I never expected to enjoy my time with Nintendo Switch Sports, but here we are.
The year is 2022. Wii Sports was released 15 years ago. Faint memories of playing tennis with family still linger. Golf competitions with roommates happened on the regular. I would live out my childhood baseball dreams in my living room. It was a magical time. Now, the Wii consoles and controllers collect dust. What was once a fad that swept the entire world, simply lives on in our memories.
Attempts to cash in on the Wii Sports craze were made. Wii Sports Resort brought some new games to the mix, but it was never met with the same success as the original. Wii U Sports Club is a game that exists, apparently. I actually owned a Wii U console for several years and had no idea this game was even a thing. If that’s not the perfect metaphor for how far the Wii Sports hysteria fell, I’m not sure what is.
So you’ll have to excuse me when I repeat myself: I never expected to enjoy my time with Nintendo Switch Sports.
Nintendo Switch Sports Is a Surprisingly Good Time
In typical Nintendo fashion, Switch Sports only had six sports available at launch. That is, admittedly, one more than the Wii U version. It’s also seven fewer options than 2009’s Wii Sports Resort.
Players can choose between tennis, badminton, bowling, soccer, sword fighting (chambara), or volleyball. Golf is planned for a future update as free DLC. Baseball, boxing, and others from the franchise are missing in action.
On the plus side, Nintendo Switch Sports isn’t a fully priced game; the digital version runs you $39.99, while the physical copy, which includes a leg strap, is $49.99. If you’re a glass-half-full kind of person, you can rationalize that the game’s price tag justifies the number of sports. Having said that, you do have to wonder why there are some omissions.
Baseball, like bowling, has been a franchise staple. It would have been great to relive it, especially since MLB The Show is now on a Nintendo console. Its absence from Nintendo Switch Sports is disappointing, to say the least.
But enough about what isn’t in Switch Sports. Let’s talk about what’s actually in the game: a small roster of games that deliver mixed results. Bowling is bowling; it’s the same bowling you fell in love with over a decade ago. The online tournaments and ranked play are a welcome addition. Playing with friends is as easy as it was back in the day.
The exact same can be said about tennis, too. These sports are as enjoyable as ever, but you’re not buying this game just for bowling and tennis, though. You’re going to buy it based on how the other sports are.
Not Every Sport Is a Home Run in Nintendo Switch Sports. The Ones That Are, However, Are an Absolute Blast
Soccer is the sport I’ve spent the most time with. Its gameplay resembles a more casual, laid-back version of Rocket League. It’s still frantic and I want to question the skill of my teammates, but I also don’t want to throw a controller through my television. Ironically, that’s the entire reason this game has a leg strap. Nintendo Switch Sports offers a free-kick mini-game in soccer. You’ll put the Joy-Con into the leg strap and kick a penalty shot. It sounds great in theory, but performing this in my apartment seems like a recipe for disaster.
The base control scheme for soccer is a little awkward, feeling like a hybrid between traditional and motion controls. You control players with the control stick while passing or shooting with motion controls. It leads to some pretty crazy gameplay that toes the line between awkward and over-the-top. I can’t help but wonder how much more fun I’d have to play with traditional controls, and I’m already enjoying soccer the most out of the other sports!
Well, maybe except for chambara. The sword fighting here is an obvious stand-in for boxing. Players will duel on a platform over a pool. You’ll slash, guard, and counterattack your way to victory by knocking your opponent off the platform and into the water. The cutscene that occurs after a duel is comical; the loser falls into the pool of water backward in slow motion. It’s a great sport to play in short bursts, but I worry about its long-term appeal. You can easily argue that it’s the most intuitive sport to play with motion controls, at least it was for me.
The least intuitive option in Nintendo Switch Sports is undoubtedly volleyball. It’s a shame because there is a lot of squandered potential here. Volleyball plays more like an on-rails rhythm game than a sports title. There’s no randomness or skill it feels like compared to tennis; you’re at the mercy of properly timing your moves.
A compounding error here is that no matter when I time them, the game always yells at me for reacting too early. I’m not quite sure how motioning a bump in volleyball could ever be too early, but also I’ve only played the sport in high school gym class. I’m just an arm-chair expert here.
Finally, there’s badminton, which feels like a different form of tennis. Mind you, I’ve never played badminton correctly, if at all; there’s an off chance I played it as a kid in our backyard during a cookout. I watched some of the Olympic Gold Medal badminton matches and as it turns out, Nintendo nails the feeling of the game. The issue, however, is that it’s not very exciting in a video game. The constant action and volleys seem exciting in theory, but in practice, it doesn’t work out.
The biggest incentive to keep playing Switch Sports is the customizable options for your characters. Instead of falling back on simply having a Mii be your avatar, Switch Sports allows you to create a new character from scratch.
Of course, by scratch, I mean an extremely limited selection of display options ripped straight from Pokémon.
Obtaining new emotes and accessories is a relatively easy and painless process. The game promises that new options will be able on a weekly basis. It’s a shame, though, that acquiring items happens at random. After “leveling up,” you’ll spin a wheel to obtain a customization choice. If you’re hoping to pick a particular item, then good luck.
Switch Sports Could Have Been a Surprise Classic, but It Holds Itself Back
Nintendo Switch Sports is filled with a lot of ideas that seem exciting on paper but don’t pan out. The potential for something great is there. The motion controls are solid with the exception of volleyball. Online play and a ladder system add longevity to the game. Yet Nintendo can’t stay out of its own way.
Why are the controls so unreliable with volleyball? Why is there no golf or baseball? Even with chambara, why is there no boxing? You have tennis and badminton there. More games mean more choices and more value. Switch Sports is a good, solid time at a discounted price. But it could have been even better.