The latest entry in the Wii Sports series, Nintendo Switch Sports, has finally landed in our hands and I’ve been able to spend a ton of time with it over the last few days. Six sports are available to play at launch: Volleyball, Badminton, and Soccer are all brand-new to the franchise, while Bowling, Tennis, and Chambara (known as Swordplay in Wii Sports Resort) are returning sports.
Players can take part in these sports as customizable avatars called Sportsmates, or they can choose to play as a Mii, which is more in line with previous games in the franchise. Each sport can be played both offline and online, but only playing online will allow you to unlock accessories and other customization options for your Sportsmate. Some sports also have a few different options when playing offline vs. playing online, with a lot of the changes to the online versions of these sports seemingly being made to keep things simple and streamlined.
Got a specific sport you’re interested in knowing a little more about? Below you’ll see a few sport-specific “mini-reviews” in the order that the game presents the sports in, so you can scroll through to check out my thoughts on each one. If you’re interested in my review of the entire game, just keep reading through the list and you’ll find my general thoughts on Nintendo Switch Sports as a whole just after my commentary on each sport.
First up on our list is a brand-new sport, Volleyball. For players that are determined to go all-in with matching movements for each sport they play, Volleyball is going to be one of the most intensive sports on offer here. Most of the movements in the Nintendo Switch Sports version of Volleyball are matched pretty well with the core movements from the actual sport, making this one of the more complicated activities to play. You’ll be serving, bumping, setting, spiking, and blocking throughout the course of a volleyball game, and you’ll be doing all of these while trading off with a partner, since Volleyball can only be played two-on-two.
The timings on a lot of the movements in Volleyball can feel awkward, and you really need to play a few rounds to get a feel for when to make your moves in relation to what your Sportsmate is doing on screen. Once I got it down, however, I began to really enjoy Volleyball. There aren’t a ton of differences between offline and online with this one, you’ll be required to have a partner in both cases, and will play to five points. This is a sport that is fun to play online, but it really shined when I was able to play locally with other people in the same room. I had a blast playing Volleyball offline with my wife, my sister, and her boyfriend, and I can imagine this sport being a staple for plenty of get togethers to come.
Up next is probably my favorite of the three new sports, Badminton. This simple backyard game stayed pretty simple in its transition into a virtual sport. Players will face off in a one-on-one effort to be the first to reach five points, using a combination of lobs, smashes, and drop shots to confuse and tire out their opponent to get the upper hand. While it seems like a calmer game on the surface, Badminton really got my blood pumping when the volleys would get long, since every hit counts when you’re playing with such a low target score. Badminton plays exactly the same online as it does offline, though being able to actually trash talk your opponent in a heated moment gives the offline version a slight edge.
I had a lot of fun with Badminton over the last few days, and it’s high on the list of my go-to sports when playing online, but I’d love to see some more variation in how it can be played. After a while the same one-on-one, first-to-five formula gets a little stale, and I’d love if Nintendo could give us a two-on-two version of badminton, or let us choose to play in sets of three or five like Tennis.
Bowling was far and away my favorite sport from the original Wii Sports, and I was incredibly happy to see it make a comeback here, though the more accurate controls have made me realize I’m not the great fake-bowling champion that I thought I was. Just like in other iterations of Bowling, you’ll be throwing a bowling ball down a lane towards ten pins, aiming to knock each of them down. You’re able to move your Sportsmate around and change the angle at which you throw easily enough, but the real challenge comes in when you start trying to curve your throws. Twisting the Joy-Con as you swing will introduce some spin in the corresponding direction, with how far you twist the Joy-Con determining exactly how much spin you’ll be adding. I did find that with how sensitive the Joy-Con can be with regards to this twist, trying to curve my throws in order to get strikes was just as reliable as it used to be in past iterations of Bowling.
Bowling offers two modes, Standard and Special, and in each of them you’ll play through ten frames in order to get the highest score you can. Standard is just a normal game of bowling, but Special adds obstacles and lane variations in order to spice things up a little. When playing offline, either alone or with up to four other players, you’ll always be able to select either mode and play through all ten frames.
Online play for Bowling, however, won’t give you the option of selecting Standard or Special, instead you’ll just have to play what the game decides to give you, with Special seemingly popping up more often the more times you play online. Online Bowling is also elimination-style with 16 other players, with four defined rounds. If you happen to be in the bottom half of players when a round ends, you’ll finish your game early and won’t be given the chance to finish out all ten frames. I can see how this limitation would be frustrating to people who aren’t the best bowlers, and I hope Nintendo will introduce the option to play through all ten frames with a smaller group of people online in the future.
Nintendo Switch Sport’s Soccer is probably the sport that is least like its real-world counterpart, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. Maybe it’s just the Rocket League nostalgia or my fondness for Overwatch’s Lúcioball mode talking, but I am a sucker for trying to knock a giant soccer ball into a giant goal.
Soccer’s main mode uses mostly button controls: you move both your Sportsmate and the camera with the joysticks, press ZL to dash, and press B to jump. Motion controls only factor into how you want to make a big kick or perform a diving header. You’ll swing the right Joy-Con to kick the ball, while swinging both Joy-Cons down will send your Sportsmate diving (rather hilariously) headfirst across the pitch. When you play online, Soccer can only be played four-on-four, and if I’m being honest, it can be a little too slow for me at times. You’ll find yourself either standing around waiting for the ball to come your direction, or you’ll be chasing the ball down, only to have someone kick it away just as you reach it. Sure, you can dash after the ball, but your Sportsmate only has so much stamina before they have to slow down, and you’ll need to strategically use that stamina to have any hope of scoring or blocking the other team from scoring. I really think that if the pitch were slightly smaller and all the movement was just slightly faster, Soccer would be a perfect online experience.
