Olympic Games Tokyo 2020: The Official Video Game Review
Licensed button mashing
In the 90s and 2000s, licensed games were common. From movies and TV shows, to board games and books, there was no shortage of adaptations, with varying quality and faithfulness to the source material. Even sports games got in on the act, from official games for the UEFA Euro and FIFA World Cup, to Monster Energy Supercross. The biggest athletic sporting event in the world – the Olympic Games – also got its own Official Video Game starting in the 80s. These games featured realistic but accessible representations of the competition. The license got switched around between different publishers a few times, until it landed at its current home with SEGA, ever since Beijing 2008. After 2008, 2010, and 2012 however, the series seemingly took a break as SEGA instead focused on its partnership with Nintendo to develop the fantasy arcade spinoff series "Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games". With Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 - The Official Video Game, SEGA returns with a more "formal" take on the event, but its lackluster gameplay and weak presentation can't reach a podium finish.
As the world is faced with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the real 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games were forced to be delayed by a year, and so was the release of the game outside of Japan. Now that the real event is planned for next month, players can get into the spirit. Much like its sibling release Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 (which wasn't delayed as nobody had known about the incoming global pandemic at that time), this Official Olympic Game offers players a variety of minigames to tackle, based on the programs that will be happening in real life.
Being an official product means the game features the logos, includes over 80 countries (a big step up from London 2012), and 18 events. Before jumping into the competition, you get to create an avatar for your athlete. There's a surprisingly robust avatar editor, letting you pick a detailed face and a variety of outfits. Here, Tokyo 2020 begins to diverge a bit from its traditional "serious" approach and lean a bit into the arcade and silliness found in the Mario & Sonic series, as you can eventually unlock and equip all sorts of items, from astronaut costumes to rabbit ears. It can be fun, but depending on how you view the Olympics, it certainly takes a bit of the authenticity out of the game. Characters also have three event-relevant stats (such as speed and strength), which you can improve over time as you compete.
The sporting events take you inside a stadium, where you will find the presentation to be lacking. The game adopts a slightly cartoonish visual style, with little detail and not much technical prowess. Stadiums, fans, judges, and athletes themselves are not visually impressive, and texture work is average at best. While it's not exactly a full priced game, it still costs $40, so fans would have hoped for higher visual fidelity. The audio is equally subdued, with the chants and cheering being fairly generic. There are occasional cool things, like your athlete starting a crowd clap before the attempt, but these are rare. Your avatar will grunt and exhale a celebratory "Yeah!" but it mostly sounds awkward. The same official theme song plays at every event.
Each of the sporting categories usually includes a series of qualifying rounds, before the main event finals. As these are minigames that focus on rotational movement and QTEs (quick time events), a controller is definitely recommended over a mouse/keyboard. First up, the track events. The 100M relay has you power up by holding a button, and then as the race begins you keep tapping the button to sprint faster, and also trying to keep it in the optimal range on the speed bar. There's then a quick QTE to pass the baton to another racer, and so on. 110M Hurdles follows similar mechanics, as you run and then perform a button press in time at each jump. Lastly, a simple 100M sprint is also possible where you just focus on having a good start and keeping your speed up.
With Long Jump, you speed up 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 spin the sticks and then let go of the buttons at the right moment. All of the track events are simple and not unlike what you'd find in the Mario Olympic spinoff; there's not much joy or depth to these mechanics.
Things get slightly more involved in the water events. The 200M Medley has you spinning the thumbsticks to swim in butterfly, alternate tapping them down to swim in backstroke, and so on. You also perform a timed button press at the turns of the pool. 100M Freestyle is simpler, but slightly different, as you have to push the sticks in time with a QTE prompt, and again perform timed button presses at the turns. While more involving than track, water events are still rather basic and not particularly fun.
Elsewhere, there's BMX, where you pedal along a course, steer a bit and press a button to jump at the ramps or grind on rails. In Sport Climbing, you charge up by holding a button like in sprint, and then follow directional indicators to climb. In Beach Volleyball duos, you position yourself at the spot where the ball will land, and dig/return. You also have the option to spike it. With Table Tennis (solo or duos), you move around the small area and hit the ball as it arrives; there are quicktime mechanics for the serve, and special effects for good hits. This activity looks and plays rather clumsily, with its small interactive area and stiff animations. There's regular Tennis also, and this works out a bit better, with similar toss/serve QTEs and special shots.
In Boxing, you mostly just pummel your opponent to drain their energy, and guard against incoming blows. With good timing, you can perform counters, but there's not much depth here, as expected. Judo features a somewhat unique mechanic where you try to grab hold of the opponent, then spam a button to overcome them by getting the balance meter to tip your way. Both these sports are heavy on button mashing with not much else.
Then there are the more expansive team sports. In Football (soccer), you play a simplistic version of the sport with passing, shooting, and tackling. The same goes for Basketball, with shallow mechanics and arcade things like slam dunks. In Rugby Sevens, you again play on the field with the option to pass, go for a diving try, and so on. Last but perhaps not least, Baseball offers some complexity as you can choose what kind of pitches to throw, the strike zone, and decent swing mechanics. These team sports games offer a bit more engagement and entertainment than the simple minigames of the individual events.
One of the presumably main draws of a sports game such as this would be competing against others, and indeed Tokyo 2020 supports 2-8 multiplayer. If you head online, you can jump into a Ranked mode where pre-set events rotate on a timed basis, and you can see how good your button mashing skills are. Casual games such as this rarely find an audience on PC, and that is the case here, with most events being fairly empty. Similarly, local multiplayer is also supported, but it's not really the preferred method of interacting on this platform. At least it all works, with relatively low amount of lag and exploits.
Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 - The Official Video Game is an off-beat release that feels just as tired and unsure of itself as the real thing, (hopefully)(possibly) happening next month. There are a bunch of minigames here, but most of them aren't particularly involving or fun. The realistic visual style is diluted by a new art direction and silly outfits. If you're wanting to have a whacky fun time with some simple Olympic minigames, you might as well pick up the Mario & Sonic game instead. But given that game is more expensive, perhaps just forgo it altogether and watch the real competition instead.