If you'd have told us 27 years ago that Mario and Sonic would one day share the same virtual space, we'd have laughed in your face (this review isn't supposed to rhyme, by the way). The very notion that the moustachioed plumber would ever be mates with the spiky blue blur (and vice-versa) seemed like the realm of pure fantasy, but since the old days of SEGA and Nintendo competing for eyeballs and thumbs, it's something that has happened on multiple occasions. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 (to give it its full title) is, in fact, the sixth time the duo has teamed up to appear at the Olympics together, and it's rather good fun.
Mario and Sonic are firm friends, then, which is fortunate as Dr. Eggman and Bowser have joined forces and are up to their old tricks. This time, Eggman (Dr. Robotnik to you and I) has devised a portable video game console that captures Sonic and Mario, transforming them into their original pixellated guises while sending them to the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games. As Luigi and Tails do their sidekick business, rounding up allies back in 2020, Mario and Sonic are stuck in their retro world, competing against Eggman and Bowser to win gold medals that provide the key to their escape.
As Mario and Sonic, you're racing to bag all of the gold medals and get out, which means beating the baddies at their own game. Simple. What follows is a succession of events and mini-games, all wrapped up in a largely forgettable, throwaway narrative that serves as a whistle-stop tour of everything the game has to offer. Gymnastics, discus, hurdles, archery, canoeing, climbing, karate, triple jump... It's all here, and much of it is highly entertaining, but when you can play any event without the unnecessary story bits, why even bother with Story Mode in the first place?
The answer is for the 8-bit/16-bit sojourns to the 1964 Olympics, where there's button-mashing, old-school versions of events and mini-games that will have SEGA Mega Drive and NES owners losing their shit. Mario flying Tails' plane as Sonic stands on the wings in a brief shmup sequence featuring Sonic the Hedgehog 2 enemies? Yes! Mario in a speedboat jumping off ramps while chasing Bowser? Wonderful. Chasing down Eggman's car in a sequence like Sonic 2's bonus level? Sublime. The 2020 portion of the game has its own highlights, too, like a bit of Where's Wally searching but with Toads, or scaling the Tokyo tower as Tails. You can replay all of these via the Game Room and also leaf through all of the Olympic Games trivia you've collected, if you're so inclined.
By and large, Mario and Sonic's 34 events are hit and miss, which is to be expected. For every bout of fun fencing or surprisingly excellent game of rugby sevens, there's a rubbish game of 16-bit volleyball or slightly silly equestrian event. Most are rendered infinitely more palatable and fun when playing with friends or using the Joy-Con's motion controls to chuck a javelin or punch one another's digital faces. Expect this to be a party favourite over the ensuing festive season – even granny can sling a javelin, although you probably won't want to watch her performing the required action using the Joy-Con.
Everything here is lovingly presented; an exuberant smile-inducing package that's likely to appeal to kids and adults alike. The story portion of the game can get a bit dull, save for the 8/16-bit segments, but beyond that, this is a lovely big mélange of colourful sporting events. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is also a joyful celebration of SEGA and Nintendo's present, as well as its glorious past, harbouring a stupidly enjoyable rugby event and an extremely competent footie mini-game that gives FIFA a run for its money (not really, but y'know). You'll be boxing, fencing, running, jumping, shooting, and hitting things until the real 2020 Olympic Games start, in July. Maybe.
Available on: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: November 5, 2019
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