This year’s sakura-shaped Olympic torch has finally completed its long journey from Athens to Tokyo. The cauldron has been lit, and the Games of the XXXII Olympiad have officially begun.
It’s been a rough road to the opening ceremony for the Olympic committee, and also a rough road for the global community now more than a year into the battle against COVID-19. But in celebration of the time-honored, four-year sporting tradition, Google has released a new doodle that lets you navigate your own odyssey across a mythical, Japan-inspired land, joining forces with friends and defeating foes in myriad athletic endeavors for the chance to emerge victorious as the ultimate Sports Champion.
Called “Champion Island,” the doodle follows a calico cat—excuse me, a “cathlete”—named Lucky, a ninja warrior on a quest to collect seven sacred scrolls. Each one is won by besting a “Legendary Champion” in its athletic specialty, which ranges from table tennis to rugby to skateboarding (all Olympic events). Lucky’s world is also populated with side quests, colorful characters, and visually stunning cut-scenes.
Amidst an Olympics mired in loss and controversy, it’s a lovely homage to the spirit of the games and the beauty of the country hosting them. Designed with leading Japanese animation house Studio 4℃, whose producer worked on Hayao Miyazaki film classics such as My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service, the doodle’s artwork is a feast for the eyes in distinctive anime style, and the protagonist Lucky’s story weaves in elements of ancient folklore. Each of the Legendary Champions has origins in Japanese history; for example, the archery competition pits you against the famed samurai Nasu no Yoichi, who wielded a bow and arrow with terrifying precision.
According to Google, the doodle’s blocky, pixel-y main interface also evokes retro, 16-bit graphics reminiscent of ’90s Japanese blockbuster games like “Dragon Quest” and “Final Fantasy.”
But most fittingly, Google’s largest-ever doodle game captures the aura of hope and persistence at the heart of the Olympic ideal. If a plucky cat can conquer an island and its fearsome guardians with a little bit of grit and some fancy keyboard-work, who says we can’t all fight on toward a better future?