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Nintendo Switch Sports Scores a Mixed Matchup

It’s no Wii Sports Resort, but Spocco Square will have to do.



Nintendo Switch Sports

Nintendo Switch Sports Review

Developer: Nintendo | Publisher: Nintendo | Genre: Platformer, Adventure | Platform: Nintendo Switch | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch

When Wii Sports was released alongside the Nintendo Wii in 2006, it had one job to do: prove that the motion-controlled Wii, Nintendo’s last-ditch effort at success in the home console market, could work. 101 million consoles later, it turns out that Wii Sports did its job pretty well—the Wii likely wouldn’t have reached anywhere near its dizzying heights of success without its sports-themed pack-in title. Over 15 years later, though, we have a sequel on our hands—and Nintendo Switch Sports is releasing at a very different time in its console’s lifecycle.

The Switch needs no novelty tech demo to demonstrate its value proposition at this point; the hybrid console has already proven itself over its five years on the market, and motion-controlled gimmicky minigames certainly aren’t its main selling point. So, that leads to the natural question: what’s the point of Nintendo Switch Sports? This is no generation-defining compilation like its predecessors, and while it may suffer from a lack of content and some perplexing design choices, Switch Sports is, at the very least, another solid addition to the Switch’s multiplayer library.

The Old is New Again

Shiny as its new coat of paint may be (just check out those yassified Miis), Nintendo Switch Sports will feel immediately familiar for players who grew up with Wii Sports or Wii Sports Resort. It takes just one click from the main menu to reach Switch Sports’ overworld, where all six of its minigames are immediately available: tennis, bowling, chambara, soccer, volleyball, and badminton—the last three being all-new additions to the Nintendo Sports series, while the others are returning favorites from previous entries.

Nintendo Switch Sports
Image: Nintendo

While these games are distinct enough, they all share one thing in common: their controls. Nintendo Switch Sports carries on the legacy of its predecessor with an exclusively motion-based control scheme using the Joy-Con. Anyone hoping to play in handheld mode or with a Pro Controller is entirely out of luck—either whip out those Joy-Con straps, or get off the field. This may be far from the first time a Switch game has eschewed traditional button controls (Super Mario Party, anyone?) but it always feels like a missed opportunity for a Switch game to forego the console’s main selling point–its portability. Even then, the motion controls are solid enough. Barring a few instances where the game fails to recognize all but the most dramatic motions, the controls are simple enough to grasp and come close to the intuitiveness that characterized the original Wii entries.

As for putting those Joy-Con to use, the games included in Nintendo Switch Sports are a varied and somewhat mixed bunch. The returning games will be instantly familiar to Sports franchise veterans: tennis remains an intuitive package that feels largely unchanged from its previous iterations, while bowling and chambara retain the same core gameplay that a generation has come to know and love. There are some additions to the base gameplay loops, though: in addition to its tried-and-true original mode, bowling now features a new “special” mode that introduces new obstacles in each lane, such as chasms, ramps, and barriers—forcing bowlers to throw some strategy into the mix.

Lastly among the returning titles, there’s chambara—one of the best games in the collection, full stop. Playing a bit like a simplified Skyward Sword, chambara pits two players against each other in a sword match to the nonviolent death (remember, this is Rated E 10+, the worst that can happen is that you get knocked off the stage). There are also two additional modes to experiment with here: a dual wield mode that gives you control of two swords at once (a mostly superfluous addition, since you can only swing your swords one at a time) and a “charge” mode that gives you a newly souped-up weapon that can release a charge attack.

Nintendo Switch Sports
Image: Nintendo

Not all of Switch Sports is familiar territory, though. The game introduces three all-new sports, which are unfortunately a bit of a mixed bag. Volleyball is likely the best new addition, given its surprisingly involved control scheme requiring players to work together and bounce, smash, or block the ball as necessary depending on the situation. Volleyball can be a lot to grasp at first, but after getting the hang of it, its more elaborate strategies make it one of the most satisfying titles in the package.

Badminton, meanwhile, repackages the general tennis gameplay loop to become a fun twist on the formula. Badminton can be as basic as slapping a shuttlecock from one side of the arena to the other, back and forth ad nauseum until one side misses, but it introduces a few subtle twists—the way the shuttlecock sometimes dangles in the air begging for a swift interception, or the way botched timing can send it twirling into your opponent’s field—that make it so addictive.

Yet what should have been Nintendo Switch Sports’ most exciting new addition becomes instead its most underwhelming: soccer. Think of it like a sedated Rocket League: you have an oversized soccer ball bouncing around a stadium, and it’s up to you and your team to kick it into the opposing side’s goal. The problem? Every little movement is excruciatingly slow, and although there is a dash mechanic, it’s also tied to a stamina meter—which peters out after a half-second of sprinting, meaning that it’s impossible to leap into action more often than not.

