about a game set in the Olympics without a cliche reference, and while the review tagline already took care of that, here's a second one for you: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020 goes for the gold, but winds up with silver instead.

[SPC Says: B-]

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