Introducing: Nintendo Switch Sports Review
I’ve spent just over a week with Nintendo Switch Sports and so far, I’ve been very impressed. Wii Sports was without question one of the greatest launch titles of any game system ever! I vividly remember the day I picked up my Wii, which like every other Wii around the world, came bundled with a copy of Wii Sports. Of course being a Zelda fanatic, I was very busy with Twilight Princess during the first few hours with my shiny new console. Once that itch had been scratched, I booted up Wii Sports and became a completely different kind of fanatic altogether. And I wasn’t the only one. I took the Wii home that Christmas (I was living at University at the time) and showed Wii Sports to my family. They became hooked too. Soon the unthinkable was happening, my parents were buying their own Wii! So did my Auntie and Uncle, and all my cousins, and their friends. Wii Sports was so intuitive, so universal, so unique, that it appealed to almost anyone that gave it a try. What’s the reason for this extended trip down memory lane? Well, the point I am trying to make is that Nintendo Switch Sports has some very big shoes to fill.
The Wii (and Wii U) have been retired for quite a few years now. The Switch is a fantastic console, which is just as well loved as the Wii ever was, having recently surpassed the Wii in number of sales. But there are still many holdouts (my family included) that keep asking two questions: “Should I bother buying a Switch?” and “Does it have Wii Sports on it?”. Well, I’m happy to report that, five years after it’s launch, yes. Yes it finally does. The questions we now have to ask ourselves though, are “Does Nintendo Switch Sports live up to the original?” and “Has the novelty of waving a controller around to simulate various sports been lost in the last 16 years?”. Read on for a comprehensive breakdown of each of the available six sports as well as my impressions on other features that have been added to enhance the overall experience.
First thing I want to talk about is what any other game would call character creation, but I suppose in Nintendo Switch Sports we’d have to call this the bit where you choose a hairstyle and skin colour. Before you can take part in any of the sports, you will need an avatar to represent you. Wii Sports handled this beautifully by integrating with the Mii Creation software native to every Wii. I’m happy to report that you can still do this in Nintendo Switch Sports, however it comes at a price.
For one, your janky looking Mii Character will look rather out of place compared to the completely different art style of the native Nintendo Switch Sports characters. Secondly, many of the new fashion items and accessories unlocked during gameplay, cannot be augmented on a Mii based character. So lets say, you want to forget the 16 year old, Mii based creation tools and build yourself a brand new character that looks the part in 2022. Well that has its problems too.
Most significantly, there are ridiculously few options to chose from, so any character you make will (A) most likely look nothing like you and (B) be scarcely indistinguishable from anyone else you meet online. There’s no option for male or female body types, no option to modify your height or weight, a choice of only six hairstyles (three feminine and three masculine) and no choice of attire beyond changing the colour of the generic jumpsuit you wear.
Now you can add to the frankly pitiful choice of options you begin with to some extent, but I have several issues with that too. New accessories, hairstyles, emotes and so on can be unlocked through online play. Once you’ve accumulated enough points you get to choose between a selection of different prize pots, from which you will randomly win one of the prizes on show. This makes it rather frustrating to acquire the thing your after, particularly as the whole prize pot will disappear for good after two weeks. Now in some ways I quite like this model as it encourages you to play the game for cool rewards. However, I’m not sure I’m on board with some of those rewards being, for example a hairstyle that probably bears no resemblance to my own and is therefore useless to me. I can’t help thinking this would have worked far better if rewards were limited to clothes, accessories and sporting equipment, so that all the facial features could be unlocked from the get go.
Then there is the issue of what happens if you don’t have a Nintendo Switch Online membership. While you won’t be able to play against online opponents (unless you’re partnered up locally with someone who does have an NSO membership), you can still play against NPCs to earn points. The drawback is, you can only redeem those points for two items per week, and only from the most recent pool of prizes. To cut a long story short, If you don’t have an NSO membership, you could be plugging away at this game forever just to get an avatar that bears a slight resemblance to yourself. That just doesn’t feel like the “anyone can pick it up and play” approach that Wii Sports was so ubiquitous for back in the day.
Tennis was probably my favourite event on the original Wii Sports and I think it still is today. What I really love about it, is how easy it is to pick up but how difficult it is to master. For the uninitiated, basically you swing your Joy-Con around, as it it were a tennis racket, to knock the ball back and forth over the net. There’s no need to control your position on the court – the computer takes care of that for you. You’ll always play a doubles match to make it easier to cover both sides of the court and give you the option of returning the ball early or late. If you’re playing by yourself or against just one other player, that means you’ll be responsible for controlling both of your avatars, on your side of the net. It’s a system that works very well. The game is so easy to pick up that even my four-year-old was able to join in (and do surprisingly well at). This is a great sport the entire family can enjoy and keep coming back to.
Bowling is definitely my second favourite sport and probably the one I’m best at. Another throwback from the Wii Sports days, bowling (or ten-pin bowling to give it, it’s proper name) has you swinging your arm forwards to simulate rolling a ball down an alley. A little flick of your wrist at the end of your swing adds some much needed spin to the ball to make it more likely to get a strike. It’s another great example of the “easy to pick up, difficult to master” mantra that Nintendo Switch Sports does so well.