Taking things offline, Soccer has a few different options. You can still play four-on-four, though matches are limited to two actual players, the rest will be CPUs, play head-to-head in a one-on-one match on a smaller pitch, or strap a Joy-Con to your leg with Nintendo’s Leg Strap accessory to participate in Shoot Out. The multiplayer one-on-one matches are plenty of fun, and can get pretty competitive, but I wish the rounds lasted just a tad longer. Shoot Out can be played against a CPU or against a friend, with the both of you trading off using the Leg Strap, or with each player using their own Leg Strap, if you happen to have two.
As of writing, Shootout is the only Soccer mode that allows you to match the motions of actually playing soccer, and it does so with Nintendo’s Leg Strap accessory, but an update scheduled for Fall 2022 will add Leg Strap support to both the four-on-four and one-on-one modes. For players who didn’t pick up Ring Fit Adventure, the Leg Strap accessory comes bundled with physical copies of Nintendo Switch Sports, though the physical version costs $10 more to accommodate this. Honestly, though? Unless you’re a die hard soccer fan, I think you can skip the Leg Strap and save your money by buying digital. Even if you are a fan of soccer, Shootout isn’t anywhere near what I would call robust enough to justify using its own accessory. You’ll be kicking a ball five times into a repeatedly shrinking goal, which is actually pretty boring. I could see Shootout maybe being fun as a quick little competition between friends, but even then the mode feels pretty shallow as-is. Maybe things will change when Nintendo Switch Sports is updated to allow the Leg Strap to be used in other Soccer modes this autumn, but until then I don’t foresee those Leg Straps getting a lot of use.
Perhaps the most aggressive sport in Nintendo Switch Sports, Chambara is a one-on-one sword fight atop a platform, where your goal is to knock your opponent off into the water below. This is yet another very fun sport in the collection, and I have had plenty of fun swinging my Joy-Con around as if it were a sword over the last few days. While Chambara is exactly the same both offline and online, there is some variety offered to players in the form of three sword options: a standard Sword, a defense-focused Charge Sword, and the versatile Twin Swords.
Both the standard Sword and the Charge Swords use only one Joy-Con, while the Twin Swords require the use of two Joy-Cons. This best-of-three showdown can get rather intense, and one wrong move or missed block could easily mean defeat. I don’t consider myself to be overly competitive, but some of my favorite moments of this review were a couple of insanely close Chambara matches that may or may not have ended in a primal scream of celebration from me as I knocked my sister’s boyfriend into the water for the win.
Our last sport is another tried-and-true Wii Sports classic, Tennis, and it is largely unchanged from previous iterations. Every Tennis match will be four-on-four, though if you’re the only player on your team you’ll be in control of both players at the same time. Tennis involves a lot of skill when it comes to timing your swings, and it’s very easy to mis-time either too early or too late and end up with your ball going out of bounds. Offline Tennis is played and scored exactly like the real thing, with sets of one, three, and five matches, while online Tennis is scored in single points and you only ever play a set of one match.
The timing and skill involved in Tennis makes online matches very exciting, but, like Badminton, it would be nice if we could play online in sets of three or five. Another thing that I really would like to see in a future update is a couple of Tennis minigames like target practice or shot control.
A Level Playing Field
Aside from the specifics of each sport in the collection, Nintendo Switch Sports is put together very well. While I was disappointed at first that the Sportsmates would be replacing Miis, they grew on me very quickly. Seeing them in motion with all their little quirks, poses, and facial expressions makes them very endearing. I’m also a huge fan of the unlockable customizations offered in Nintendo Switch Sports; being able to earn rewards by playing sports to further personalize my Sportsmate is very gratifying. One way the rewards are a bit of a disappointment, however, is the fact that they’re only available by playing online. There is no way to earn any rewards without playing online, and in fact there’s not really any advancement at all in the offline modes. Of course, the offline sports are fun to bust out for an evening with your friends or family, but a lot of the single player offerings feel pretty hollow without any sort of measurable progression in the difficulty outside of selectable difficulty for the CPUs, which is available from the very beginning.
From a technical aspect, Nintendo Switch Sports runs very well, though that is to be expected from a first-party game. The only place I noticed any stuttering at all was when playing multiplayer Bowling. If more than one player happens to knock down several pins at the same time as any other player, there was a slight frame stutter. Other than that, the game is gorgeous. The Sportsmates look pristine, as do the environments surrounding each of the sports arenas. I’d love for a way to live in the world a little more, especially with some of the flavor text describing the areas around the arenas in so much detail. Admittedly I don’t see that there would be much of a point to being able to walk around Spocco Square other than to admire the environments, however.
The Final Score
In my mind it’s incredible that Nintendo Switch Sports even exists. It’s a sequel that I didn’t exactly see coming, but I’m not disappointed in the slightest that it’s here. Is it a perfect game? No, there are definitely improvements that could be made, especially to a somewhat hollow single player experience, but the online modes are stellar in their own right. Of course, when it comes to being an offline party game, Nintendo Switch Sports feels like a true sequel to Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort, through and through.
Players who play online, or locally with friends, will find themselves right at home playing each of the sports on offer here, and I think that’s really the point of a game like this: being able to share your fun with other people in a little friendly competition. Just don’t forget to wear those wrist straps.
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