Review in progress: Nintendo Switch Sports

by Pierre Bell

After almost 16 years, the Wii Sports series has finally received a new iteration, arriving with six activities at launch, both old and new, to get you swinging, kicking, swiping, and jabbing your trusty Joy-Con. Does Nintendo Switch Sports recapture the joy of motion controls once again, or does the limited number of modes and a £30+ price tag feel more like a con? Let’s find out.

Note: Before we get started with the main review, it’s worth noting that this is a review in progress due to the online portions of the game not being available before launch. For now, I will focus on the single-player and local multiplayer features of Nintendo Switch Sports. Please check back for my final thoughts once the online functionality has been tested.

Nintendo’s focus on motion controls has somewhat waned over the years when compared to the Wii era, but one of the unique initial selling points of the Nintendo Switch Joy-Con was the improved, yet familiar, ability to use real-life movements to control stuff on-screen. That’s not to say it’s been completely forgotten though, far from it; Ring Fit Adventure made exercise fun with the awesome and effective Ring-Con peripheral, ARMS created an innovative new fighting game experience, 1-2-Switch got everyone hilariously pretending to milk cows, Splatoon 2 brought back gyro-aiming, and there are a fair few third party games available to get players off the couch as well. Nintendo deciding to release Nintendo Switch Sports this late into the Switch’s life cycle remains a bit of a mystery though. Remembering that Wii Sports was bundled in with almost every Wii console, and after now spending quite a few hours with this Switch spiritual successor, I’m sadly left thinking it should probably have also been a pack-in title. 

Ultimately, Nintendo Switch Sports does little in the way of providing players with much content to play with. Sure, Nintendo is planning to release Golf later in the year as free DLC, but what’s on offer straight out of the box is all too familiar; Bowling plays similarly to what’s found in Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics and Tennis is, well, very much how you remember it was. In addition, each sport has an extremely limited list of modes available to play, meaning that offline solo players in particular can blast through every activity within a couple of hours on all three CPU difficulties. There’s no way of tracking your progress, and nothing is recorded apart from Bowling high scores, plus, there’s no leaderboard in sight. Admittedly, the CPU can offer a tough challenge when you crank it up to the max difficulty, yet there’s no reward for beating them. Even in multiplayer, you can’t keep track of who is the sporting champion in the same household. This is not to say that Nintendo Switch Sports isn’t a tonne of fun to play, it’s just that there’s simply not enough of it.

Something that is sure to divide players is the new character customisation features. Each player can opt to either import their own Mii head or to make a unique customisable avatar. While I can only comment on the small number of options available pre-launch due to the lack of online functionality, and therefore inability to earn more gear and accessories, you’re able to dress your sportsperson in different coloured clothing, change their hairstyle, eye colour, eyebrows, skin tone, and tweak their age thanks to a nifty, easy-to-use menu. Another cool inclusion is the ability to choose a nickname by selecting phrases and names from a pre-set list. Netting points via online play also grants the player access to even more pre-set nicknames; I scored enough points in a simple minigame on the credit screen which added another selection, for example, so be on the lookout for that easy win! 

When importing a Mii saved to your Nintendo Switch system, you’ll be greeted with a questionable bobblehead-looking avatar. I also tried importing a Mii by scanning an amiibo and, sure enough, one that I made years ago sprung up on-screen. Though the Mii characters can look horribly out of place, I’m oddly looking forward to going up against people’s horrid and warped creations. The new avatar designs won’t be to everyone’s taste either, but at least there are multiple options.

While the sunny location of Spocco Square looks like it’s been pulled straight from a holiday brochure in the Splatoon universe, you’re unfortunately not able to interact with the setting. The sun-drenched city acts only as a hub for you to cycle through menus to select the activities; it would have been nice to have something a little more interactive. Broadly speaking though, the aesthetic of Nintendo Switch Sports is clean, sharp, and what you’d expect from a first-party Nintendo game. Gaming novices won’t have any trouble navigating through the activity and character customisation screens, meaning just about anyone can play, as getting into a game is done quickly with minimal fuss. The punchy sound effects of rackets meeting shuttlecocks, and the rumbling of bowling balls before a loud clatter of pins with a Strike, also help to make the experience more immersive. Then there’s the familiar yet unique theme tune which you’ll without a doubt be humming or whistling when you’re going about your daily business.

For the most part, each sport is easy to master. However, much like Wii Sports Resort, not every sport is as enjoyable as the others. Take Badminton, for example, which was a standout sport from the preview session, and my thoughts on this remain unchanged. The strength and timings of your swings feel impactful, which is more evident when you land a power shot and slam the shuttlecock to your opponent while they’re picking themselves up from the floor after an early return hit. Squeeze ZR and you’ll return a drop shot, granting you extra court space to smash the shuttlecock back to your opponent as they scramble to defend. You don’t actually control your avatar directly, but rather the focus is on timing your swings just right so your character isn’t jumping all over the court. You’ll need to get used to consistently recalibrating your Joy-Con, and thankfully, this is done with a quick press of X while you’re pointing the controller at the screen. It’s a small annoyance – it comes with the motion-control territory – but most players won’t bear a grudge with having to do this necessity now and then.

