Wii Sports was amazingly popular and served as the perfect pack-in game for the Wii. Anyone who booted up the game could immediately see that the Wii’s motion controls weren’t just a gimmick and that the Wiimote set this console apart from any other that had come before it. As such, players have fond memories of that game and its sequel that introduced the Wii MotionPlus, Wii Sports Resort. So, many fans assumed that Nintendo Switch Sports would engender the same feelings. Unfortunately, it ended up feeling more like Wii Sports Club did for the Wii U.
Nintendo Switch Sports features six different activities out of the box: tennis, bowling, chambara (swordplay), soccer, volleyball, and badminton. Additionally, a seventh activity, golf, is supposed to come later this year in a free update. You can compete with the AI in solo mode, with friends in local multiplayer, or against other players worldwide through online matchmaking. Gameplay requires you to use the Joy-Cons much like the Wiimote was used in the Wii Sports games.
The first issue I have with this game is the low number of sports available. Of those, tennis and bowling were in Wii Sports, and Chambara was in Wii Sports Resort as Swordplay. Only volleyball, badminton, and soccer are new, and badminton plays close enough to tennis to feel like a variation instead of a separate activity. For $49.99, we get essentially the same amount of content as Wii Sports provided as a free pack-in title.
I’m also not sure why Nintendo chose to launch this game when it did. Features are missing, like the golf activity and the ability to use the leg-strap in a regular game of soccer, so I’m not sure why it just didn’t launch later in the year when it would be feature complete.
Since three of the sports are essentially just ports from previous Wii Sports games, I’ll keep my description of them brief. It’s obvious that two of these, in particular, soccer and bowling, were given more effort than the others, so I’ll dive a little deeper into those.
First, badminton, tennis, and volleyball operate under essentially the same idea in Nintendo Sports Resort. Your character will automatically move to the place on the court they need to be to return a volley. All you have to do is swing the Joy-Con with the correct motion and timing.
Badminton is basically tennis, but the speed increases after each volley. You can also hold the LZ or RZ button (depending on which Joy-Con you’re playing with) when swinging to perform a drop shot which can screw up an opponent’s timing.
Tennis is a bit more robust, but you’re forced to play doubles, either with an AI partner or another human. Unfortunately, the Joy-Cons just aren’t as accurate as the Wiimote when it comes to motion, and it becomes very apparent when you’re in a high-paced match. Sometimes you’ll swing right, and your character on-screen will go left, and what you think is a gentle swing might rocket the ball out of bounds.
Volleyball is the toughest of the three to get right because it requires you to perform specific hand movements and more teamwork. Two teams of two face each other, and one has to set up the ball for the other player to serve it. It tends to be slower than the other two volley sports, and I didn’t find it as fun because of how finicky the Joy-Cons can be.
Chambara is like Keijo, but with swords instead of butts. It has you dueling opponents in a swordfight on a platform above a pool of water. Knock them off, and you’ll win. It features a best out of three matches scoring system, and if players tie, they’ll go into a sudden death where the arena shrinks to where just one hit will knock an opponent off. There are several kinds of swords for you to choose from, which adds a bit of a strategic element to the activity. These are the regular two-handed sword, a sword that can be charged for boosted knockback, and dual swords, which don’t hit as hard but are more challenging to block against. Unfortunately, this is another area where the unpredictable motion control of the Joy-Cons turned the game from fun to frustrating. It got old quickly to lose because my slash wasn’t registered correctly.
Bowling Battle Royale
Bowling is my favorite mode in Nintendo Switch Sports and tends to fare much better than the others because you’re not directly competing with other players. So, issues with input lag and inaccurate controls are much less apparent. There’s the standard 10 frame mode, which requires no introduction, but there’s also a battle royale, which shows creativity on Nintendo’s part.
In this mode, you and 15 other players compete for the high score. Every three frames, some of the lowest-scoring players are eliminated. This, and the Special Mode, which presents players with obstacles they must bowl pass, keep things interesting past the point most people would get bored with regular old bowling.
Finally, there’s soccer, the activity which obviously received the most attention from Nintendo. In this sport, you can actually control your character and must use both Joy-Cons in a way that’s reminiscent of time spent with the Wiimote and Nunchaku. The regular mode pits two teams of four against one another, and it’s a fun if rudimentary interpretation of the sport. The second mode is Shoot-out which focuses around the leg strap accessory (which is included with the physical version of the game). Strap the Joy-Con to your leg, and you can do a little kick to shoot a soccer ball into the net. The ability to use the leg strap in the main soccer mode will be coming in a future update, which might make it a cooler experience, but for now, it’s just a novelty.
As in the previous games in the series, you can create an avatar, but things are a bit weird this time around. You have the option to create a “Sportsmate,” which are esssentially a better-looking Mii. I’m all for the Miis getting a visual overhaul, and the Sportsmates seem like they are some sort of abandoned effort to do this that was thrown into the game. Weirdly, you can also just use a Mii instead. However, they clash with the game’s aesthetic and can’t use many of the unlockable customization items. Fortunately, that doesn’t matter that much because the unlock system is dumb.
For some reason, Nintendo Switch Sports has a live service unlockable system. You have to play online and earn points that you can then use to buy reward cards. These give you random customization items, and the cards rotate out each week. This is lame because things that should be included by default, like eye colors, are locked behind random cards. I’d say this is Nintendo being greedy, but there’s no premium currency on offer, so it’s just bad game design.
Speaking of live service-esque content, each sport has a Pro League competitive mode you can unlock, which allows you to participate in a ranked ladder. You can climb from Rank E up to Rank A by winning matches, and doing poorly will have the opposite effect of downranking you. However, almost everyone who plays online is terrible, so if you can tie your shoes, you can likely become a god in Nintendo Switch Sports.
Unfortunately, solo content took a hit in exchange for the more robust online options. For example, there’s no progress tracker or training mode like in previous games in the series to keep you coming back. So, many of the game’s features are effectively locked behind a Nintendo Switch Online membership requirement.
Nintendo Switch Sports Review: The final verdict
If you love Wii Sports, you’ll have a good time with Nintendo Switch Sports. However, it doesn’t do anything to push the series forward, and the $50 price tag is steep for what is essentially six minigames. The Joy-Cons also aren’t nearly as accurate as the Wiimotes, so control problems abound here that were largely absent in previous games.
Nintendo has been criticized for porting Wii and Wii U games to the Switch and selling them at a high MSRP. However, in this case, I feel like we’d have gotten a better deal if Nintendo had just updated Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort to use the Joy-Cons. Nintendo Switch Sports has a weird emphasis on online play, a frustrating unlock system, and is sadly underwhelming compared to its predecessors, which launched over a decade ago.