Following on from the immensely popular Wii Sports series, the Nintendo Switch is finally getting its own iteration, with activities that are once again aimed at getting people off the sofa and swinging their arms and legs around with their family and friends. Ahead of its 29th of April release date, we were lucky enough to go hands-on with the game during a one hour, behind-closed-doors preview event at Nintendo’s UK head office to see how it’s shaping up.
If you’ve played Wii Sports – and let’s face it, everyone and their gran did back in the day – then you’ll already have a decent idea of what Nintendo Switch Sports will offer. With three familiar games from Wii Sports making a reappearance; Tennis, Bowling, and Chambara (aka Swordplay), Switch Sports adds three more activities to the roster for people to enjoy at launch; Soccer, Volleyball, and Badminton. In addition, Nintendo promises to add Golf via free DLC sometime later this year. All of these are available to play online if you have a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, and of course, every sport can be played in local multiplayer too.
During the one hour hands-on session, I played all six sports that are accessible from the Spocco Square hub menu. After being paired with my good friend Nathan from Pocket Tactics, we tackled each of the six sports, some of which we played cooperatively, and others put us against one another in competitive play. The Nintendo representative pointed to what modes we could and couldn’t play for the purposes of the preview, but rest assured, our full review will be going live later this month where we’ll cover every game and mode that’s available at launch without restriction.
After creating our avatar using a rudimentary selection of hairstyles and outfit colours, and being reminded that it’s possible for players to easily import their Miis, we clutched our Joy-Con and jumped straight into Volleyball. Having each completed the short but crucial tutorial, we were pitted against a couple of CPUs, and in no time, Nathan and I were barking orders at each other, quickly setting up powerful, well-timed shots, and generally having a great time getting to grips with the controls and playing as a team. Initially, the motion controls took a little getting used to, and I think Volleyball in particular needs more than its 30-second introduction to fully nail down the techniques, but the action felt fluid, and the on-screen prompts helped us gauge when to pass, or hit the ball over to the opponent.
After taking a quick slurp of my drink to stay hydrated, we headed into a game of Badminton. Much like tennis but with a naturally slower pace, I promptly scored enough points for me to walk away victorious. It’s worth noting here that badminton stood out as one of the most enjoyable games in the hands-on session. Slamming a shuttlecock instead of a tennis ball gave me more time to plan my next moves; that extra breathing space and the ability to hold ZR to catch your opponent off guard with a power shot was excellent stuff.
Bowling was next on the list, and apart from the wave of nostalgia that crashed over me thanks to the iconic memories of my family playing and enjoying the Wii Sports equivalent, I was ready to bring back my questionable skills and score some strikes. This didn’t go quite according to plan, but lining up my shots while taking it in turns with my opponent felt comfortably familiar. The Joy-Con motion controls felt accurate enough that I could twist my wrist at the last second to at least bag some decent points, but sadly, you can’t ‘accidentally’ throw the ball into the virtual audience as you could back in the day. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to play any of the other modes that will be available in the full game, such as simultaneous bowling and 64-player knockout, as we were playing strictly offline and bound by a strict time limit, but as mentioned earlier, we’ll have a more in-depth view on those modes in our review.
Next up was Chambara. Being given the option to pick between different types of ‘swords’, I decided to play it safe and opt for the standard variation. Learning the ropes via the tutorial, we played head-to-head, and to have poor Nathan fall into the water below the stage, I turned my focus on playing defensively while waiting for the perfect time to unleash some powerful strikes to his side. Chambara became a test of patience as I carefully observed his moves, threw in a few fake stances to throw him off, and made sure to put the block stance to good use. It was another victorious round for team My Nintendo News! Admittedly, I often found myself pressing and holding X to recalibrate the controller, and I got some serious Skyward Sword vibes from this sport, but each action felt impactful, and I wish I had more time to play with this activity. Chambara may be a worthy replacement for Wii Boxing, but that’s yet to fully be seen.
One sport that I was eager to find out exactly how things would work was Football (or Soccer for those in the US). Here, I tried two modes: one of which paired me with my journo friend in 4-a-side, while the other was Shootout, which required the use of the same leg strap accessory that you get with Ring Fit Adventure. Nintendo is now selling the accessory separately, and it will also be bundled in with the physical edition of Nintendo Switch Sports. As for 4-a-side, controlling movement with the left stick and the camera with the right, the action played out in a split-screen, third-person view. Squeezing ZL caused my avatar to dash across the pitch, depleting a stamina gauge that very quickly hampered my ability to save some shots from the other team. Still, with some well-timed arm swings, we found ourselves passing the ball with a surprising degree of accuracy. The game played out very similarly to Rocket League, due to the larger than life-size of the football, but that certainly isn’t a bad thing.
Meanwhile, the Shootout mode had me attaching the left Joy-Con to my right leg with the leg strap to score some penalty shots with a goal that decreased in size with every successful shot. Now, I have no shame in admitting that I’ve not kicked a ball for longer than I care to remember, but after a couple of practice kicks, it felt great to eventually score, especially thanks to a golden ball that was being thrown at me on screen for double the points. The Nintendo rep mentioned that, while the leg strap can only currently be used in Shootout, we can expect it to be utilised in other Football modes post-launch.
Last up was Tennis, where we played a doubles match. Much like Bowling, things felt familiar thanks to the hours I sank into Wii Sports, and in no time, we were trying to outwit each other with powerful lobs, sneaky backhands, and effective drop shots. It’s a little too early to tell for sure, but I got the impression that the Joy-Con felt a lot more accurate and finely tuned when compared to the Wii Remote. The focus was on timing the return shots just right, rather than simply waving your hand around and hoping for the best, which was a recurring theme that ran through every sport I played.
During my short time with Nintendo Switch Sports, it became clearer that it’s trying to appeal to the vast majority of the Switch’s ridiculously large player base, thanks to its easy-to-pick-up controls, friendly aesthetic, and its drive to put active fun back in the living room, just like how Wii Sports did nearly 16 years ago. Will it succeed in recapturing the hearts of those who spent hours breaking a sweat two console generations ago, and will the fairly limited number of sporting activities available at launch be enough for people to part with their cash? We’ll find out soon enough.