Back on what kids today would call the ‘retro’ Nintendo Wii, Wii Sports was included as a pack-in game with the console to showcase the new-fangled motion controller technology to replicate five basic sports. It ended up becoming one of the best selling games of all time, largely due to the fact that everyone who bought a Wii got a free copy, but also because it managed to transcend the traditional barrier of entry that had existed with video games for non-players – learning to use a controller. Removing the abstraction of hitting buttons to execute commands, and instead simply relying on people being able to pick up a controller and swing away (sometimes into their television screens, before the inclusion of a wrist strap) made Wii Sports a staple of parties, kids playtime and work break rooms.
Nintendo Switch Sports comes now over 15 years later, not as a free pack-in game and rather late in the Switch’s life-cycle, but nonetheless carrying the same desire to bring pick-up and play sports to the masses. Nintendo Switch Sports includes six sports this time around – the returning Bowling, Tennis and Chambara (formerly Swordplay in Wii Sports Resort), along with new sports Volleyball, Soccer and Badminton. The physical edition also includes a leg strap accessory bundled in, the same one that was previously available with Ring Fit Adventure, which at the moment only supports use in a Soccer Shootout mode, but will apparently support the full Soccer game with an update at a later date (Golf will also apparently arrive in an update as well, as a new sport included).
As it stands, the selection of sports on offer isn’t huge, but the games themselves are quite well-realised. Bowling feels the same as it did back in Wii Sports, albeit with the Joy Con providing a little more sensitivity with hooking your shots than the original Wii remote did. Tennis feels more or less exactly the same, and is the most immediately playable of the entire bunch, if all you want to do is get a group of people into a game as quickly as possible. Badminton feels like a twist on Tennis, relying on similar mechanics with batting your shuttlecock over a net, but with the floatier physics it allows for much more drawn-out and intense rallies. A drop shot option, activated by a button press, also adds a slight layer of strategy into setting up shots to keep your opponent on their toes. It’s great played locally, and feels like the kind of new twist on Wii Sports Tennis that you’d expect from a full-fledged follow up.
Volleyball is more complex, relying on following up on set ups from either an AI or real partner, making sure your movements aren’t too late or too early, blocking and slamming the ball over the net. Chambara aims to provide a convincing replication of your movements on-screen (although it does need to calibrate fairly regularly), through swinging your sword at an opponent to knock them off a platform. While you have free movement of your sword, attacks are categorised into three types – vertical, horizontal and diagonal – which mean it’s a lot easier to set up a block for one of those given there’s only three to choose from. Finally, Soccer is a simplified version of the sport with an oversized ball and floatier physics, albeit giving control of your movement and kicking over to the player. It feels a bit like Rocket League at times with a stamina bar, as tiny players pursue a giant ball across a large field, spending most of their time getting to the ball rather than kicking it across the field. Soccer Shootout makes use of the leg strap accessory, and is simply a mini-game, showing how it can be used to more accurately aim your shots into the goal. It’s a mild diversion, but holds more potential if and when it’s finally integrated by Nintendo into the main Soccer game.
Playing locally with friends familiar with games, the novelty isn’t quite the same as when Wii Sports launched back in 2006, but they should be able to get a handle on each of the games quickly. With less experienced players, some of the sports are a bit trickier to get a handle on this time around. Volleyball, Chambara, Soccer – these all have fairly lengthy tutorials that a new player will have to go through before they can get stuck into the sports. They’re necessary to understand the specific mechanics for each game (Volleyball is reliant on precise timing, Chambara on positioning of your sword, Soccer on both player movement and the direction of your kicks), but it also means there’s an extra learning curve involved. New players should be able to handle them, especially after playing a few rounds, but it does mean that Bowling, Tennis and Badminton are more likely the go-to’s for grandma.
However, online some of these games really come into their own. Soccer, in particular, while still suffering a little from too much running around, actually becomes a tense and enjoyable game with a full team of human players online. Badminton, too yields plenty of tense and exciting rallies with players who’ve clearly been playing this particular sport far too long. Speaking of, if you play enough of each sport, you’ll unlock the ranked multiplayer Pro League, which is the main source of the game’s longevity for solo players. The way some of these sports work, of course, means that depending on your skill level, you’ll have a more exciting time in some rather than others. While Bowling is a relaxing and fun time with friends, much like in real life, if you start playing in ranked championships you’d better hope you’re getting a strike very single frame, lest you be eliminated after the first round constantly.
The other impetus to keep going is unlocking the bevy of customisation options for your character. While you can use your historic Mii, from all the way back on the Wii, they’re incompatible with most of the accessories you’ll pick up as you gain experience points by completing matches. You’re better off creating a new avatar using the new character creator, and then decking them out with the range of cosmetics that randomly unlock as you play (and win) in more and more of the sports. It’s nothing too out there – different clothes, racquets, titles for your profile, different emojis you can express online. However, it is the kind of thing that, properly updated, could keep players coming for more and more play online.
Beyond the Pro League and customisation unlockables, however, Nintendo Switch Sports does feel a little too much like the pack-in game it’s descended from. While it’s good to see Nintendo promising to add Golf via an update at a later stage, I wonder if perhaps the game should have been delayed a little to make it a more complete package, that feels a little less bare-bones. However, the six sports that are present are all enjoyable, although some more than others, and some definitely more accessible to newcomers. The online play promises to add longevity to Nintendo Switch Sports that novelty can’t this time around, although you’ll need to become a pretty proficient player to climb the ranks (and not bomb out every first round in Bowling like me). Nintendo Switch Sports is great fun for friends and families, both local and online, that hopefully is improved into a more complete package with updates later in the year.
-A great group of fun, crowd-pleasing and enjoyable sports -Most sports included are accessible enough for anyone to pick-up and play -Online mode and unlockable cosmetics extend longevity
-A couple of sports, like volleyball, might be tougher to get into for inexperienced players -A relatively bare-bones package that's more like the original Wii Sports pack-in that it probably should be