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Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020 – Hands-On Preview

Mario and Sonic 2020 is a love letter to Rossko's gaming youth. A Hands-On Preview;

When I was a kid, I used to dream about a platformer featuring Mario and Sonic. I thought it would be fascinating to see the two major console mascots combine and see what kind of adventures they could go on together. Of course, back then, the idea that they would even be on the same console, let alone the same game, was an idea so utterly bewildering the very notion that such a thing would ever happen was verging on the ridiculous. 

And yet, my adult self is now spoiled with Mario and Sonic crossovers that I can’t quite wrap my head around actually existing. We’re far too spoiled, I guess. 

A Mario and Sonic title was of course only possible because of SEGA’s decision to exit the console race and focus solely on software. The Dreamcast had arrived and whilst being a miraculous creation with some of my fondest gaming memories attached, its failure became the seed in which SEGA planted to grow the idea of a Sonic and Mario game.

What arrived was rather unexpected. Whilst some of us had hoped for a full on Mario/Sonic platformer the likes of which the world had ever seen – and could have broken the internet before the internet was nothing in comparison to what it is now – instead SEGA were busy beavering away at an officially licensed Olympics video game, starring Sonic and his once arch-nemesis, Mario.

The series has of course continued to go from strength to strength across Nintendo’s various platforms – they still star Mario, after all. Don’t expect to see them anywhere else – in summer and winter Olympics incarnations, and now it’s back once again with Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and it’s as close as the kid inside me has ever been to securing that fabled platformer. 

Let’s kick off with the Story Mode, as it may not quite be what you expect. There’s trouble afoot when the dastardly duo of Bowser and Dr. Eggman (Robotnik, for those as old as I am) trap Mario, Sonic and Toad inside a classic computer game system, along with themselves. Transporting back to the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, It’s up to our heroes to win gold in every Olympic event in order to escape and return back to the present day Games.

It’s certainly a fun premise, and there’s a real joy to be had seeing the classic Sonic and Mario universe sprites interacting with each other (Mario from his 8-bit days, Sonic from 16-bit). Though there’s little more to do than wait for talking head cutscenes to finish between events, the story plays out with pretty much every character in the game playing a critical role, as you explore modern day Tokyo looking for various Nintendo and Sega mascots to rescue their leaders. I haven’t quite gotten over the odd moment where you’re controlling a Nintendo character and a SEGA character is just following you around and vice versa. Again, that’s probably the old soul in me. You darn kids don’t know how good you’ve got it. 

The biggest draw of the Story Mode is those ‘Tokyo 1964’ events. Being able to compete with the classic sprites is an absolute pleasure, and with a variety of events on offer you’re tasked with beating either Bowser or Eggman in 100m, hurdles, rowing and more. There’s even a cracking little sequence where, as Sonic, you have to beat Tokyo’s infamous bullet train that Eggman is escaping on in a race. I was hoping that would be a fun side-event I could keep jumping back into but it looks like it was a glorious one-off for now. 

Sequences such as this, along with all of the ‘Classic’ modes really, are what bring a fresh lick of paint to the Mario and Sonic Olympics franchise. If you’re a fan of the nostalgia hit – which, who isn’t these days? – you’re going to fall under its spell almost immediately. More than anything it reminds me of playing Olympic games on my Mega Drive. Whilst the button mashing mechanics are fairly commonplace in the M+S franchise, to get a 16-bit sprite running as fast as they can puts you firmly back in the mindset of playing the likes of Olympic Gold, furiously mashing buttons to get your characters over hurdles and into first place. 

The fact your sprite characters this time around just happen to be Mario, Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Bowser, Eggman and more is the icing on the cake. The events aren’t particularly long (save for the Marathon, which is about as difficult as those old-school Olympic games were) but provide just enough of a ‘one-more-go’ appeal to keep you entertained for a long while. I’d like to applaud whoever at SEGA decided to throw in ‘Tokyo 1964’, it’s the most fun I’ve had with the franchise for a long time. 

Elsewhere the standard Olympic events are available to play whenever you like, in either single or multiplayer modes. You’re able to mix and match the control options, whether you’re playing in handheld or docked. Motion controls are included (but thankfully not mandatory) along with Pro Controller support and standard buttons. Multiplayer and local play between up to four Switches is also included, though I haven’t been able to test this out quite yet. The selection of events on offer is pretty staggering, from Swimming to Skateboarding (yes, now an official Olympic sport from 2020), discus, table tennis and Equestrian, still brilliantly funny when you’re playing as Eggman or Bowser.

A particular favourite of mine is Rugby Sevens, which, considering I know nothing about the sport in real life, is quite the compliment. It’s an absolute riot to play a quick-fire game of Rugby with Mario and Sonic universe characters putting a giant smile on my face throughout. If there was any event I’d like to see break out and become a standalone game, it’s this one. 

There’s also three Dream Events in the 2020 Mode, but I can’t talk about them all that much just yet. Rest assured there’s one of them which is probably the most fun I’ve had playing a multiplayer game on Switch full stop. 

The 1964 Events can also be played whenever you like, though they’re more limited in choice, with ten to play. The 10m Diving Platform Event is particularly good, tasking you with quick QTE button sequences to ensure a perfect dive. Again, very funny with the classic Eggman sprite. Who knew he had the capacity to be so very elegant?

There’s plenty more to talk about in Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020, though that will have to wait until our full review in a couple of weeks time. In the meantime, rest assured the series has moved into a new direction with the addition of a delightful Story Mode and a really great ‘Classic’ mode, which will warm the heart of any stone cold adult just looking to relive his youth once again, and whilst is may not be the ultimate dream my own childhood self would have dreamed of just yet, there’s steps being made.

I think he’d love this game. 

Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020 is available on November 1st exclusively on Nintendo Switch.

Disclaimer: We were provided with a promotional code for preview and review purposes. For our full review policy, please go here.

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