Not quite gold
The history of the Olympic Games is an interesting and deep rabbit hole to go down. From political rivalries to all the times the torch went out, everyone just pretended otherwise while someone probably grabbed a lighter off camera. However, in 2020, the Olympics were canceled for pretty obvious reasons (which isn’t a first; it’s been sidelined over six times now throughout history).
But now, with Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 – The Official Video Game, we have the “what if” factor. What if an athlete could achieve peak physical performance while maintaining an overweight goth aesthetic? What if that same athlete could wear a speedo with a top hat and nothing else while playing football? What if someone dressed as Sonic the Hedgehog took the gold in the 100-meter dash?
Ask no more.
Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 – The Official Video Game (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed on Series X], Nintendo Switch)
Released: June 22, 2021 (originally released in Japan on July 24, 2019)
From the moment I began creating my custom athlete in the character creator and seeing the possibilities for some truly wacky designs, I knew there was some potential with Tokyo 2020. I chose a hairstyle that would give me the competitive edge by having it completely cover my eyes, along with a single teardrop facepaint for added cosmetic style. Then, I finalized everything with a body type that reflected my own after a year of quarantine and food delivery apps.
The ultimate athlete was being molded before my very eyes. Still, I needed to finalize one more thing: my dominant hand and foot. It’s here where my heart sank. As I began going through the list (primarily keeping everything to the right), there was one particular stance I was searching for – goofy. Despite relying on my right hand/foot with most things, I do have some exceptions. For example, I reel in my fishing rod with my left hand, and I ride a skateboard goofy. So, when I noticed the distinct lack of the word “goofy” in the dominate hand/foot menu, I chalked it up to the Olympics not wanting Disney getting pissed or the word being too crass or something.
For those unaware, this year’s Tokyo Games will be the first Olympic Games featuring skateboarding (unless it’s canceled again). Sadly, the official “2020” video game can’t say the same. Skateboarding is absent (admittedly, along with plenty of other sports). So why didn’t it make the cut? Who knows. I think it would have been a perfect fit with a skateboarding event, given the hilarious outfits and character designs. Maybe once the Paris 2024 Olympic Games come around, things will be different. Until then, what is here is varied in terms of the sports included, with 18 in total. But, the same can’t be said for game modes and each sport’s respective gameplay mechanics.
I think how much enjoyment you’ll get out of Tokyo 2020 is going to boil down to two things: Whether or not you have someone locally or online to play with and how much button-mashing you can endure because that sums up the gameplay within a good number of the sports included in Tokyo 2020.
From the 100 meter dash, to even BMX, mashing the A or X button as fast as possible and precision timing is the key to success (and gold medals). BMX, in particular, was extra disappointing as I was hoping it’d be the next best thing to a lack of skateboarding (yes, I’m not going to stop beating that drum). Sadly, it’s just a simple racecourse that has you mashing a button as fast as possible between turns and pressing another one when you go over red arrows to perform tricks. That’s pretty much all there is to it.
However, basic controls doesn’t necessarily mean everything here is terrible. It’s obvious Sega wanted this to be a pick-up-and-play experience, and there are non-button-mashing sports included that made for a great time, even when played solo.
Baseball, in particular, I spent hours working my way towards the gold medal. I was even surprised by how competent the CPU opponents were. The later rounds involving the gold medal will have the CPU pitcher throw plenty of variety in their pitches, and charging up with the left bumper to land a perfect hit for a home run with load bases is (as always) incredibly satisfying to pull off. Sure, it’s no MLB: The Show, but it was undoubtedly a highlight for me.
Combine that with the sheer absurdity of some of the costumes you can unlock with points you earn from playing different sports, and it makes for some hilarious instant replays. I’d say my favorite thing about Tokyo 2020 is straight-up the replay cameras while wearing ridiculous outfits. Performing a special shot or move in any given sporting event will usually trigger the replay camera, and it never got old for me. Best yet, once the game is over, those replays will repeatedly play as a highlight reel that you can watch. I spent probably a solid minute cackling to myself re-watching the equivalent of a touchdown in rugby I pulled off as a special move while wearing nothing but a speedo and cowboy hat.
What’s weird, though, is the difficulty curve in these events. Each sport within the “Olympic Games” mode is broken up into three rounds. In the first round across most sports, the AI opponents are downright mindless and offer a minimal challenge. The following round, they step it up a bit. By the third round (which decides your medal placement), the AI is ruthless. It was tricky at times in sports like baseball and table tennis, with more to them than simple button mashing, but still nothing I felt like I couldn’t overcome with some practice. Anything involving button mashing, though, was a different story.
For example, in the hurdles competition, by the time I reached the final round, I was holding my controller with the infamous claw hand to flick the analog sticks for jumping while mashing the A button as fast as possible with my index finger on the other hand to gain more speed. Even with that technique, I must have spent a solid half-hour retrying that event repeatedly before achieving the gold medal. It was downright brutal.
Odder yet, you unlock “tips” each time you play any specific sport (yes, you’re reading that correctly). So once you’ve completed a round, you can back out to the main menu and head over to “my data” and browse specific tips for said sport.
Key tips such as holding down the left trigger before the start of a 100-meter dash to gain a small speed boost, or pressing the left bumper before the finish line to lean slightly to edge out a possible win — it’s these small details that were crucial to earning gold medals, so why you need to unlock some of this information is beyond me.
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games: The Official Video Game doesn’t have a lot going on. Progression boils down to earning points to unlocking costumes, different titles, earning medals, and not much else. That progression can be kind of a slog, though, when a lot of the gameplay mechanics are too shallow to be fun for more than a few minutes (especially when playing alone). It’s at its absolute best when it’s over-the-top and absurd while competing in sports that are more than just button mashing.
If you’ve got a friend or two — or the itch to take this thing online — you’re still bound to have fun, but I doubt it’ll keep most folks interested for very long.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]