The best part about casual multi-player games like Super Mario Party or Ubisoft’s Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is playing with friends. SEGA’s Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 adds another mostly successful entry to the category.
If you’re not familiar with the game, this Mario & Sonic game is the sixth iteration of the same theme: characters you know and love from both the Mario and Sonic universes compete in the Olympic games.
This time the upcoming Tokyo games serve as the inspiration, but mostly that means the sports you can choose are summer based. As an added twist, you can also play 8-bit style games “from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.”
Plenty of Choices for What to Play
Being an adult in my 30s, I’m really not the target market here (and that shows, but more on that later). So I invited my 8- and 12-year-old nephews to play with my 7-year-old son. I didn’t give them any instruction on how to play the game, just handed them the controllers, and gave them free rein.
I’m happy to say they enjoyed themselves, and the adults had a lot of fun watching. When playing Mario & Sonic, you can choose from over 30 events, 10 of them in a classic 8-bit style. They range from boxing and karate to archery and surfing, to javelin throw and boxing.
When you pick a sport, you then choose how to control the game. Depending on the competition, you have up to three options—holding two separate Joy-Con for movement controls, holding one Joy-Con with movement controls, or a “button only” mode where you hold the Joy-Con like an NES controller.
You can choose between one and four players, though some games are compatible with only two players. Once you choose your sport and control type, the game walks you through a quick tutorial. You don’t gain anything for winning a game. There’s no win or loss tracking, no stats to improve, nothing to unlock. In many ways, the overall feel is something closer to Super Smash Bros or Raving Rabbids than it is Wii Sports.
A Hit with the Kids
I’d love to say Mario & Sonic is great for all ages, but it’s not. The kids loved the game, and honestly, that’s the part that matters. They’d probably play it more than adults anyway. And they seemed to enjoy the different playstyles. If you have limited space to work with, the ability to skip the motion controls might be a benefit.
From the number of replays, the three favorites were surfing, dream karate, and table tennis. Most of the games work in a fairly similar fashion. You have an action button (hit the ball, jump off the wave, etc.), a super-powered button, and everything else is timing. In the surfing game, jump as you hit the crest of the wave. In dream karate, punch or kick to knock your opponent over, then use your super knockout button to score extra points. It doesn’t take long to master.
Some of the games, though, are a little less successful. No one seems to like sport climbing. That game feels like a series of quick-time events. You’d target a handhold, and a hand would start sliding back and forth over it. Choose to jump when the hand is directly over the hold, and you won’t lose any grip strength. Jump at the wrong time, and you might lose all your grip strength and fall. The timing was too difficult, even for adults. I imagine with enough practice you wouldn’t be terrible, but who wants to work hard to not be terrible?
But still, the kids were having tons of fun. It didn’t hurt that they had plenty of characters to pick from (and therefore not fight over). You’ll find a full roster from both Mario and Sonic’s worlds, and who you pick does have an impact on the game. When surfing, Peach is better at riding a tube, for instance, while Sonic gains more acceleration when landing.
A Miss with the Adults
While the adults did give the games a try, we didn’t enjoy them as much as the kids. The truth is, all the games are somewhat shallow, and if you’re over the age of 20, you’ve likely played a better version of them. The skateboarding game is a glorified jump game, and you’ll probably be longing for a good Tony Hawk game. The same goes for table tennis versus any other tennis game.
Worse yet, the one aspect that might have made it fun for everyone doesn’t work: motion controls.
The Switch doesn’t make use of an InfraRed bar like the Wii and Wii U did. And it shows in this game. When anyone (kids or adults) tried the archery game with motion controls, it was frustrating. No matter how much you leaned the proper Joy-Con up, the character doesn’t want to lift the bow very far, leading to an undershot. At one point, we just quit the match entirely because we couldn’t get Sonic to lift his bow at all!
Boxing and fencing are other examples. The idea is you should be able to block or parry, then intelligently move in and strike. But that seldom worked well, even against a computer. The Switch had a hard time telling a block from a strike. What did work? Swinging the Joy-Cons as fast as you can to punch or strike a lot.
That was disappointing for the kids, but they were willing to use standard button controls instead. But for adults, this was a deal-breaker. The games are too shallow to stand up on their own without motion controls, so it’s best left to choosing “spectator sport” when deciding what to play here. Give the controller to your kids, sit back, and watch the fun.
Skip the Story Mode
Mario & Sonic games don’t always include a story-mode, but this version does. Unfortunately, it’s not very good. It isn’t that the sports games themselves don’t work in story mode, it’s that the overall game spends too much time in cutscenes.
After starting up the story, it was a good six or seven minutes of dialog before the first game began, and the game lasted about two minutes. That led to another extensive cutscene. We tried to stick it out, but both the adults and kids quit out of utter boredom. That’s a pity, as a decent story mode might have added replay value. But with a ten-minutes of dialog to two-minutes of play ratio, no one was having any fun.
A Game for Get-Togethers and on the Go
Mario & Sonic is at its best if you think of it as a game like Super Smash Bros. Both are easy games to get started, don’t require extensive control memorization, and generally after the round finishes, everything resets. No one gains levels and becomes unstoppable. That’s what makes both games good for group-play. Everyone is on even ground, and people rarely get frustrated.
The game also benefits from the nature of the Switch. While I was working on this review, I had my Switch in my office to refer to the game details as needed. My son came in, saw the game running, and wanted to play. I don’t have a TV in my office, but that’s OK.
I propped the kickstand, and we went surfing. It was enjoyable being able to play the game on the fly without having to abandon my work. And surprisingly, the game worked well on the Switch’s small screen.
If you go in expecting something quick, easy, and fun like Super Smash Bros or a Raving Rabbids game, you can undoubtedly have a good time with friends and family. But if you prefer solo-play and something more substantial, this probably isn’t the game for you.
Here’s What We Like
- Plenty of sports games to choose from
- Fun multi-player games
- Variety of control methods
- Good on the go
And What We Don't
- Story mode is boring
- Motion controls don't work great
- Limited replayability