Three years after they last went head to head, Sonic, Mario and friends are finally back at the Olympics with Mario & Sonic at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. SEGA is making sure everyone is aware of this, as the two mascots are not only on the E3 badge insert this year, but take up a huge chunk of real estate in the LA Convention Center’s West Hall.
To anyone entering the West Hall, the booth leaves a heck of an impression. It not only shows the game on giant screens, but has a climbing rig for attendees to try out. With Sony and Microsoft doing their own thing, this is the first time in over 20 years that the West Hall belongs mainly to Nintendo and Sega.
While I was at the booth taking pictures and watching others climb, I made sure to take the time to play the game. There were five mini games to try out and the staff made sure everyone got to play their fill. With that in mind, I’m going to go over the five games shown and go over their controls. All games were played with joycons.
While only 5 games were playable, the E3 demo’s event select screen did hint at what else would be available in the final games, including at least 24 events and some sort of retro mode. Along with that, there were 20 characters on the menu with six playable. Those six include Mario, Sonic, Peach, Amy, Bowser and Eggman.
First up is my least favorite of the games shown, 100-meter Hurdles. We’ve seen this one before. You position yourself at the starting line, hold the R button down to charge your launch, then release when the gun fires and you start running. In button mode, you mash the A button to run as fast as possible to gain speed and then hit B when hitting a glowing pad to jump over the hurdle. In motion control mode, you pump the joycons up and down as fast as possible, hitting R while swiping up to jump. If your super meter is up, you get a chance at one final boost right at the end to win. It was a very short and basic game and one we’ve seen in other Mario and Sonic titles.
Next up was Karate. This is the only mini game shown that did not have motion controls. You have to hit or throw your opponent at just the right time or angle to get enough points to win the match. Whatever offense you take has different points. For instance, a good kick to the face will do more damage than a shoulder toss. The controls can be a bit tougher to get a hold of compared to the other mini games, but not in a bad way. It just requires a bit more skill. It reminded me a lot of the old “Karate Champ” game. I had to laugh as I watched others play it and they had either Sonic fight Amy or Mario fight Peach. It was like they were settling their domestic squabbles in the square ring.
Next is Archery and this is one where the motion controls really shine. You can either use the joystick and buttons to aim and fire, or you can use two joycons to simulate a bow and arrow. You hold R, pull back the right joycon, aim by titling the left joycon and watch for where and how strong the wind blows, then release R to release your arrow and hit the target. I’m surprised at how well it works since the joycons are gyro only and have no way to get precise targeting like the old Wii controls could.
My second favorite is Skateboarding. With button controls, the game has that old-fashioned “Tony Hawk” feel, but without the ability to bail. The controls can get a bit confusing though as sometimes I’d go to jump off the top lip of a ramp only to grind or hang off of it instead. Still, once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty fun. The motion controls are a bit odd here. You turn by leaning the joycon like an airplane and jump off ramps by flicking your wrist up. It just feels off.
Last but not least is my personal favorite, Surfing. I love the colors in this one with you riding the ocean current with an island in the backdrop. The surfing itself is fun and works similarly to Skateboarding in some respects. First, you either rapidly tap A or rapidly swing the joycon to get out in front of the wave. You then earn points by jumping off the lip of the wave or by balancing yourself while riding inside the crest. The motion controls work similar to Skateboarding as well, only it makes a bit more sense here as it feels like you’re tilting the surfboard itself as you move. It’s not a replacement for button controls, but it’s not bad. I had a lot of fun with this mode and went back to it a few times.
One other thing to mention is that in all games, there is a super meter that builds if you’re doing well. You can then hit R for a colorful, special move that doubles your points and puts on a flashy show. I gotta say though, the motion controls feel like an unnecessary gimmick. Out of the five mini games I played, they only worked well with Archery. There’s no need for Wii-style controls in 2019. That belongs in the past.
The graphics are a mixed bag. While the resolution seems much sharper this time (900-1080P I think), the models themselves look no better than they did in the 2016 Rio games. Like in that one, the frame rate is 60 during gameplay and drops to 30 during replays and ceremonies. They did this in some of the previous versions too, so I believe it’s a stylistic choice. The game loses absolutely nothing in portable mode, maintaining dock mode’s 60 frames and reaching a resolution of 720p.
The other thing I need to mention is that this demo is pretty bare bones and doesn’t tell you much about any of the game’s other features. I have no idea what the retro mode is and I don’t know if there’s a story mode like in the franchise’s past portable entries.
Overall, Mario and Sonic at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games is looking like, well, another Mario and Sonic Olympics game. Nothing really new outside of some new mini games on offer. But the thing is, I can’t say exactly what the full version will be like as there’s still a lot we don’t know. Still, if you’re a fan of this series, it doesn’t look like it will disappoint. I know I’ll be happy if it turns out like another Rio or Winter Olympics. Those were pretty solid.
Mario and Sonic at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will be available this November for the Nintendo Switch.