Title: Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Release Date: To Be Announced Website
One of the biggest video game genres to consistently misfire are games based upon the Olympics. For whatever reason, whether it be issues throwing together a ton of mini-games in a single package, interference from the International Olympic Committee (whose tight controlover every aspect of the Olympics is legendary, not to mention the alleged corruption), or even because there is a date that the game HAS to launch by due to when the real-life Tokyo 2020 Olympics are taking place, this genre has been plagued by terrible controls, mediocre graphics, rote button mashing, or just simply is not fun. The sole exception to this, honestly, was Olympic Hockey Nagano ’98– and even that was just a re-skinned version of a Wayne Gretzky Hockey game.
My hands-on demo of Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020 at E3 2019 unfortunately did not convince me that this trend was not going to continue for this upcoming Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 tie-in. There were six playable characters available to play from both the Sonic and Mario franchises- Mario, Peach, Bowser, Sonic, Amy Rose, and Dr. Eggman (a/k/a Dr. Robotnik). Out of the sixteen sports announced so far, I was able to demo five of them: Archery, Surfing – Shortboard, Skateboarding – Park, Karate – Kumite, and 110M Hurdles. In those five demos, I found a range of experiences that ranged from the unplayable (Archery) to the potentially great (Skateboarding – Park). Despite all of these experiences, one thread still ran through all these games: there is a lot of potential to be had if the developers will give the player options to vary up the gameplay in each event and if they (as I am sure they will) iron out all the bugs.
The first sport I tried was one of newest sports to debut at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020: Surfing – Shortboard. This event has four total players and AI characters competing to get the highest score across three waves. As you control the surfboard, you need to go from the crest (top) of the wave down to the trough (bottom) to build up speed and then pull off amazing moves with the A button when you go back to and over the crest into the air. Based upon your timing to hit ‘A’ when you’re going over the wave, you get a different point value. If you’ve played Mantine Surfing in Pokémon Sun/Moon, UltraSun/UltraMoon, then you know what to expect. It was an okay, if somewhat simple experience, other than the fact that I found myself repeatedly getting stuck in the trough of the waves even when I was trying to get back up the wave. I found myself wishing that I could pull off different cool moves by moving the control stick in different directions and pressing buttons in a sequence instead of just hitting ‘A’ to do a trick. A little more depth to the control scheme and not getting repeatedly stuck in the somewhat-buggy wave trough (though this is something that can easily be fixed) would have made this a better experience.
The next game I played was Skateboarding – Park, and this was by FAR my favorite of any sport I experienced in Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020. The concept here is simple: you have 90 seconds to pull off as many wicked tricks and power moves as possible while skating around a park with rails, and bowls and objects. This is probably some of the best skateboarding that I’ve experienced since Tony Hawk 3 on the original PlayStation. There is a real satisfaction to the grinding and tricks aspect of this particular mini-game, and I loved linking tricks, air flips, and grinds together into combos to rack up the points. And once it was over, I wanted to go back in to play it again and again. I honestly want to see the developers take the skateboarding aspect and flesh it out into a full videogame, since I expect that it would sell really well. I cannot overstate how easy it was to pick up and learn, but that it had glimmers of depth to it that could easily be unlocked in a title that isn’t aimed towards a somewhat younger audience.
Karate – Kumite was fun, if not a bit short. Both players punch, kick, and block their way to ten points. When a player is thrown down to the mat, two points are scored and the match resets to both players standing so they can fight again. The combat and blocking is fairly rudimentary with no real depth to it beyond “who can throw the other down first”. The matches are surprisingly short, as I found that when one player can unload first on the other, that other player will inevitably end up down on the mat fairly quickly, blocking or not. I found myself wishing that there were more variety in the move sets that fighters can use, even though I was impressed with the fact that the matches move quickly- just like in real tournaments.
The fourth game I demoed was Archery and this was nearly unplayable with the motion controls, so I honestly cannot write much about it. In theory, the game is simple: shoot the arrow into the target while accounting for wind and the bow/arrow wavering in the air. In practice, this was a disaster. I found that the motion controls simply were not responsive to doing what I wanted, and I struggled quite a lot with trying to get the arrow anywhere within the range of the target. Archery is a game that relies upon precision and control in real life, and I honestly felt like I was struggling with the motion controls in order to shoot, let alone hit a target. This miniature game was nearly unplayable as a newcomer to Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020, and I honestly had zero interest in playing it a second time (unlike some of the others – most notably Skateboarding – Park).
The final game in my Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020 demo was 110M Hurdles. This one’s concept is simple: press a button repeatedly to get a good start, jump over six hurdles with perfect timing to build up your speed, and then use a special dash move at the very end (assuming you hit the sixth hurdle perfectly) in order to cross the finish line in record speed. This sport activity can be completed in under a minute, and it was the most frustrating to play. The 110M Hurdles doesn’t have terrible controls like Archery did nor is it buggy like Surfing – Shortboard was. The problem with this game was that the winner was determined by whoever got the best race start. I played this one multiple times, and I discovered that the six hurdles are stupidly easy to perfectly jump over and so both myself and the person I was playing with were hitting them without error. With that hurdle-jumping mechanic’s difficulty removed from the equation, the 110M Hurdles became a matter of who started better. There are few things more frustrating than seeing someone else start better than you and knowing that there is nothing you can do to change the outcome of the match. This aspect really made the 110M Hurdles not fun to play in a way that is unique to this minigame.
I came away feeling unsatisfied with my experience overall. The gameplay bugginess issues I am sure will be fixed before release, and normally I wouldn’t even have mentioned them (as E3 demos are not final products 95% of the time) if they didn’t impact the gameplay so significantly. Skateboarding – Park shows just how much potential this game can have when the developers give the player the freedom to explore and play with more than just one or two gameplay buttons. That also said, there is still plenty of time for the game to right itself before the real-life Olympics occur beginning on July 24, 2020, and I am excited for the developers to hopefully take the time necessary to right this surfboard.