Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 – The Official Video Game Review: Fight For The Podium
The 2020 Olympics are destined to go down as the strangest in modern times. They’re not even happening in 2020. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic delaying things a year, we’re for some reason still calling this Tokyo 2020. It’s almost fitting then that Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 – The Official Video Game has such a strange release. It was originally released in Japan in 2019, a year ahead of the planned Olympics. A US release comes two years later due to the COVID delayed games, but it mostly manages to hold up despite the large gap. Sega crafted 18 events for you to play, and while they’re not all winners, there’s definitely fun to be had.
A Ton Of Options
You start by creating your own custom character. I expected a simple Mii-like set of options here, but things go surprisingly in-depth. Tokyo 2020 could use a few more body types, perhaps, but there’s an almost shocking number of faces, hairstyles, and noses. The developers do a great job of providing representation of many different cultures here, so most players will be able to find a way to represent themselves in the game’s slightly exaggerated vibe.
The further you dig into these options, the more absurd they get. A huge variety of costumes are available, and many make sense for the Olympics. Things like a boxing outfit, a variety of swimsuits, or a Judo gi. Others are a little less obvious. Want to dress up as a pirate, or an astronaut, while running hurdles? Go right ahead. Sega even added a Sonic outfit to celebrate Sonic’s 30th Anniversary. This is no standard outfit either. It doesn’t make you look like Sonic. It makes you look like someone wearing a Sonic suit. It’s weird, but fits right in with the game’s over-the-top feel.
Some Events Are Gold Medal-Worthy
Once you have a character, there are a wide variety of ways to dig into the game’s eighteen events. You can play them individually, jump into practice mode, or get online to play with others. A variety of playlists put you through similar events in a sort of improvised marathon.
These events are not created equally. Some are great. For the most part, I was very much a fan of the track and field events, including a 100-meter race, a 100-meter hurdles event, a long jump, and especially the hammer throw. I loved the feel of twirling the hammer and nailing my release. Most events are simple to pick up and get right into but with a surprising amount of depth if you want it. You don’t have to master options like leaning forward at the end of a sprint to have fun. Tokyo 2020 doesn’t even present some of these options during the initial tutorial. If you want to go for the gold, though, they’ll be needed.
Track and field aren’t the only fun events. The baseball here isn’t anything revolutionary, but it’s simple, it plays well, and it’s a good time. It actually reminds me more than a little of the excellent Super Mega Baseball series. Both tennis and table tennis are solid performers, with table tennis making excellent use of the controller’s joysticks. Volleyball is fine, though not on the level of the best dedicated volleyball games. I was also impressed by the game’s Judo which has an excellent give and take system.
Perhaps my biggest surprise came in the excellent version of Rugby Sevens. It’s fast-paced with just enough strategy to feel interesting but while still managing to be the sort of arcade-style gameplay anyone can jump into. I probably spent more time with it than the rest of the events combined.
Others Struggle To Finish
Some events just don’t work, however. Sport climbing, a new event to Tokyo 2020, never felt natural. The swimming mechanics feel awkward and don’t capture any of the sport’s feel. The basketball game is too simplistic, making defense feel borderline impossible. BMX Racing is heavy and slow. I’m also unsure what anyone was thinking when making the boxing game where your only movement control is a sidestep because your punches are mapped to the control sticks. Mashing buttons becomes basically the only strategy.
It also feels like an opportunity was missed to include other events. Why do standard basketball when this year will be the Olympic debut of the new 3×3 basketball event? How do you create a Summer Olympics game without any sort of gymnastics? Instead of two swimming events, why not include diving? It might at first seem like doing two swimming modes would be easier, but the two play almost entirely differently, which feels like it should make that less of a factor.
Presentation is also a mixed bag. The general look and feel of everything is great, with catchy tunes and excellent style. I love how events load up with information about the history of the Olympics and the venues being used in Tokyo. It really helps things feel lived in.
Less impressive, however, are the choices that impact play. The start of each event has a long lead-up. Perhaps it’s hidden loading, but these aren’t complex events, so if so, the game takes an awfully long time to load. Mostly it looks like they’re building suspense for each event, but when some of these games are over in 30 seconds, you spend a lot of time waiting for each chunk of play. There’s also no option at the end of an event to play it again. You can restart mid-event in the pause menu, but once it ends, you have to exit out to the event choices and select it again. That’s just more loading for these short bites.
There’s also so little about the actual competition that feels like the Olympics. You aren’t competing against the world’s best athletes. Only against computer-generated opponents. The practice mode offers you chances to compete against real Olympic athletes, but why can’t they enter the other modes? I enjoyed these options, but I wanted much more of them.
Play With Your Friends, At Least In Person
The simple, arcade-style gameplay here is perfect for a multiplayer game. Players will be able to jump right in and feel confident. While local multiplayer works well, getting online is another matter. There aren’t lag issues or anything like that. Performance was consistently fine. It just seemed nearly impossible in my testing to actually get into a match. It took over ten minutes to get just three of the four players into an unranked lobby.
Ranked modes feel like they should do better due to Sega’s wise choice to rotate ranked events on a schedule that you can view ahead of time. Sure, it’s a bummer if the event you want to compete in isn’t going to be available for hours or you aren’t free when it will run. It should ideally keep the events that are available full, however. Sadly, this didn’t work in practice. Even with only three events available, I regularly had the game time out multiple times before finally finding me an opponent. I just want to play Rugby Sevens against a real person! This many issues finding a match in the early days of release don’t spell good news for the game’s long-term viability online. Maybe the start of the actual Olympics next month provides a boost, but it’s hard to feel confident in it.
All of this adds up to a game that is a little strange, like everything involving the 2020 Olympics. If you have friends to play with regularly, I think this Tokyo 2020 is a great option for you, despite inconsistent event quality. There are enough good ones to have a great time, and you can make your own playlists to avoid the bad.
For others, though, this is a more difficult recommendation. The single-player modes can be plenty fun, but there’s a lot of sitting around to get to those bursts of enjoyment, and its simplistic nature likely won’t hold your attention for long. I wish I could be confident the online modes will provide a way to keep the fun going, but early signs aren’t favorable. This is the sort of game I once called a great rental. Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 may not win the gold, but at the right price, it could squeak out a bronze.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PS4 (reviewed), Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC, Stadia; Publisher: Sega; Developer: Sega; Players: 2 (8 online); Released: June 22nd, 2021; ESRB: E10+ for Everyone 10+; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 – The Official Video Game provided by the publisher.