Then there’s Volleyball, which is a newcomer to the Sports series. In my preview, I mentioned that I felt it would take more time to get accustomed to the mechanics. Well, with more time spent with it, this is arguably the weakest of the bunch. Initially just more confusing to play, Volleyball rarely offered a good time due to its cluttered, clumsy, and slower action. On more than a few occasions, it was difficult to tell what side the ball was, so I found myself blindly reenacting one of the three Joy-Con actions the tutorial taught me in hopes to keep the opposing team from scoring a point. Between bumping, setting, and spiking, it never felt that any of the actions made much of a difference to how the match played out, as it involved just holding the controller up or swinging it in an upwards motion to pass the ball to my teammate. Again, you have little to no control over where you are on the court, so you’re just left thrusting your arms up hoping to connect with the ball.

Tennis, on the other hand, felt better than ever. Playing with four players in the same room, the action quickly got frantic and downright hilarious. The fine-tuned precision of the Joy-Con meant that returning the opponent’s shots was easy. With my muscle memory reawakened from the Wii Sports era, I was soon timing my swings almost perfectly, and, in single-player, you’re in control of both the front and back players, which gives you the option to exercise your sneaky backhand tactics once again. Keeping your opponent on their toes by twisting your wrist at the last second allows for a quick topspin or slice, which adds a little more variety to the already familiar gameplay. The main drawback here is the omission of a singles option. You have no choice but to play doubles, which may be a blow to some players.

On the subject of familiarity, Bowling makes a return, and with it, comes a few tweaks from the Wii version. You’re able to choose from two types of lanes: Standard and Special. The latter provides obstacles that change with each lane; upping the difficulty means harder obstacles, such as inclines, moving blocks, and pillars that aim to hinder your hopes of scoring a Turkey. The Special lanes forced me to rethink my usual method of shifting slightly to the right to account for my natural right-hand bowling curve, and in multiplayer, it forced my opponents to do the same. Of course, the standard bowling was fun too, but if you’ve played Bowling on either Wii Sports or Wii Sports Resort, then don’t expect too much difference here. 

One drawback of Wii Sports was that each game of Bowling took far too long waiting for everyone to have their go. Here, there’s now the option to play simultaneously, which speeds up the process drastically. With four bowlers all gunning for the top spot at the same time, and with everyone trying their hardest to distract the person next to them, this was my favourite mode out of all of the sports on offer. There was some noticeable technical slowdown when all four players were bowling at once, yet it never impeded our ability to bowl effectively. 

Perhaps the most involved sporting activity in Spocco Square is Football/Soccer. As said before in the preview, the action felt akin to Rocket League, albeit on a much less frantic scale. In the One-on-One and Four-on-Four modes, grasping a Joy-Con in either hand, your aim is to score goals, making use of the right Joy-Con to kick, and the left to navigate the pitch. Swinging both hands forwards will make your sportsperson perform a diving header, and pushing ZL causes your character to burn through a stamina gauge, similar to the one seen for Link in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (no constant rain or slippery cliffs here though, thankfully). Carefully using the allotted stamina to get ahead of opponents was risky business, as it doesn’t refill when the match is reset after a goal is scored. I found my avatar panting more often than I care to admit, as I got greedy with sprinting. Poor thing.

Football’s “Shoot-Out” mode makes use of the leg strap accessory. You’ll have this on hand already if you’ve purchased Ring Fit Adventure, but rest assured, it’s also bundled with the physical edition of Nintendo Switch Sports. Choosing from one of the three difficulty settings in single-player, and strapping the Joy-Con to your desired kicking leg, you’re tasked with scoring goals with goalposts that decrease in width with every successful attempt. The oversized football’s trajectory changes with each difficulty level, and timing your kick can be tricky, but the ever-shrinking goalposts can create a tough challenge. Sadly though, I never felt compelled to return to this mode that often, as it was purely down to timing and nothing else, but at least the One-on-One and Four-on-Four modes kept my interest for far longer.

Another returning sport from Wii Sports Resort is Chambara (originally named Swordplay). It’s just you and an opponent that you need to successfully strike enough times to have them reach the edge of the platform and fall off into the pool below. In the Wii variation, you had three modes to choose from, but unfortunately, there’s just one here in Switch Sports. There are, however, three different swords to choose from: Twin Swords, the Charge Sword, and a standard Sword. The Charge Sword builds up with energy while you block, and with a squeeze of R, you’re able to unleash a more powerful blow to your foe and the Twin Swords grant access to a powerful Spinning Strike. Each sword provides a different style of play, and the more calculated nature of waiting for your opponent to leave themselves open for a strike is, again, far more amusing in multiplayer. Simply flailing your arms aimlessly doesn’t work here; precision, patience, and timing is key.

With a small selection of sports to participate in and a lack of options to choose from when it comes to modes, Nintendo Switch Sports won’t, in its current state without updates, keep solo players interested for long. It’s abundantly clear that this title is aimed at local multiplayer, and it will go down as a treat when it’s coupled with an intense round of Mario Party Superstars. There’s a fair chance that my overall thoughts may improve when the online portion of the game becomes available, as there’s a Pro League Rank feature and, of course, the ability to tackle sports with faraway friends. We’ve also got Golf on its way in a summer update, but, right now, there’s still a modest amount of local fun to be had thanks to its obvious competitive nature and quick set-up with each sport. I’m left hoping that the online functionality will boost its longevity, due to it being the only way to unlock any accessories and outfits. For now, though, it doesn’t offer a whole lot more than what Wii Sports gave us nearly 16 years ago, and that came at no additional cost.

Score pending

A copy of Nintendo Switch Sports for Nintendo Switch was provided to My Nintendo News by Nintendo UK for the purposes of this review in progress.