It’s nice to know the spirit of SEGA still burns brightly. The legendary Japanese company may have made a conscious transition to PC-based strategy titles in recent years, but Olympic Games Tokyo 2020: The Official Video Game sees the organisation make a temporary return back to its Model 3 best. This is an arcade-inspired outing that channels the blue skies and cock rock of yesteryear – and it represents a real breath of fresh air in the sports genre.
There are no sticker packs in sight here: just a vast selection of minigames for you to enjoy across a variety of modes. You’ll start out by creating a star athlete, and from there you’ll be able to surround him or her with teammates and partners, all of whom will support you on your pursuit for gold medal glory. The avatar designer is relatively deep, but the entire release subscribes to a consistent art style which is cartoony in a compelling way.
Unlike other Olympics games, the roster of activities is not overwhelmed by athletics events. Yes, you’ll find the traditional button mashing in the 100 metre and relay, but you’ll also be able to enjoy fully-fledged tennis, football, and boxing events. It’s these latter disciplines that really set the release apart from predecessors, and while some sports are naturally more entertaining than others, there’s a consistency to the package that’s easy to appreciate.
For example, there are layers to each of the events which add an element of skill. In the 200 metre individual freestyle, for example, you’ll be tasked with managing a stamina bar, forcing you to think about your overall pace while holding off competitors. Meanwhile, in the long jump, you’ll be able to work the crowd on your final leap in order to add a little distance to your pursuit of a podium position. Each activity is easy to pick up, but there’s always more to it.
It’s this depth that makes competitive play that bit more enticing, and we’ve enjoyed some tense rounds of basketball as we’ve jostled with competitors overseas. There’s a timetable-esque structure to the ranked online multiplayer modes, which cycles through different events and keeps the spirit of the Olympics alive. Of course, if that’s not for you then you can simply create Quick Matches for up to four players, and come up with your own medleys.
While there are none of the microtransactions that you tend to find in other sports titles, the release does appear to be channelling service game trends in the right way. Rugby sevens was recently added to coincide with the Rugby World Cup, while the likes of sports climbing and judo are still to come; these will presumably all be included day one when the title deploys in Western territories, but the package feels polished despite its early Asian launch.
As you compete you’ll earn points which can be spent on costumes and cosmetics for your character, ranging from the relatively normal (like shorts and tees) to the absurd (like an astronaut’s outfit). There’s also a ton of stat tracking buried away in the menus, revealing how your performances compare to the rest of the community. Neat little meta games reveal medal counts for each nation, meaning that each time you finish on the podium you’re actually contributing to your country’s stats.
Another neat feature is that real-world athletes are being added to the practice mode, allowing you to face off against them in their respective sports. While the likes of baseball are obviously not as refined as dedicated franchises like MLB The Show, we have to give credit to the tennis, which far outperforms any of the alternatives you’ll find on the PS4. Boxing is a bit awkward and we’re not particularly fond of BMX – but all the rest range from good to great.
The presentation is similarly solid, with vibrant graphics and ostentatious announcers. This is the kind of game where good performances will see your avatar quite literally explode into a ball of flames, and there are some really neat animations that see you launching the hammer throw or spiking the ball in beach volleyball. Loading screens include useful information about the Olympics themselves, and all of the stadiums have been faithfully recreated based on real-world design blueprints.
In an era where arcade titles are few and far between, Olympic Games Tokyo 2020: The Official Video Game serves as a reminder that SEGA is still the champion of effervescent sports games. A varied selection of events, each with their own addictive gameplay mechanics, makes for an entertaining package with plenty to see and do. Pair this with a vibrant artstyle and some decent online options, and you’ve got the gold standard in athletics right here.