Today isn’t the first time a Google Doodle has been a game, but this is surely the most intricate so far. This Friday morning, if you open a new Chrome page or begin a search, you can click on a pixel-art icon that starts an Olympic-themed JRPG, complete with anime sequences by Studio 4°C, played right in your browser.
With the Olympic opening ceremony taking place in Tokyo today, the year-delayed and still very controversial sporting event takes place under a cloud of Covid-19. Fortunately no such pandemic conditions exist in the world Google has created to mark the event, as the game is set on an idyllic island, and is presented in classic JRPG pixel style.
You play as a calico cat, who arrives on the island to take part in a miniature Olympic Games, with the copyright uninfringing name “Doodle Champion Island Games.” And this is a proper game, with not only seven different keyboard-controlled sporting events (with more to come soon, apparently), but characters to talk to, quests to complete, an island to explore, and team-based leaderboards to join.
Google’s own pun-chewing description of the game is filled with hints of what’s hidden within:
“Welcome to the Doodle Champion Island Games! Over the coming weeks, join calico (c)athlete Lucky as she explores Doodle Champion Island: a world filled with seven sport mini-games, legendary opponents, dozens of daring side quests, and a few new (and old ;)) friends. Her ultimate goal? Defeat each sport Champion to collect all seven sacred scrolls—and complete extra hidden challenges across Champion Island in the purrr-ocess.”
There’s even a super-short making-of documentary, in which Google makes clear this is the largest interactive doodle they’ve made so far:
While the project was led from Google US, the goal was to create something which explored and celebrated Japanese myths and culture, so all the game’s art was created by Japanese artists and studios. Watching the video above, you can see that a great deal of thought has gone into this. Each of the seven sports are associated with folk tales that the artists felt were connected—for instance archery depicts Nasu no Yoichi, a 12th century samurai famed for his legendary aim with a bow.
It’s extremely playable, and there’s a whole bunch to do. Alongside archery there’s also rugby, table tennis, and skateboarding. The game remembers your progress when you close the tab, so you can pick it up and play whenever you get a moment. I’m somewhat surprised to see some typos in the English language version, but any complaints are quickly eclipsed by the absolutely beautiful anime cutscenes created by Studio 4°C.
The doodle will apparently be playable throughout the Olympics, so don’t worry that this will be replaced tomorrow by a picture commemorating the birth of a 17th century poet you feel guilty for never having heard of. The Games are over by the 8th August, so it seems you should have until then to complete the island.