A solid minigame collection that's found a great home on mobile, with a surprisingly friendly monetisation system
The official Olympic Games in Tokyo may be delayed until 2021, but that hasn’t stopped Eggman from taking over the city. Fortunately, Sonic is always ready to save the day, using his unique ability to go really, really fast to thwart any measures the moustachioed-menace puts in place.
Both sides have brought their friends along for the ride too, with Knuckles, Tails, Shadow, and more taking Tokyo by storm. But how do you fight off the machinations of Eggman? By competing in a bunch of Olympic Games, apparently. We’re not sure we get behind the logic, but that’s the plot of the latest in a long-line of Sonic at the Olympic Games, errr, games that just launched on mobile.
Traditionally, this series featured Nintendo’s Mario and his friends going head-to-head with team Sonic in a variety of sports. How Mario is ever supposed to beat Sonic in a 100m sprint is besides the point. The fact is the series hasn’t exactly taken the world by storm, with its average Metacritic scores sitting between 60 and the mid-70s.
However, after playing a ton of Sonic at the Olympic Games on mobile, we’d argue that the issue was never really with the structure of the series, but with the platform. Mobile is just so well-suited to a minigame collection like this, where touch allows for a wide variety of different gameplay mechanics.
Also, your phone is about as social as a gaming device can get, which lends itself really well to leaderboards. There’s a huge global leaderboard that ranks everyone’s efforts for each individual challenge, and it’s one of the best iterations we’ve encountered yet. We were genuinely encouraged many times to try and improve our score, where usually we just see a leaderboard as an insurmountable challenge.
More importantly though, the collection of games on offer are, overall, a lot of fun. There’s nothing particularly complex about any of them, but that’s kind of the point. The controls are also pretty intuitive. Tap and hold on the screen then release at the perfect moment to get a head start in the 100m sprint, tap at the right moment to leap over the obstacles in hurdles, and leap between different points on a climbing wall by sliding your thumb around to choose direction.
It’s all very straightforward, but that works in its favour. It wouldn’t be a lot of fun if there was a steep learning curve for each individual minigame, as part of the appeal is the speed with which you move from one to the next. Besides, the challenge doesn’t really come from mastering the controls, it comes from performing well, like in real sports. That involves going faster during races (get a perfect start, tap frantically to increase your speed), saving precious time by jumping at the appropriate moment in hurdles, and taking out your opponent quickly and efficiently in karate.
There are a bunch of minigames that provide short bursts of traditional Sonic gameplay too, like bouncing between points to collect coins. These also provide a moment to introduce more arcade-y mechanics, like tagging a bunch of clay pigeons and destroying them in one shot. It helps break up the inherent seriousness of a lot of Olympic sports, and reminds you that you’re playing a fun game on your phone that features a bright blue hedgehog.
The story doesn’t play a huge part, but the scripted moments are all well-written, and often humorous. You literally just move throughout Tokyo, competing in events at different locations. Occasionally, you’ll encounter a friend or enemy, have a bit of back-and-forth, and compete in the event like it didn’t really happen. You can comfortably ignore all of that stuff, basically.
In terms of monetisation, Sonic at the Olympic Games basically serves you a free starter and then asks you to pay for the main course. There are seven areas of Tokyo to travel through in total, which each feature up to 30 challenges to defeat. You get the first area for free, but have to pay for all subsequent areas individually, or as a single microtransaction. Right now the latter is on offer for 50% off at $4.99 (£4.99) but will increase to $9.99 (£9.99) shortly after launch.
There are additional microtransactions, though nothing particularly game-breaking. If you plan on topping the leaderboards regularly, you’ll want to purchase the booster packs, which increase the amount of TP and spirit you can earn. There are five boosters in total, which cost between $0.99 (£0.99) and $2.99 (£2.99). Getting all of the boosters will set you back around $8.95 (£8.95).
Finally, you can purchase additional tracks via a multitude of packs (there are six in total, each costing $1.99/£1.99 each) or as a single collection, which costs $7.99 (£7.99). You also get exclusive titles and badges as part of this collection.
Overall, we have no issues with this method of monetisation, and find it a lot more friendly than many free-to-play games. There’s a maximum limit on how much you can spend that sits at $26.93/£26.93, which is a lot cheaper than your average AAA console release at launch. There’s also a lot of content on offer, with seven areas worth of stages, additional daily challenges, and leaderboards to top.
There are also a bunch of different characters to collect, and you can upgrade them individually with a bunch of different skills. This makes each individual character better at different games, so you can choose the right one for the task ahead. Unlocking skills does require a certain amount of grinding, but it’s only really necessary if you want to challenge at the very top of the leaderboards. Sonic unlocks many skills for free, and is more than sufficient to get you through the game.
We’re pretty impressed by Sonic at the Olympic Games, overall. It’s a welcome sight, not only because the real Olympics is postponed until next year, but also because it’s just good, old-fashioned fun. Each minigame features intuitive controls and different mechanics, there’s a ton of content on offer, and the monetisation is surprisingly inoffensive for a modern free-to-play game.