Mario and Sonic team up for their Olympic-sized Nintendo Switch debut with Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
The iconic duo is back after the successful Rio iteration on Wii U in 2016 but emerges here with a surprisingly robust package of events and storytelling.
The game doesn't push too hard toward redefining the series and moving it forward, but it does smartly implement modern options and provide some fun retro-styled experiences.
Paired with the Switch, this surprisingly versatile collection of events feels like a podium finisher for most audiences.
Graphics and Gameplay
Mario & Sonic 2020 is in line with what gamers would expect from a Switch title near the end of the 2019 calendar year.
The characters all look great. They're vibrant, expressive and the interactions among them shine in a way that is enthralling to kids and funny for the rest. This pairs well with the expected charms of Nintendo sound design polish.
The environments surrounding the characters look great, too. Stadiums with bleachers jam-packed with onlookers have cameras flashing, and some of the places to explore are dense with background characters and detail.
What wasn't necessarily expected, visually speaking, is the retro 8-bit or 16-bit versions of the activities. It registers as a pleasant surprise to see the juxtaposition between the Switch's powerhouse visuals and the 2D NES-style minigames between these same characters.
The laundry list of events within is largely a blast and accessible to people of any age. Some have bigger learning curves than others (looking at you, sports climbing), but a few tries before nailing down what the game wants is usually all it takes.
These activities range from mashing a button to win a race to reciting an on-screen combination to win freestyle points.
Players can choose control scheme. Motion controls are a staple of some events, while basic button presses work for others. It's fun to bounce back between current-gen event and their classical counterparts to see if the controls or overall play style of them change.
This game could've slapped updated graphics on everything and thrown in silly motion controls for every little minigame, but it doesn't. And it's a little refreshing to have the option to keep things basic and relaxing with a more streamlined control system. Player agency in this way is never a bad thing.
While it isn't ever overly challenging to get the best of A.I. opponents, there's enough variety here, and the pursuit of one-upping a previous high score helps keep things entertaining. Online functionality allowing for competitions against other players doesn't hurt either.
Story and More
The story is oh-so-Nintendo fare: Big bad Bowser and Dr. Eggman team up to trap themselves and some of the game's heroes into a console game based on the 1964 Olympics. That serves as the background for some of the superb classical-looking events, and it leaves Luigi in charge of saving the day.
When the story isn't asking the player to partake in games, they're bouncing around world maps freely within each locale. Dialogue within these roaming areas loops in not only strong character development for Nintendo and Sega stars alike, but also makes an effort to educate the player on the Olympics and host city.
Dialogue within the framework of the story can feel drawn out at times, but it serves as a vehicle to experience most of the events on offer. It is nice to have a framework while bouncing between games, and how some of these characters interact is goofy in an almost Mario Party-style way.
Where the story mode really shines is when it veers away from the expected list of games to offer other experiences that fit into the narrative. One of the main characters has to chase a big bad, for example, and it turns into an obstacle-filled race in an unusual locale that functions as its own separate minigame.
There isn't an overly exhaustive list of additional minigames here, but they all feel unique enough to stand on their own. Some are carryovers from the Rio game, but new events like skateboarding and karate really shine. The former, especially, is funny to watch and play, even if it isn't on the level of say, the Tony Hawk series.
Difficulty is a malleable thing here like anywhere else. Repeated struggles with an event open up an option to skip it entirely. And it feels like the A.I. might lessen the difficulty at times, which isn't necessarily a bad thing as it makes things more accessible for a broader audience.
There are also dream events that feel like bigger games with their own unique feel. One, Dream Shooting, puts the players in a larger level against other players and asks them to shoot targets. The controls there weave in motion to mixed results, but seeing as there are just three dream events, these complement the overall package well.
As expected, Mario & Sonic 2020 largely benefits from the functionality of the traditional Switch. Throwing the game up on a big screen and using motion controls to play solo or with others is fun. But the game performs well in handheld mode, where the button-based controls feel right at home with the overall experience.
Either functionality works online, where players can form up in lobbies or hop right into quickly play matches against others.
There probably aren't a ton of expectations for this sort of minigame-based offering, which helps to make Mario & Sonic 2020 such a pleasant surprise.
An Olympics mashup headlined by Mario and Sonic is strong enough to stand out on its own for what it is among Switch's heavyweight releases.
And what it is will vary for each player. For some, the online multiplayer will trump all else. Others will want to take in the story and see what it has to offer.
A pick-up-and-play experience with familiar faces applicable to an upcoming real-world spotlight event, Mario & Sonic 2020 offers a robust suite of experiences within a large list of games worth experiencing.