How do you top one of the most played video games of all time? Apparently, for Nintendo the answer was simple – you stick to the script. While the world has changed dramatically since 2006, based on our hands-on, Nintendo’s approach to sports hasn’t. Enter the slick but familiar-feeling, Switch Sports.
The first thing that’s clear as I go hands (and legs) on with the long-awaited sequel, is that this is a more modern beast than its Wii originator. Dropping the iconic Miis for expressive Pokemon trainer-esque avatars, each sport takes place in surprisingly detailed new locales, complete with the expected online modes.
Something old, something new, something borrowed
Housed in the sprawling Spocco Square – a sports facility that feels like a slightly dystopian recreation center – the Switch’s new setting is impressively glitzy. From water features adorning court backgrounds to pristinely polished floors glistening underfoot, Nintendo has put a surprising amount of effort into the visuals that tie together the simplistic sporting sim.
Still, in the two hours I spent playing the motion-controlled multiplayer outing, Nintendo Switch sports proves that the core premise hasn’t lost its motion-controlled magic. The top-tier tri-factor of tennis, bowling, and sword fighting make a welcome return, feeling just as fun as they were on Christmas mornings with hungover relatives. Thankfully, there’s a sprinkling of innovation amongst all the iteration. As well as the old classics, Nintendo has created three new athletic additions to the roster: football, badminton, and volleyball.
Badminton is up first – and it’s a belter. Much to my surprise, the racket sport feels pleasingly distinct from tennis, combining subtle motion-controlled movements with the added aggression of dropshots and power shots, resulting in a pleasingly pacey and highly competitive little game mode.
Next up is another new addition – volleyball. The Olympic favorite feels arguably the most unique of the Switch-exclusive sports. Built entirely around teamwork, you’ll need to plan your attack around four main tenants: the serve, bump, set, and spike. The ability to block shots by raising your hands gives you the ability to fake out your opponents, too, adding a welcome layer of strategy and potential mind games to matches. It pays to be in sync with your partner here, too. If you and your teammate nail the timing, the perfect setup can result in a super spike – a powered spike that sends the ball hurtling towards the floor of your opponent’s court.
Next up is a Wii Sports resort favorite – sword fighting. Renamed Chamabara, the dueling mini-game sees two players balanced on a Kobra Kai-esque plate, perched on top of a pool of water. The goal? To knock your foe off said stage and into the water. It feels like the Wii lightsaber game I always wanted, with the added motion-sensing capabilities of the Joy-Con ensuring strikes feel fluid and accurate. Bizarrely, the whole setting of these water top duels sees you surrounded by desks, houseplant, and a suspiciously business-like bar. Intentionally or not, Nintendo developers have nailed the feeling of dueling in a WeWork. Much like the fake outs possible in volleyball, the added motion precision allows you to bait your opponent into lowering their guard. Each round becomes an increasingly tense game of chicken as you and your opponent attempt to read the others’ moves, through a mix of blocking, horizontal, diagonal, and vertical strikes, with a choice of a charge attack sword or heavier sword adding some pleasing depth to proceedings.
Going through the motions
In an age where virtual reality has pushed and perfected motion controls, returning to the simplistic thrusts and swipes of old feels quite quaint. Still, the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons are far more responsive beasts than the waggly Wiimotes, resulting in less frustration and more nuance when it comes to curveballs and minute directional inputs. Bowling is a great example of this, with the improved motion sensing of the Joy-Cons allowing you to add a satisfying amount of spin to each bowl.
Last up is another newcomer: football. I found this to be the most surprising of the new game modes, largely down to its complete inauthenticity. Where the other sports showcased all do their best to ape their inspirations, football ditches the realism for what is essentially a budget Rocket League. Here, up to four players run around a small pitch pursuing a gigantic ball. As expected this sees players taking full control of their avatar, using the analog stick to run around the pitch and a flick of the right Joy-Con to shoot. While perfectly serviceable, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d much rather be playing Rocket League. Still, it’s not without its merits. A highlight of this pretty bizarre mode is the diving header animation – where flicking both Joy-Cons simultaneously sees your player soaring through the air before flopping unceremoniously to the ground like a Magikarp chucked onto a football pitch.
The football sub-mode – shootout – fares a bit better. This fun little mode sees you donning the ring fit leg strap, and using the full power of your leg to launch the ball into the back of the net. In a nice touch, the more successful you are at penalties, the smaller the goal becomes, adding a nice bit of rubber banding to proceedings and keeping things tense, despite the skill gap.
Tennis, again feels largely identical – but as the old adage says, if it ain’t broke, don’t ruin it. Predictably it’s the racket sports that require the most excursion, with a series of intense tennis and badminton matches starting to work up a sweat. Interestingly, what I’ve seen of the game isn’t the be-all and end-all, with the game receiving free updates post-launch, including the addition of an entirely new sport – golf.
Overall, I had a blast during my brief time with Switch Sports. The only complaint is the seeming lack of modes for solo players. I’m told that playing online will allow you to further customize your shiny new avatar, with new cosmetic items and character customizations unlocked via online matches. Bowling will also feature a 12-player online Tournament Mode too, which was unavailable to test during my demo.
While online games will help give lonely players something to do, the lack of any kind of league mode or score attacks seems like a baffling omission in a release that’s taken almost 20 years to arrive. Still, at its heart, Nintendo Switch Sports looks set to achieve the same mission the original did all those years ago – to get families grinning and flailing around the TV together.
Nintendo Switch Sports launches on April 29, but for now why not check out the other upcoming Switch games to add to your wishlist.