Image: Nintendo

These limitations turn every game of soccer into a crowded rush of Miis leisurely plodding along towards the soccer ball, with far from enough energy to make any decisive moves. That’s not to mention that out of all games, soccer seems to have the least reliable motion controls—more than once I swiped my Joy-Con to the right, only for my Mii to smash the ball to the left. Soccer had the potential to be Switch Sports’ most ambitious new addition, but instead, its slow pace, unwieldy controls, and frustrating design make it the one game that most parties will want to avoid.

Halftime Headaches

And that’s it for Switch Sports—a mere six games in total. While this is a budget game (in Nintendo terms) at $40 for a digital copy, it still seems strange that a new entry in a legacy franchise like Nintendo’s Sports series would come so light on content. If you only play one round of each sport, you can see everything the game has to offer in less than an hour—and that’s if you’re taking your time. Compared to the whopping 12 sports included in 2009’s Resort, Switch Sports drops the metaphorical sports ball when it comes to its amount of content. There may be at least one new game coming later down the line as free DLC, but the promise of future content is not enough to excuse a package that’s lacking in the present.

Of course, with this being a multiplayer game, it’s not just about how much content there is—it’s also about replayability. Thankfully, Switch Sports shines its brightest in this regard. While the games are fun in single-player, they’re at their best when you can play with other people, with support for up to four people at once for most games. Scant as they may be, each minigame makes for an excellent party activity—while multiplayer can’t save soccer, it can still take simple games like tennis and turn them into raucous events, amplify the importance of teamwork in volleyball, and turn chambara into a truly intense duel.

Nintendo Switch Sports
Image: Nintendo

As disappointing as soccer may be, its shortcomings are not enough to detract from the fun to be had in the five other games in the collection. They each strike an effective balance between being easy to pick up but competitive to play, and even the similarities between games like tennis and badminton do not detract from Switch Sports offering quite a varied athletic itinerary. Throwing multiplayer into consideration ensures that Switch Sports becomes more than the sum of its parts.

Online Intermissions

If you don’t have a team of three other sports-hungry friends to jump into Spocco Square with you, then Switch Sports still has you covered—just hop into its surprisingly robust online mode. Every single game supports online play, and online connectivity works brilliantly. Even after dozens and dozens of matches in the game across all six minigames, I hardly ever encountered a single connectivity issue or issues with finding other players. The game also offers the ability to line up for multiple different sports at once, ensuring that it rarely takes long to find an active game in one of your chosen sports.

But online play comes with a bizarre caveat. Nintendo Switch Sports rewards players for successfully completing an online match by awarding points, which can then be spent on aesthetic items—think emotes, titles, outfits, and items like tennis rackets and swords. But these rewards are only present in the online content—if you want to play with real people, no rewards for you. It would seem that Nintendo simply doesn’t want you to have any real-world friends.

Stranger yet, the items you can earn are time-sensitive, and will eventually be unavailable for unlocking after a specified period of time. That’s not to mention how long it takes to unlock a single item–with each item costing 100 points and most games yielding anywhere from 30 to 70 points per match, it often takes two or three games just to unlock a single reward. In other words, if you’re hoping to win all the swag that Spocco Square has to offer, get ready to grind. While this may be an effective way of forcing players to stick with the game to unlock all the items they can, while they can, it feels arbitrary at best. A Wii Sports-style minigame collection hardly feels like a natural fit for an online grindfest, but Nintendo, again, seems to have had other ideas.

Image: Nintendo

And the limitations on the items and aesthetics are especially strange considering how much of an aesthetic wonder the game is from a surface level. It may be a bit of a stylistic departure from the previous Sports games, but the new character models are charming and each environment is rendered into beautiful, oddly vibrant life—a far cry from the minimalist desolation that characterized Wii Sports. Even the music, while hardly as iconic as the opening riff of Wii Sports, helps keep the athletic vibes going. If nothing else, the game is consistently a colorful treat for the eyes and ears.

Time to Switch Up Your Sports?

It bears repeating—Nintendo Switch Sports is barely a fraction of what Wii Sports was. But today, it doesn’t need to be anything more than that. It may not be as innovative as its predecessor and it may have some odd design quirks, but it’s still a varied package that shines in local and online multiplayer. It makes a lot out of what little it has: like the games before it, Switch Sports scores highest when you’re playing in a room full of friends or family, duking it out to determine who the true chambara champion is. The Switch has already made a name for itself as the definitive console for local multiplayer, and Nintendo Switch Sports only reinforces that fact.

Campbell divides his time between editing Goomba Stomp’s indie games coverage and obsessing over dusty old English literature. Drawn to storytelling from a young age, there are few things he loves as much as interviewing indie developers and sharing their stories.

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