'Mario & Sonic' deserves a gold medal

Mario takes to the waves in "Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020," which features more than 30 Olympic competition modes.

If you're looking for some fun, a sports fix or something to sate your Olympic fever, give the new "Mario & Sonic" a shot.

Known by its full, if unwieldy name, "Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020" is all about next summer's Olympics.

In fact, it features more than 30 Olympic competition modes, many of which you'll see when the Games kick off next July in Tokyo.

What this is: a collection of sports minigames that are fun and quick to play with friends.

What it isn't: a full-on sports simulator. Look, this is Mario and Sonic. You should expect simplicity and a fair bit of cartoonishness. This is more like "Mario Kart," less like "Forza."

Take soccer mode (called "football" here, naturally), which is pretty simple. You select four players from a cast that includes Nintendo characters such as Mario, Luigi, Donkey Kong and Princess Peach, as well as Sega characters such as Sonic, Tails, Dr. Eggman and Blaze. From there, you play four-on-four with two buttons, one to pass, one to shoot. You can also turn on a Super Mode. But that's it. Halves are each one minute, making each match go by very fast.

That's the fun of it. This is a sports party game where you'll play soccer against your friends one minute and then throw javelins, box, swim, surf or play table tennis the next.

Unfortunately, each time you play is roughly the same. There aren't multiple stages in each sport or tournaments. You pick a sport and play it. That's it.

Each game has different controls, and each time you play a new game, there's a helpful menu that tells you how that sport works.

Karate is all about grappling. Boxing is about timing your punches. Skateboarding is about hitting jumps at the right time. Archery makes you aim just so.

Many of the games are essentially timed button presses. Hit the right sequence, and you'll nail the event. Gymnastics, swimming, discus throw, javelin, diving and the triple jump all feature those sorts of controls.

That the game is on the Nintendo Switch makes it even more fun. Remember all those fun times you had playing "Wii Sports" a decade ago?

That's what you'll be doing here, and the Switch's detachable and motion-sensitive Joy-Cons give "Mario and Sonic" the same feel. You can swing your Joy-Con like a racket while playing table tennis, or use both JoyCons and swing your arms during a boxing event.

In addition to the modern Tokyo 2020, the game also has a retro mode, "Tokyo 1964," that goes back to the last time Tokyo hosted the Olympics.

It's also done in (mostly) old-school 8-bit animation. Mario appears as he did in the 1985 game "Super Mario Bros." and Sonic like his original animation from 1991, which adds a bit of retro gaming fun.

The 1964 mode also has the feel of classic NES games such as "Track & Field," "Duck Hunt" and "Ice Hockey."

There are also three "dream" events, which amp up the cartoony fun with turbo modes, special movies and more. Dream racing is like a Mario Kart race on skateboards, and dream karate is a Mario-style beat'em-up.

A story mode helps to explain why Mario and Sonic and their pals are even competing in these events, as well as why there's a retro game mode. The short version: The gang is in Tokyo to see the Olympics when villains Dr. Eggman and Bowser show up. They bring along a retro video game, but it's really a trap that sucks Mario and Sonic inside. (Eggman and Bowser end up inside, too.) And so, the game's factions compete both in modern Tokyo and 1964 Tokyo to win gold medals.

It's a fun way to introduce you to each sport, but it's interminably long. Cut scenes meant to drive the plot are little more than a series of text boxes explaining what sport you need to play next. Each scene take several minutes to clear just so you can play another sport minigame, which only takes a minute or two maximum to complete.

The plot itself is weak but fine. The way the games are cut together is fine. But the format is maddening.

Unless you're dying to know why Mario ran, jumped and swam his way out of a retro video game and back into his modern, 3D-animated world, you'll enjoy your time much more by picking and choosing your way through each sport.


Rating: B+

Platform: Nintendo Switch

Publisher: Sega

Likes: Games are fun, best enjoyed with friends. Sheer number of events makes it infinitely replayable and means there's something for everyone. Retro modes are well done and amusing.

Dislikes: Some games are a little too simple. Not enough variety within the games. Story mode is a boring slog.

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