I’ll be honest in saying that critically, this is probably one of the hardest reviews I’ve had to write. I’ve probably played Wii Sports more than any game in history, as I’m sure is the same for many people who owned a Wii and had the experience of playing this game with friends and family at every gathering for months and years following launch.
If I were to look at Wii Sports critically, with the content on offer and the basic mechanics, it’d probably be a very different experience from the hundreds of hours of fun and bonding that the game brought me, especially when you look at the fact that it was a free pack-in game.
Mechanically, Nintendo Switch Sports is fairly similar to Wii Sports, which is probably its greatest strength and also its greatest weakness. Whilst Wii Sports Resort tried to do too much with the formula, and overcomplicated it, which worked for some sports and not so much for others, I think that whilst it was probably a better game, it probably was less accessible in the same way that Wii Sports could be played by anyone that picked up a Wiimote.
Nintendo Switch Sports goes back-to-basics meaning that anybody that picks up a Joy-Con will be able to play all six sports in offers. What this means is that sports such as Tennis and Bowling end up feeling really familiar. Outside of the obvious graphical enhancements, there are not a lot of changes, and at first, I felt a little disappointed by that, but as I played more and more with my partner and other family members that aren’t gamers, I realised that this was a good thing. It was still insanely fun, and there was literally no introduction necessary, meaning that everyone stood a chance and didn’t feel intimidated by picking up a controller.
Some smart improvements have been made. In Tennis, you can now more accurately hit the ball with topspin or slice the ball as well as lob in, and every so often, you’ll have the opportunity to smash the ball. Likewise with Bowling, which is a very similar experience, but there’s now a great addition where you can bowl simultaneously as the person next to you. This probably won’t always suit a group situation, but if you’re just playing one-on-one against someone, it’s a great way to keep it going quickly.
Outside of Tennis and Bowling, there are four other sports available at launch. With Golf still to be added in a later update, the balance does seem a bit off, despite all of the sports being fun. For instance, Badminton, whilst having some differences in the sense that it’s more directional-based when compared to Tennis, which is timing-based, it’s hard to ignore the fact that they are very similar sports.
Chambara and Volleyball, whilst very fun initially, just don’t seem to have the staying power that Bowling and Tennis do. The real hero here in my opinion is Soccer, or Football in other territories. Whilst there’s a penalty shootout mode that makes use of the leg strap, the main core experience on offer here is the three-minute matchups that mimic Rocket League matches in the best way possible.
The Soccer experience essentially has you going against one other person, or as part of a team of four, with the objective being to get a giant Soccer ball into the opposing goal. The main difference to every other sport on offer is that you have full control of your character, meaning you have a full range of movement and can kick the ball in any direction with clever motion controls. You can pull off brilliant headers and there’s even a stamina bar straight from Breath of the Wild.
It feels really accessible, but also feels like it has enough depth to it when playing against other skilled players or online. My only wish is for a 2v2 mode just like Rocket League, I feel that’s where this particular sport would really shine.
I’ve now spent quite a bit of hours with the online portion of the game, and it’s very clear that this is where all of depth is. All progression is tied to playing others online, with both the local modes as well as the online mode where you play against friends not providing any unlocks, points towards unlocks or even any kind of tallies to keep tabs against the people that you’re playing with.
Whilst this is a very odd decision, and one that I think Nintendo could have avoided by just having the entire game connect to the online and give you points based on whichever mode you’re playing, the good news is that what is on offer in the global online mode is really good. You can play any of the sports online, although Nintendo has custom tailored each sport with its own mode. For instance, bowling is a knock out mode, whilst Tennis is a tiebreak. Sadly, Soccer is a four on four mode, so you’ll be playing with random players which honestly is quite sufferable to what would have been an incredible 1v1 or 2v2 mode online.
After playing each online mode, and you’ll play A.I opponents if nobody is found online, which makes the former point about earning no points in the local mode even more silly, you’ll get points which will go towards unlocking a new outfit, tennis/badminton racket or title at random, with these being rotated out every few weeks or so. I really like the way that Nintendo awards you extra points for things such as scoring extra goals in Soccer, or hitting multiple fast serves in Tennis.
Things really get interesting in the Pro League, which you unlock for each sport after winning a few matches against real opponents. From here, there are 12 rankings that you can get through by beating opponents in similar rankings. Whilst I get the appeal of this, I do worry about what happens when there’s not enough players to feel servers for certain sports, and I still don’t think that forcing people to play this mode by putting all unlocks and progession behind it is the right idea, or enough to keep it going long term but we’ll see.
I think Nintendo Switch Sport’s online component shows that Nintendo is learning and still figuring things out. There’s definitely some weird decisions as mentioned, and things such as voice chat are still locked behind the app, but the connection was stable and even though you don’t earn anything whilst playing with friends, the lobby and how you select games is a huge improvement on what we’ve seen in most other Nintendo games, so hopefully they improve this as time goes on.
What I am very sure of though is that Nintendo Switch Sports is a game that should belong in absolutely every Nintendo Switch collection. I’m very confident in saying that even if you pull this game out when you’ve got friends or family over, it will still draw the same attention that it did in Christmas 2006. It’s still loads of fun, and whilst it might not be a game you pull out every day, it’s definitely one that you’ll get a hankering to play every so often at the very least.
Nintendo Switch Sports feels familiar, yet still remains fun after all these years, especially when played with groups of friends. Whilst the offline offering is a little bit basic, what's on offer online will take advantage of the easy to play, hard to masters gameplay mechanics.