With a charming campaign, dynamic score and pleasing graphics, this 2020 instalment is a worthwhile purchase for fans of the series looking for more Olympic fun. Yet, given the fluidity of the focused sports games already available on the Switch, and the brilliance of those on previous Nintendo systems, it pales in comparison and becomes a hard sell unless you particularly enjoy the mini-game structure – or want a game that will keep a sports-mad family busy this holiday season.
- A heart-warming Story mode that's a love letter to Tokyo
- Lovingly crafted 2D sprites and 3D models give life to the iconic characters
- Some mini-games have a surprising amount of depth
- Unfortunate lack of consistency between events
- Frustrating motion controls
- Review Price: £49.99
- Platform: Nintendo Switch
- Genre: Sports
- Release Date: November 8, 2019
- Developer: SEGA
Mario & Sonic 2020’s most brave and ambitious endeavour is the Story Mode, a strangely enjoyable tale where Mario, Sonic and the gang are sucked back in time to the 1964 Summer Olympics, complete with their 2D sprites. You run around an overworld and complete challenges across both digital realms, with the option to add retro scan lines to the old-school games.
Pack in the dynamic score change between the old and modern mini-games and you have yourself a charming little campaign that feels like a love letter to the special relationship between SEGA and Nintendo, led by the iconic characters they’ve created.
Realistically, it’s just padding between discrete events, but thanks to a few exclusive mini-games and some cute trivia, it still holds a lot of weight.
The writing is a little groan-worthy, but this is redeemed by the fact you can run around soft recreations of Tokyo landmarks such as the Shibuya Scramble and the Metropolitan Government Building as Luigi and the gang. It succeeds in making the game feel worthwhile for solo players, even if the wider experience is only enhanced by a couch full of friends.
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Once you get into the events themselves, the motion controls provide a mixed experience. It feels particularly fantastic to challenge the real-life 100m world record as Dr Eggman in lycra. Yet, when engaging in a spot of Sport Climbing, I found the gyroscopic Joy-Cons to be inaccurate and frustrating, having to extend my arms in unnatural directions, the hand cursor dropping out on a regular basis.
The more ambitious the Olympic Event, the more tiresome the motion controls become. Of course, you can just play with buttons, if you wish. For me, it was a case of figuring out which events had good motion controls, thus avoiding the Joy-Cons in those that didn’t. The gymnastics event feels impossible with motion controls, asking you to nail three-button presses and perform a Joy-Con spin in a matter of seconds. Equestrian with motion controls is similarly laughable, the turning mechanics feeling haywire. You’ll spend most of your time hugging the wall.
Given that we already have a great motion control tennis game on Switch in Mario Tennis Aces, it starts to feel a bit disappointing when Badminton and Table Tennis don’t offer similar fluidity.
However, given that there are so many events in this game, you can see that priority has had to be split. In some events, it feels like the game is just hanging in between inputs that can be painfully annoying to pull off.
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Dream Racing feels rigid and on-rails, and Dream Shooting tries admirably to be Splatoon; however, by making you control your aim in a slow fashion, with the right stick and fast-paced motion controls at the same time, you often end up in a dizzy daze. Dream Karate is the best of the new events, but it’s so far from the scope of the Olympics that it feels more like a Crash Bash mini-game.
There are some diamonds in the rough, though. Nailing kick-flips in Skateboarding is super-rewarding, especially thanks to the simple yet fun gyroscopic controls. Sure, it feels like you’re piloting an ironing board when you bank out of a bowl, but for the family audience Nintendo is shooting for, it’s a hit.
The same is true when taking Bowser Jr.’s jaw for a walk following all the times he wronged the Mario family in Boxing. The events can’t quite reach the haptic, realistic heights of Wii Sports, but they’re certainly passable for a nuclear family looking for some holiday laughs.
Truly, Tokyo 2020 is one of the few games where rivalries in Mario lore can be settled the right way. The dissociative rage seen in Yoshi’s eyes when he’s preparing for a takedown in Karate is something my brain will never forget, and the same goes for the deep feeling of shame after Dr Eggman struck my face with his bare feet. Fencing and Karate also stand out, working perfectly even with motion controls for parries and jabs.
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The football mini-game is surprisingly in-depth, playing a lot like a prototype for a new Super Mario Strikers game (please make this, Nintendo). You pick a series of characters and can align them by formation, activating Waluigi’s super shot to put it past Birdo.
There are a few strange caveats to some of the games, especially in single-player. For example, you can game the AI in football to time waste and end the match once you’ve scored, even on the hardest difficulty. Yet given that the point is to play most of these games against your friends, I can see past the need for a greater solo challenge.
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The lack of consistency between mini-games is what hurts Mario & Sonic 2020 the most, especially when you’re forced to play one of the more egregious events during the campaign.
It’s a fine experience if you wish to play with buttons only, but given the promise of the few events where motion controls work seamlessly and provide satisfaction, it’s disappointing that the rest of them drag the whole thing down by being deeply frustrating. If the point is to get the family audience up and moving, they’ll eventually want to sit down when they become bored of committing motions that go unregistered.
With a charming campaign, dynamic score and pleasing graphics, this 2020 instalment does redeem itself as a worthwhile purchase for fans of the series looking for more Olympic fun. Yet, given the fluidity of the focused sports games already available on the Switch, and the brilliance of those on previous Nintendo systems, it pales in comparison and becomes a hard sell unless you particularly enjoy the mini-game structure or want a game that will keep a sports-mad family busy this holiday season.