With the global pandemic still roaring, it’s no surprise that even a big event like the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo had to be pushed back to the following year. It’s finally happening a year late and up until the opening ceremony, there was a legitimate risk of everything being canceled altogether due to a new wave of infections caused by the Delta variant. Ultimately, the competition went ahead but unfortunately without spectators for most events. In late 2019 Sega and Nintendo released their now usual Mario & Sonic collab for the Olympics and now alongside the delayed proceedings comes the slightly less cartoony multiplatform game for the event, once again published by Sega. We played Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 – The Official Video Game and here is what we thought about it.
Strength in numbers
As is usually the case for games based on Summer or Winter Olympics the main attraction is the sheer amount of different sports at the players’ disposal. These range from things like football or boxing which have been covered by plenty of titles already, to more specific and less covered events like 110m hurdles or judo. With a total of 20 sports included in the game, there are certainly many gameplay loops to master. Not all of them will be everyone’s cup of tea, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a few to enjoy on repeated plays, or after attaining some first gold medals on them.
The game offers a vast array of options to play the various sports, either picking specific ones or enjoying a playlist where modes are shuffled. Every event, in fact, can be played solo against AI, in local play up to 2 players, but also online against players across the globe, both in custom servers and official events held by the developers. There’s even matchmakings of all sorts and leaderboards to climb, thus the drive to constantly improve yourself is always there. In you opt for AI competitions, there are usually 2-3 phases to go through, for example, a quarter-final, a semi and then the ultimate match for Gold, or even for the Bronze if you fail to succeed in a semi-final.
Hit or miss, I guess they sometimes miss, huh?
It probably goes without saying that a game focusing on 20 different gameplay loops is not going to be as polished or refined as sports franchises like FIFA, NBA, or Madden that have had decades to perfect a single sport. Indeed the quality of events greatly varies, some are barely passable while others are pretty fun. Not surprisingly, the events where Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 – The Official Video Game excels are the ones that see less competition in the genre, offering quick and short experiences that are more akin to minigames, such as the 100m Sprint or the swimming categories. Here, quick reaction times, fast tapping, excellent timing, and swift fingers are ultimately rewarded, making for excellent party games too in the process. The title almost functions as a party game akin to Mario Party when the right modes are chosen. There are even “super” abilities players can occasionally trigger that make them faster, stronger and more precise making said sports feel even more like a casual party game.
On the other hand, it falls severely short in games that require more complex movements, more tactical gameplay, and where reliance on a strong AI is key. Football (or soccer for our US fans) in particular is particularly baffling in terms of AI with the keepers happily letting shots in from the midfield and attackers deciding to pass instead of shooting when alone in front of goal. I’ve also found games like table tennis and baseball not precise or polished enough to remain enjoyable long-term, offering far less rewarding experiences than other games in said sports managed even a decade or two ago.
Based? Based on what?
Don’t expect a wide array of real athletes’ likenesses in this game as SEGA obtained the license to the Olympic Games but not its participants. Indeed, despite all UI elements, arenas, and locations following the plans for the Tokyo games (aside from the fact COVID-19 is impeding the presence of crowds in most events, whereas the stadiums are packed inside the videogame), the actual look and feel of the events is very cartoony and is far removed from reality. Examples of this are that male and female athletes compete in the same categories even in sports where this isn’t really the case, players can even be comically short, way too overweight, or much older than any athlete in the real Olympics. However, this does illustrate a great message of inclusiveness from the developers rather than a desire for authenticity.
Naturally, competitors are not just randomly generated and can be created by the player as well, either by customizing one of the system-created ones or by creating one from scratch. Everything from gender, body shape, height, weight, and skin colour all the way down to the individual shapes of face parts can be customized, but what is beauty without style?. Competing in events and obtaining medals also awards players with in-game credits which can be spent on all kinds of costumes and used for the sport of your choice. Plausible or not, our judo fighter could get onto the mat in a suit and tie, an astronaut suit, or even a Sonic costume (this is a SEGA game after all.)
A game for everyone – for better or worse
Pretty much all sports offer a very simple gameplay loop. This can be learned in mere minutes without the depth and variety one would expect from a dedicated title focusing on that particular sport. At times, some sports’ recreations feel superficial, with a handful of questionable animations, some unexpected limitations, and even a couple of bugs. This can be said for the technical side of Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 – The Official Video Game as well. This is a title that was initially released in Japan in 2019 (also on Switch) and it shows. The game runs at a relatively low resolution, the framerate can be unstable and there are no signs of enhancements for Xbox One X or Series X|S whatsoever. In short, it is very apparent that this game was meant to run on older and weaker hardware and no upgrading has been carried out to take advantage of the newer console’s capabilities.
I have found the rest of the game’s presentation rather pleasant. UIs, HUDs, and menus mimic the visual style of the Olympic broadcasts, the background music is enjoyable and so is the sound of the crowd getting more and more excited as the tension rises. Lastly, the game showcases interesting pieces of trivia about the history of Japan and the towns where the stadiums are located. This makes the game feel like a little dive into Japan’s rich culture, even though players don’t get to explore anything outside of stadiums and arenas.
See you in 2024!
Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 – The Official Video Game, like most titles focusing on so many completely different gameplay loops and styles, falls short on truly delivering in any of them. The sheer variety of the twenty different sports presented, the rush of adrenaline of some of the shorter modes, solid online performance, and good presentation makes it a pleasant enough title for fans of the world’s most famous torch. On the other hand, many of the sports at players’ disposal feel rushed, unpolished, and frankly not very fun, making me feel that the developers should have focused on perfecting fewer sports, rather than delivering so many half-baked ones. In short, quantity won over quality.