E3 Hands-On: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020

An Olympic tradition continues!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 06/27/2019 20:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

The Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games series has always been okay but never outstanding. It’s a serviceable multiplayer experience that bundles the best of Mario, Sonic, and the Olympic games themselves into an interesting package. Sonic surfing? Mario shooting a bow and arrow? Princess Peach skiing?! It’s all there (well, depending on whether it’s winter or summer) for players to enjoy either alone or together… for better or worse.

Thankfully, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 appears to be shaping up to be one of the more solid installments in the series, albeit just as predictable as ever. The demo was restricted to a handful of events, of which I got to sample the following: surfing, skateboarding, archery, hurdles, and karate. It was me versus a live player for each match, so I also got a sense of what the multiplayer feels like, too. With that, let’s get to the games!

Surfing was a timed affair where each character must maneuver across waves and perform tricks. I think from the outset my biggest issue with Tokyo 2020 was that I didn’t have much time to learn the controls. There was a sheet printed out describing how to play each sport sitting between my opponent and myself, but we had a rigid thirty-minute window in which to sample all of the different events. I managed to skim the printout between rounds and get the basics each time, but overall it was a lot trial and error to get up and running. My partner felt the same way, remarking that he didn’t know what he was doing more than once throughout the demo.

As a result, surfing was fun but I didn’t really have a solid handle on how to properly pull off tricks at any point during the demo. I would feebly careen up a wave, flail about in the air, and then come shooting back down. The only time I was able to truly pull off any kind of interesting tricks was when I’d execute the special move that becomes available once a meter is filled. Despite not understanding the nuances of the trick system, though, I still managed to have fun surfing, although it could stand to feel a mite bit faster. The pace was relatively slow considering it was a surfing competition, which are anything but in real life.

Skateboarding was similarly unintuitive. I managed to win one of the rounds, but it was by sheer luck and nothing else. I rolled around the skate park and squeaked out some grinds and an ollie here and there, but I was no Tony Hawk by the end of the demo. Thankfully, the speed of play in the skateboarding competition felt faster than it did in surfing, but not being able to consistently land any cool tricks brought the excitement level down. Thankfully, archery was a much easier to understand event. Nocking an arrow and slinging it into a target was very fun, but went by in such a flash that I was sad to see it go.

Jumping hurdles was another event that didn’t require much training to leap into and succeed, and its rapid pace made the competition all the more authentic feeling. It’s always funny to see Sonic lose at a footrace, but hey, that’s not the point. It’s also not to the point to question why Bowser is engaging in a karate match against Princess Peach— just roll with it! Which had pretty much worked for me throughout the demo and also worked during the karate event, too. Wing it and pray. Karate fell somewhere between surfing and archery in regards to how accessible its controls were. I more or less knew how to do the attacks I wanted, but sometimes I felt like I was missing something.

Honestly, Tokyo 2020 is a pretty engaging game, for the most part. Once I’ve had enough time to properly sit down and learn how to play each event, I know I’ll be able to sink my teeth into the experience as a whole. Still, this is a very safe, by the numbers franchise and that isn’t changing for Tokyo 2020. None of the detail and intricacy of a Mario sports title are to be found here. Instead, Tokyo 2020 just wants to serve up a dependable, sanitary take on the Olympics with Mario and Sonic in place of actual Olympians. It certainly looks prettier than ever, but don’t come into this one expecting anything new or fresh. It’s just what Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games has always been, which should be enough for the crowd that’s drawn to this series in the first place.

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