Does Nintendo Switch Sports recapture the glory days of Wii Sports or does it need more practice? Let’s find out.
A Smash Hit?
Upon starting Nintendo Switch Sports you’re greeted with a couple of familiar screens (for Wii Sports veterans at least). One warns players to give themselves enough space to play, and a second shows players how to use the wrist strap correctly. Trust me, you’ll want to use the wrist strap. You see, I can’t find one of mine, so only one JoyCon is securely fastened. So far the loose one has hit my TV and my dog. Luckily neither sustained lasting damage, in fact, my dog didn’t even flinch, and only moved when I gave him a couple of “apology biscuits”. So yes, find your wrist straps - you’ll need them.
Breakages aren’t the only similarity between Nintendo Switch Sports and Wii Sports from all those years ago. The feeling of tennis, bowling, or chambara (sword fighting) will be instantly familiar to those who played Wii Sports or Wii Sports Resort. And the new additions of volleyball, football and badminton fit in perfectly. Switch Sports isn’t ground-breaking and isn’t trying to be. It’s simple, approachable and incredibly fun.
On Your Marks
Of the six sports, four really stand out - badminton, chambara, tennis, and - my family’s favourite - bowling. Badminton requires a surprising amount of tactical thinking, more so than tennis in my opinion. Matches can last a very long time, with volleys going on for several minutes as you try to outdo your opponent.
In chambara, two players stand in a ring suspended in the air with the goal of knocking their opponent off a ledge through sword-based combat. Fans of the TV show Gladiators will definitely enjoy this one. You’ll have to gauge the angle your opponent is going to hit and attempt to block and, if possible, counter. But this isn’t turn-based so matches (and flailing limbs) can become fast and frantic. If players don’t give themselves enough room it’s very possible to exchange actual blows. You can choose from single sword, charge sword, or twin swords. Single sword is a good introduction to the sport with simple block and attack movements. Charge swords come with a power level that increases with every successful block. Twin swords require each player to use two JoyCons, which gives the ability to block with one sword while preparing to strike with the other.
Tennis hasn’t changed from the Wii Sports days. But improvement for the Switch comes from the additional accuracy of the JoyCon and its gyro features. These can detect a twist of the wrist allowing for more diverse shots to keep players on their toes.
Then of course there’s bowling. Much like tennis, this hasn’t changed and it didn’t need to. That said, there are improvements over the Wii Sports days. Including “Simultaneous mode” which allows all players to bowl at the same time (if you have enough controllers). There’s also Special Mode, which tasks players with throwing their ball down an obstacle-ridden bowling lane. Obstacles range from moving walls, posts popping out of the ground, holes in the floor, and bumps on the surface... the bowling purist in me hates these obstacles and I avoid special mode at every opportunity.
Sadly, Volleyball falters somewhat. It has set moves that you must carry out at certain times, indicated by avatar motions and movements. Matches feel more like QuickTime Events with the speed of play dictated by the game. Although still enjoyable, you’ll never really feel in control.
Football is the most intricate of all the sports on offer. In the 1v1 or 4v4 modes, you'll need two JoyCons for each player. You have buttons for sprinting, jumping, and, of course, kicking. In order to kick the ball, players have to swing either controller in the direction they want to kick it. I’m not a fan of football generally, but my friends who are love it, especially in online mode against players from around the world. Personally, I would’ve liked the leg-strap that comes with the game to feature across all the football modes. But, sadly, it’s only available in shoot-out. Nintendo has said that they will add the functionality in a future update to all football modes, but, for now, the leg-strap is a missed opportunity.
Each player gets a customisable avatar to represent themselves through events. Starting gear is fairly limited, with only two outfits, a few faces and hairstyles, and a couple of expressions available. You can bring your Mii if you’ve got one. You unlock new items from various collections (at the time of writing there’s the Simple Collection and Cute Collection available on a time limit) each collection has 12 items, and a special outfit given to players who unlock all 12 items from each set. Sadly, and here’s my biggest issue with Nintendo Sports, you can only unlock these effectively by playing online. There is no way to unlock items offline and, if you don’t have an Online Pass, you’ll end up in “Trial Mode”, which only allows you to earn 200 points a week. Items currently cost 100 points and the exact item you receive is random (you pick a collection you’d like an item from and the game selects one). So Trial Mode feels pretty pointless.
This may not sound great, and it isn’t, but thankfully online play is fantastic. Only once did I have a match not load. Matches are as fast online as they are offline, I felt no lag or input delay with my movements. Matchmaking is fast and effective and, if there aren't enough players, AI opponents get chucked in to make up the numbers.
Out of all of the events, online bowling goes through the most changes - with 16 players all competing simultaneously. Everyone gets 15 seconds to make their shot to keep things moving along. And every three frames, the game eliminates the bottom bunch of players. Culminating in the final three top scorers competing on the 10th frame for the win.
Winning matches in each event also puts your skill rank up (you’ll earn ranks independently for each sport). These put you up against players of similar skill as you, and you’ll earn more points towards cosmetics the higher your rank.
The Final Hurdle
All in all Nintendo Switch Sports is great fun. It’s simple and accessible for all ages and abilities. Not having the option to unlock new items and cosmetics offline isn’t great. But it’s a minor issue which you’ll get over the moment you start up the game. Every time I put Switch Sports on, the music - which is more than reminiscent of Wii Sports - starts, and summons the family to the console. Before you know it everyone is chatting, playing, and laughing. We’ve even had family members make a trip to come and play it. And watching my (almost) 4-year-old son celebrate when scoring a strike in bowling or winning a penalty shoot-out at football is a joy. At its heart, that’s exactly what Nintendo Switch Sports is - an absolute joy.