The Google Doodle for the Tokyo Olympics’ start offers retro fun, insight into Japanese culture, and a skateboarding tanuki.

It was a given that Google was going to celebrate the start of the Tokyo Olympics with a Google Doodle, and sure enough, if you go the search engine’s top page right now you’ll see a picture of a cat dressed in a ninja outfit standing on top of a torii gate.

But two things are especially worth noting here: the “play” button, indicating this Google Doodle has an animated portion, and the pixel-art aesthetic reminiscent of 2-D video games. Click on the button, and you’re rewarded with an adorable animation sequence where we meet Lucky the ninja cat.

Lucky’s steely gaze quickly dissolves into a wide smile of wonder as he arrives on Champion Island, a version of Japan that mixes traditional and modern architecture and has a population made up of people, anthropomorphized animals, and creatures from Japanese mythos.

But Lucky isn’t here just to take in the sights. He’s here to compete in the Champion Island Games, a gathering of the world’s best athletes that occurs every four years! As the animated sequence comes to a close, the reason for the Doodle’s pixel art becomes clear, as the visual style changes and you’re dropped into an RPG-style overworld!

Using the arrow keys and space bar, or on-screen icons if you’re playing on a smartphone, you can walk Lucky around the island and talk to its inhabitants. At various locations you’ll find sporting events, all of which are also part of the real-world Tokyo Olympics, and hitting the action button starts mini games for climbing, table tennis, rugby, marathon running, skateboarding, synchronized swimming, and archery, all with their own backstory and opening animation.

You also get to join one of four teams, each represented by a color and a creature, with your minigame results added to the team’s tally on a leaderboard based on players’ performance worldwide.

▼ The team captains are a crow, a fox, a kappa, and a bull.

What makes the whole thing especially cool is how little bits of Japanese culture and mythology are sprinkled throughout the whole thing. For example, the rugby champions are a team of oni, Japanese ogres. For the match against them, you have to go to Onigashima, the “Ogre Island” mentioned in Japanese legends, and form a team with Momotaro, the Peach Boy of Japanese folklore who fought against the oni with his dog, monkey, and bird companions.

Champion Island isn’t 100-perent old school, though. Wandering over to the area where you challenge the skateboarding tanuki champion, things get more modern. There’s even a Japanese-style convenience store, complete with a steamed bun case and oden pot on the counter, representing the beloved snacks.

Aside from entering the sporting events, you can enter certain buildings and talk with the townspeople, some of whom need your help solving a problem, and others who’re just there to provide local color.

It’s really impressive how committed the designers were to both making an enjoyable and visually appealing game and also to opening a window into Japanese culture. Most of those cultural references are handled in a casual, breezy way, in order to pique your curiosity without bogging down the gameplay. Because of that, you won’t get a lengthy description of why the skateboarding tanuki sometimes looks like a tea kettle, or exactly what kind of dessert dango are, but if you’re playing a game by Google, odds are you know how to run an Internet search for more info on whatever you’d like to know more about (and SoraNews24 has a search function too, by the way).

Source, images: Google
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where the combination of animated intro and detailed pixel art is making him nostalgic for the PS1 era.