Again, this is so intuitive that younger children can play with very little difficultly. Well almost. While rolling the ball, you have to hold down the shoulder button on the Joy-Con and not let go, until well after the ball has left your hand. This quirk was giving some of my children’s friends trouble, and resulted in their character repeatedly dropping the ball unceremoniously onto the floor. If they tried that in a real lane they’d be thrown out.
Volleyball is probably the sport I’ve played the least. This is probably due to the fact that I just find it so darn confusing. The first time you start the game up, you’ll be treated to a skippable tutorial that does a good job of teaching you the ins and outs of the sport but then you’re thrown into a game and much of that is forgotten. I was often left unsure about whether I should be spiking or setting or blocking the ball, but perhaps this will get easier with more practice. For now though, I’m more content to compete at the sports I know how to play well, rather than force myself to try something new. Lazy I know, but there it is.
Badminton is very similar to tennis, but there’s only one person on each side of the net, and its a little bit slower. This makes it a great option for younger players to try out before they move up to the slightly more complicated world of tennis. Like with most of the other games, timing is key. Rallies can last a good long time, particularly for skilled players. Miss time your shot and your opponent will have an opportunity to deliver a devastating power slam that is nigh on impossible to return.
Usually, I’m about as good at football video games as I am at regular football, which is to say not very. I just can’t get my head around all the passing, the defending and the offside rule nonsense that goes along with it. Weirdly though, I quite enjoyed this particularly strange incantation of football, which sees the beautiful game played with a comically oversized beach ball players have to knock into their opponent’s goal.
You’ll play as one member of a team of four so there’s no need to keep switching perspective between multiple players. This made me feel much more like I was playing a game of football rather than playing as some god like entity that was controlling a team that were playing football. There’s no referee, no offside rule, no fouls. There’s no penalties or free kicks. The ball can’t even go out (it just bounces off an invisible wall). Basically, everything that slows down a game of football has been removed. To some, this will make the Nintendo Switch Sports version of football very lackluster, but I found it refreshingly straightforward.
Wii Sports Resort (the sequel to Wii Sports) made great use of the Wii Motion Plus (a rectangular peripheral that plugged into the bottom of a controller to give more precise motion tracking). One of the best pieces of software to showcase this criminally underused device was Swordplay – a game where the competitors balanced precariously on top of a podium and beat each other with sticks until one of them fell. If you ever watched Gladiators in the 1990’s then it was a bit like Duel.
Well Swordplay is back, but this time it’s been named Chambara. The rules are very much the same, but this time you have the option of wielding two swords at once with the addition of a second Joy-Con. Block your opponents moves then unleash a successful counterstrike when their guard is dropped and you’ll send them flying off the edge and into the cold, cold water below. Fun for all the family.
Well that’s all the sports on offer for now. Before we wrap up I just wanted to mention my experience with online play. Whether or not you will have a smooth experience depends very much on connection speed, connection stability and the type of game you are playing. Bowling, for example, is more or less immune from lag as players will role the ball independently from one another and the worst scoring players are routinely eliminated from the game. This makes qualifying for the next few rolls particularly exciting. On one occasion, however, the connection dropped out and removed me from the game, just as I’d reached the final round. Fortunately this is the only time I’ve been booted out of a match so far.
Lag is much more of a concern in a game like tennis, where you and your opponent rely on split-second timing to deftly fire the ball back and forth at one another. Occasionally the ball appears to hang in the air when it makes contact with your opponent’s racquet. This really messes with the flow of the game and can cause you to mess up your shot when the ball eventually returns. My internet connection is very stable, very fast and my Switch was positioned right next to my wireless router, so I have to imagine that this was lag either on my opponent’s end or caused by the servers. It might not be their fault, it could just be that they live on the other side of the planet. Of course it doesn’t really matter who’s causing the lag; it will affect you both equally. I’ve played plenty of tennis matches where lag wasn’t a problem, so it’s not as if the whole online infrastructure is flawed. For now, this is a mild annoyance rather than a game breaking bug.
Conclusion: Welcome Back Sports. Wii Really Missed You.
So when all is said and done, I’ve had a great time with Nintendo Switch Sports and I’m eager to get back to playing more of it as soon as possible. With the free addition of Golf planned for release this autumn and hopefully more sports further down the pipeline (canoeing anyone?) this promises to be the game that keeps on giving for some time to come. I suppose I could grow to love the weirdly restrictive character creator and enjoy the prospect of returning to the game every so often to see if my hairstyle is unlockable yet. The online connectivity problems need some attention but this could be a problem that fixes itself once people with poor internet connections get tired and give up (hard lines for those people though). I’m just very happy to see Wii Sports back and being enjoyed in the modern era. Time for a whole new generation of children to forget to wear their wrist-straps and throw their Joy-Con through the TV screen (seriously people wear your wrist-straps!)
- Six sports (some old, some new) with the promise of more to come
- Enjoyable, bite-size experiences that will get you and your family off the couch and jumping around the room
- Many sports that are easily accessible, even for much younger players
- Reward system provides a reason to come back and play on a regular basis
- Online play has some issues with lag and stability at present
- Character creator is very restrictive
- Those without a Nintendo Switch Online membership will miss out on a lot of content