Enjoying the Olympic Games that might never happen with Sega

Editor’s note: This article was first published in January 2021, when it wasn’t clear if this game was going to be localised. Now it’s out in the west, we’re republishing it for your convenience — ain’t we nice?

The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has affected everything about our lives, ranging from something as simple as shopping for daily necessities right up to huge events on the world stage — like, say, the Olympic Games.

At the time of writing, the status of the Games of the XXXII Olympiad is mostly unknown. A report from The Times in January of 2021 suggested that Japan’s government was quietly looking for a way out of hosting the Olympics in such chaotic times, but this was followed up in short order by a statement from the International Olympic Committee that the report was “categorically untrue”.

Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 - The Official Video Game

Alongside all this, there have been suggestions from World Athletics president Lord Coe that the Games may need to be held behind closed doors, while there are concerns that the worldwide rollout of the various coronavirus vaccines may create a certain amount of unfair inequality among the athletes. What a big ol’ mess, eh?

Bollocks to all that, though, because Sega has provided us with a highly enjoyable way to enjoy the Olympics from the comfort of our own home. And no need to go through with all that pesky training, either!

Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 - The Official Video Game

Sega’s catchily titled Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 – The Official Video Game was quietly and rather optimistically released in July of 2019 in Asia, and is available for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. An international worldwide release, including Xbox One and Windows PC ports, was originally planned for 2020, but for all the reasons you already know, has only happened recently, in June of 2021.

The Asian PS4 and Nintendo Switch versions that made it to market are both region-free and, like an increasing number of titles from the region, feature English language support. So if the Olympic news (or confused lack thereof) has made you hungry for some virtual sports, you can pick up a copy right now either locally or from a retailer such as Play-Asia and enjoy the action — there are even physical releases for those who like to collect their games. And, being a unique historical artifact — an official video game adaptation of a real-world event that could potentially never happen — it’s a fun thing to have on your shelf.

Rather than adopting the stereotypical button-mashing gameplay for all its events, Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 – The Official Video Game hews closer to the classic “Games” titles from Epyx, if any of you are old enough to remember those classics. In other words, the game provides the opportunity to compete in a wide variety of different events, each with their own control scheme to learn and master, rather than simply relying on repetitive gameplay. Even events that may seem similar have their own unique twists.

Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 - The Official Video Game

There are 18 events in total, including the 100 metre dash, 110 metre hurdles, 4×100 metre relay, long jump, hammer throw, 100 metre freestyle swimming, 200 metre individual medley swimming, baseball, basketball, beach volleyball, boxing, BMX, football (as in soccer, not that American nonsense), judo, rugby sevens, sport climbing, table tennis and tennis.

No two of these events play in quite the same way. For example, while the 100 metre dash is, as you might expect, mostly about hammering a button as fast as possible, the 110 metre hurdles is more about carefully timing a flick of the left analogue stick to hop over the obstacles. The relay race, meanwhile, is about rhythmic rather than rapid tapping; it’s all about getting your athletes “in sync” with one another rather than going all-out.

The two swimming events are another good example of the variation in gameplay, too. The 100 metre freestyle swimming is about following the rhythm indicated by on-screen markers with the two analogue sticks, while the 200 metre medley is about performing various gestures with the two sticks to imitate the various strokes, while simultaneously keeping an eye on your overall stamina meter.

Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 - The Official Video Game

The team sports games are a lot more substantial than you might typically expect to find in a multi-sport Olympics game; they last quite a bit longer and have a lot more in the way of potential depth. Pleasingly, there’s always the option to play them in a simplistic one-button arcade style and still have a good time; players who want a little more from the experience can explore the advanced control scheme if they so desire, but it’s not a requirement to enjoy the game.

In fact, it’s fair to say that the whole of Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 – The Official Video Game feels rather arcadey — or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that in terms of how it plays, it feels like something you might play on a Sega Mega Drive or Super NES, albeit with more up to date presentation. And this isn’t a criticism; with many of gaming’s most long-running sports game franchises becoming increasingly complex (and microtransaction-laden) with each new installment, it’s refreshing to play something so accessible yet which still manages to offer so much variety.

And it never forgets to be a fun video game, either. Many events provide the opportunity for some sort of “super move”, complete with pyrotechnics and over-the-top cinematic sequences. The character creator allows you a huge degree of flexibility in not only creating your main avatar, but the entirety of your national team. And a ton of unlockable costumes allow you to dress up in maid outfits, school uniforms, pirate gear and plenty more besides — rather delightfully, you can even pick a different outfit to wear in each event if you so desire.

Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 - The Official Video Game

Structurally, the game is a little peculiar compared to some of its spiritual predecessors. Besides simply practicing individual events, the main game mode — which can be enjoyed either solo or with a second player on the same console — does not offer a straightforward “play the Olympics” mode, tasking you with competing in all the events in order. Instead, you have two main options: you can focus on a specific event and compete in a multi-stage mini-tournament, or you can compete in a medley of events in order to score medals and points.

In multiplayer, meanwhile, the Switch version offers a local play option with one player per Switch, and both versions provide the ability to create and join online lobbies for up to four people. Two people on a single console can join one lobby, which is nice.

There’s also a ranked mode with a rotating schedule of events that change every few hours, intended to provide a simulation of competing in a “real” Olympics, but it remains to be seen how the online community will take to the game. This title first came out in Asia in 2019, remember, though the new western release may give it a new lease of life. Otherwise, make some plans with friends and hook up at a pre-arranged time — there’s plenty of fun to be had here.

Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 - The Official Video Game

With that caveat in mind, Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 – The Official Video Game is a fun way to while away a few hours. Its straightforward pick-up-and-play nature makes it ideal for when you just fancy a bit of arcade-style fun — or a bit of friendly competition. Its distinctive Sega polish means that it looks, sounds and plays great, too — so while we continue to wait and see whether or not the Games of the XXXII Olympiad are actually ever going to happen or not, we can, at least, all enjoy the experience from the comfort of our respective sofas at home.

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Pete Davison
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