Party Alarm! Believe it or not, the Nintendo Switch is lacking when it comes to party games. We weren't expecting the flood that came with the Wii after Wii Sports and its massive success, but whereas the Wii U more or less tried to keep the social/party games coming out on a regular basis, Switch owners have to rely for now on pretty much one single (otherwise stellar) option: the laughter-packed Super Mario Party. And it's still great, but with 1-2-Switch! being sort of a half-backed launch experiment to make use of the hardware's new features (just like Nintendo Land did for the Wii U before it), it's about time those users got more options for the upcoming autumn and winter evenings.
Enter Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. Together with partner and developer Sega, Nintendo has been showing a demo of the game ever since E3 and through the summer, including events such as the recent Gamepolis in Málaga. And on those occasions, we got the chance to play and capture some of the different events on offer.
But before delving into the mini-games, let's start by saying that the new Mario & Sonic seems like more of a party game, and less of a sports game, but in a good way. In other words, it looks like much more fun from the get-go than its dull, repetitive 2016 predecessor. As such, with seemingly more varied events and control schemes, it might find a sweet spot between Super Mario Party and the best parts of Wii Sports/Resort, perhaps building a better homage to Track & Field, the godfather of any Olympics game.
It'll include 21 'realistic' events plus three fantasy events, for a nice package of 24 mini-games in total. However, it seems that only four of those are completely new: Skateboarding, Karate, Surfing, and Sport Climbing. As such, we really hope the other 20 events have been retouched or revamped to be much more fun and accurate. With the summer demo, we got to try the first three of the new games, and then the classic Archery and 110-metre Hurdles. And our impressions were... mixed, to say the least.
Archery is just great. It really took us back to our best moments with Wii Sports Resort, when motion controls worked great and were brilliantly implemented together with sporty gameplay. It feels awesome to lift your imaginary bow with both hands (each holding one Joy-Con), to secure the arrow with your right thumb by holding R, to pull the bowstring by drawing back your hand, and then motion-aiming before releasing. Then wind and distance (and the double point Super Shots!) come into play to make it all the more interesting and challenging. We can see this being one of the top-played events when family and friends gather together.
The other already existent event was 110m Hurdles, a true classic. In Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 you can play the mini-games with buttons, motion-controls, or even one-handed so that two can play with no additional controllers, and we appreciate that. We would like to try out the athletics events with buttons rather than motion controls, as this felt a bit inaccurate/laggy when detecting the forward jump action. This could end up being frustrating, more so as you get a boost if you nail the final hurdle.
From the new events, Skateboarding and Surfing felt pretty similar, as should be natural given the boarding nature of the two sports. The former tries to emulate both the Tony Hawk games and the skating games for the Wii that used the Wii Remote as the board itself. This means you control balance, angles, tricks, and more, by tilting the Joy-Con, but while we like the concept, the response has to be fine-tuned for this to work properly. With Surfing, in particular, it seemed too random to be fun.
Sadly enough we encountered similar issues with Karate-Kumite. Don't get us wrong, we were really looking forward to playing it as seeing Mario or Amy in their kimonos is one of the cutest things you'll see (there was no XXXL size for Bowser we're afraid to say), but once again the pacing and response times aren't really there yet, even though we did try this one with buttons, fighting game-style.
So, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 will release in November but looks pretty finished already. If the issues with some of the control schemes and moves are fixed before launch, the game could very well complement Super Mario Party as a pretty packed social mini-game fest, but even then we doubt it'll end up anywhere near Nintendo's own offering in terms of the fun it will offer.
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