Nostalgia can sometimes be a dangerous thing. As I dive into Switch Sports, I have almost visceral visions of Christmas 2006, with my usually non-gamer parents brandishing Wii Remotes as they took another literal swing at Wii Sports tennis with dangerously full bellies. As vivid as those Wii Sports memories are for many of us, it’s now 2022 and Switch Sports has to do more than reignite a few wistful looks back at overzealous family gatherings.
What Nintendo Switch Sports does well is to mix that nostalgia with plenty of freshness. Tennis, bowling, and sword fighting (now Chambara) return from Wii Sports and its sequel Wii Sports Resort, and then there are three new sports entering the ring – badminton, volleyball, and football. There are brilliantly simple tutorials for each sport, both new and old, and the controls are equally easy to grasp. The accessibility and intuitiveness of the controls have always been such a huge part of the appeal of these games, and thankfully Switch Sports doesn’t mess with any of that. If anything, controls are more refined and nuanced thanks to the Joy-Cons’ responsiveness.
Oddly for someone who has no interest in the real sport whatsoever, it’s football that I’ve had the most fun with in Switch Sports. There are three 1-2 player modes – along with a free practice option – where you work to score goals with an oversized ball. There are one-on-one or four-on-four options, where you either work alone or with three other CPU players. You move around the pitch with the right Joy-Con, while moving the left Joy-Con lets you kick in a variety of directions, leap up, or sprint. It’s surprisingly involved – particularly as the other sports will automatically move your characters for you – and brilliantly chaotic when another human player gets involved in local multiplayer. You can control passes, do mad flailing headers, and sprint around to get the edge on your component. There’s even a little stamina system to contend with. Yes, it’s more like a football take on air hockey than real soccer, but I’ve never been so passionate about football in my life.
The third football mode is Shoot-Out, which can only be played if you’ve got the special leg strap accessory. If you already own Ring Fit Adventure you can just use the one that came bundled in, but it can now also be bought separately too. With the left Joy-Con strapped to your preferred kicking leg, Shoot-Out is basically a pretty basic penalty shootout mini-game. There’s no option to control the direction of the ball with your kick, it’s all down to good timing to ensure a goal. It’s simple, but surprisingly effective, although I imagine for those who actually can kick anything with accuracy they may find it underwhelming – particularly if you’ve invested additional cash in the leg strap.
Then you’ve got badminton, which isn’t quite as high-octane as football, but just as fun. You don’t have to manually move your avatar so, like tennis, it’s all about timing and aiming your racket swings with a single Joy-Con. There’s a surprising nuance that can be achieved just with the timing of your shots, where different strategies can unlock different shot types along with the cheeky dropshot you can pull off with a pull of ZR/ZL. Switch Sports doesn’t really tell you how to pull these more powerful shots off though, so there’s a pleasing level of expertise that comes with repeated trial and error.
Although it’s not new, tennis operates on a similar wavelength and control scheme both to its original iteration in Wii Sports and to the new badminton mode. You’re always playing doubles, so if you’re playing solo you also control the swing of your shadowy partner standing nearer the net, but you can also play with up to four real players at one time in local multiplayer. It’s very similar to what we’ve had before, but when it already works so well, you can forgive the lack of improvements.
The last new sport is volleyball, which I initially found pretty disappointing. Unlike the other activities in Switch Sports, volleyball feels incredibly scripted when playing solo. The game literally tells you what move to pull off next, which leaves you feeling more like you’ve triggered a QTE than really engaged. The more real opponents you add the less mechanical it feels – although move prompts still appear in the corners of the screen – but multiplayer also heightens the complexity. It’s difficult to track the ball’s movement on the screen, where your fellow players are situated, and thus it’s harder to know when to start moving. The more you play the easier it gets, but it’s definitely the least approachable of all the Sports.
As a nod to the Japanese film genre, Swordplay has been renamed Chambara. Like the other activities in Switch Sports, it’s easy to learn and difficult to master – you use Joy-Con movements to attack and block incoming swipes, as you ultimately attempt to knock your enemy repeatedly backwards and off a platform. Attacks must follow the direction of an opponent’s block to land successfully, or you need to move when the other player isn’t blocking. Chambara can range from being tense and strategic to a manic clashing of blades, but it’s great fun regardless.
And then there’s the ultimate classic, bowling. It’s just as brilliant today as it was when Wii Sports made its debut in 2006, with options to change the angle of your swing, add spin, and other tweaks to your bowl. It also now comes with an added Special Mode that puts obstacles along the lane for you to bowl around for your strikes. It’s not quite a crazy golf take on bowling, but it’s close. It’s simplicity has always been its strength, and it’s a really great way to kick off the Switch Sports experience with someone who has never had to chance to try it.
Interestingly, Nintendo has already confirmed that there are more features coming later for Switch Sports. First, you’ll get leg strap support for the one-on-one and four-on-four football matches in Summer 2022, and then in the fall, the seventh sport – golf – will be added to the game. It’s an interesting way of distributing content, and feels more like features that weren’t quite ready for its April 29 release date than a meaningful roadmap for Switch Sports.
Other new elements include character customization – like with Mario Kart 8 and other titles, Nintendo has also moved away from Miis for Switch Sports. Instead, you get a customizable character with a more realistic look, albeit still a rather adorable one. There are options for your face and hair, and some basic clothing color options to begin with, but online play will give you the opportunity to earn more cosmetic items.
Online allows you to earn points by simply just taking part in each sport, with multipliers kicking in for winning, scoring goals, your “hustle”, and other elements of play. These points accumulate and for every 100 you earn, you can trade them in for a cosmetic item – ranging from entire outfits, hats, and masks, to new rackets, balls, and Chambara swords. They’re grouped into collections, and it’s a random draw from each one as to what you’ll actually unlock. Those collections are on rotation too, with the initial offerings available for around two weeks, before something new comes along. It’s a surprisingly rewarding system, as it’s always clear how close you are to the next item unlock, so it’s forever perpetuating the ‘just one more go’ mentality.
Adding online multiplayer also adds another layer of enjoyment to the entire game. Firstly, it adds a few online specific modes, including my favorite which is a manic 16-player battle royale-esque bowling tournament, where you bowl your best to stop being eliminated in each round. Somehow people are already bowling strike after strike flawlessly, so it’s encouraged me to go back into single-player and perfect my technique. Football, like some of the other sports, scales up to maximum player counts, meaning eight players go head to head in the four-on-four mode, just for added chaos.
Online is such a great way to experience each of the Sports on offer, particularly if you don’t regularly have other people to play with in-person. I totally lost myself in the grind for new gear that the game gave me a “take a break” warning after playing for an hour straight. No wonder my arm hurt!
Switch Sports’ entire success really does hinge on your access to other players, which is why the online mode being worthwhile is so important. While Switch Sports is fun for a while solo, it lacks incentives to carry on playing beyond just enjoying yourself, and the lack of variety in the locations you play in doesn’t help. It’s just one locale, the visually impressive Spocco Park. If you’ve got friends to play with of course – either locally or online – the enjoyment increases tenfold. It really is a social game through and through.
Nintendo Switch Sports officially launches on April 29, exclusively on Switch.