In the 90s and 2000s, licensed games were common. From films and TV shows to board games and books, there was no shortage of adaptations of varying quality and fidelity to the source material. There were even sports games, from official games for the UEFA Euro and FIFA World Cup to Monster Energy Supercross. The largest sporting sporting event in the world – the Olympic Games – also got its own official video game from the 1980s. These games showed realistic but accessible representations of the competition. The license was changed several times between different publishers until it ended up at SEGA at its current location since Beijing in 2008. However, after 2008, 2010 and 2012, the series apparently took a break as SEGA instead turned to partnering with Nintendo to develop the fantasy arcade spinoff series “Mario & Sonic at the Olympics”. With Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 – The Official Video Game, SEGA returns with a more “formal” take on the event, but its lackluster gameplay and poor presentation fail to take a podium spot.
With the world facing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the real Tokyo Olympics in 2020 had to be postponed for a year, as had the game’s release outside of Japan. Now that the actual event is scheduled for next month, players can get into the mood. Much like its sibling, Mario & Sonic, at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (which wasn’t delayed as no one knew about the impending global pandemic at the time), this official Olympic game offers players a variety of mini-games based on the programs that happen in real life.
Being an official product means the game has the logos, spans over 80 countries (a big step up from London 2012) and 18 events. Before entering the competition, you can create an avatar for your athlete. There is a surprisingly robust avatar editor that lets you choose a detailed face and a variety of outfits. This is where Tokyo 2020 starts to deviate a little from its traditional “serious” approach and lean a little into the arcade and silliness of the Mario & Sonic series, as you can eventually unlock and equip all kinds of items, from astronaut costumes to rabbit ears . It can be fun, but depending on how you look at the Olympics, it certainly takes away a bit of authenticity from the game. Characters also have three event-related stats (like speed and strength) that you can improve over time as you compete.
The sporting events take you to a stadium where you miss the presentation. The game takes on a slightly cartoonish visual style, with little detail and not a lot of technical skill. Stadiums, fans, judges, and athletes themselves are not visually impressive, and the texture work is average at best. While it’s not exactly a full-price game, it still costs $ 40, so fans would have been hoping for higher visual fidelity. The tone is also muffled, with the chants and cheers being fairly general. There are occasional cool things like having your athlete start an audience gossip before trying, but these are rare. Your avatar will grunt and say a solemn “Yeah!” but it mostly sounds awkward. The same official theme song is played at every event.
Each of the sports categories usually includes a series of qualifying rounds prior to the main event final. Since these are mini-games that focus on rotational movements and QTEs (Quick Time Events), a controller over a mouse / keyboard is definitely recommended. First the track events. The 100M relay lets you turn on by holding a button, and then when the race starts keep tapping the button to sprint faster and also try to keep it within the optimal range of the speed bar. Then there is a quick QTE to hand over the baton to another racer, and so on. 110M hurdles follows a similar mechanic in that you run and then press a button in time for each jump. Finally, a simple 100 meter sprint is also possible where all your focus is on getting off to a good start and maintaining your speed.
With long jump, you accelerate by spamming the button and have to jump at the right moment as well as adjust the angle of your jump. There’s also the hammer throw, where you turn the sticks and then release the buttons at the right moment. All of the track events are simple and not dissimilar to what you would find in the Mario Olympic spin-off; This mechanic doesn’t have much joy or depth.
It gets a little more with the water events. On the 200M Medley, you can rotate the thumb sticks to swim in the butterfly swim, take turns tapping them down to swim in the backstroke, and so on. They also perform a timed button press on the spins of the pool. 100M Freestyle is easier, but slightly different, as you have to press the sticks in time with a QTE prompt and again have to do timed button presses in the turns. Water events are more engaging than tracking, but they’re still fairly easy and not particularly fun.
Elsewhere there is BMX, where you pedal along a course, steer a bit and jump on the ramps or drag on rails at the push of a button. In sport climbing, you charge yourself by holding down a button, as in sprinting, and then following the direction indicators to climb. In beach volleyball duos, you position yourself where the ball will land and dig / return. You also have the option to sharpen it. In table tennis (solo or duo) you move in the small area and hit the ball when it arrives; there are Quicktime mechanics for serving and special effects for good hits. This activity looks and plays pretty clumsy with its small interactive area and stiff animations. There is regular tennis too, and it works a bit better, with similar throw / serve QTEs and special strokes.
When you box, you usually only beat up your opponent to drain his energy and to protect yourself from incoming blows. With good timing, you can counter-attack, but as expected, there isn’t much depth here. Judo has a somewhat unique mechanic where you try to grab the opponent and then spam a button to overcome them by getting the balance gauge to get in their way. Both sports are tough at the push of a button with not much else.
Then there are the more expansive team sports. In football, you play a simplified version of the sport with passing, shooting and tackling. The same goes for basketball, with flat mechanics and arcade things like slam dunks. In Rugby Sevens, you play on the field again with the option to pass, try diving, and so on. Lastly, baseball offers a degree of complexity in that you can choose what type of playing fields to throw, the striking zone, and decent swing mechanics. These team sport games offer a little more engagement and entertainment than the simple mini-games of the individual events.
Probably one of the main attractions of such a sports game would be competition against others, and in fact Tokyo 2020 supports 2-8 multiplayer. When you go online, you can jump into a ranked mode where preset events change over time and you can see how good your skills are at the push of a button. Casual games like this rarely find an audience on PC, and that’s the case here since most events are pretty empty. Local multiplayer is also supported in a similar manner, but this is not really the preferred method of interacting on this platform. At least everything works with relatively little delay and exploits.
Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 – The Official Video Game is an unusual release that feels just as tired and unsafe as the reality that is (hopefully) (possibly) next month. There are a number of mini-games here, but most of them aren’t particularly exciting or entertaining. The realistic visual style is watered down by a new art direction and silly outfits. If you want to have a crazy time playing some simple Olympic mini-games, you can take the Mario & Sonic game instead. But since the game is more expensive, you might forego it altogether and instead look at the real competition.