It’s been nearly nine years since the release of Wii Sports Resort, and we’ve finally received a new outing for the series. Six activities are available at launch, both old and new, to get you swinging, kicking, swiping, and jabbing your trusty Joy-Con on and offline. Does Nintendo Switch Sports recapture the joy of motion controls that the original Wii Sports graced us with, or does the limited number of modes and a £30+ price tag feel more like a con? Let’s find out.
Note: This review has been amended from a ‘review in progress’ to now include a full analysis of the offline, online, and local multiplayer modes, plus a final score.
Nintendo’s focus on motion controls has somewhat waned over the years when compared to the Wii era, but one of the unique initial selling points of the Nintendo Switch Joy-Con was the improved, yet familiar, ability to use real-life movements to control stuff on-screen. That’s not to say it’s been completely forgotten though, far from it; Ring Fit Adventure made exercise fun with the awesome and effective Ring-Con peripheral, ARMS created an innovative new fighting game experience, 1-2-Switch got everyone hilariously pretending to milk cows, Splatoon 2 brought back gyro-aiming, and there are a fair few third party games available to get players off the couch as well. Nintendo deciding to release Nintendo Switch Sports this late into the Switch’s life cycle remains a bit of a mystery, though playing on and offline with friends and opponents from across the globe helps to breathe new life into something that no longer feels like a gimmick.
Offline, local multiplayer, and singleplayer modes
Focussing firstly on the offline modes, ultimately, Nintendo Switch Sports does little in the way of providing players with much content to play with. Sure, Nintendo is planning to release Golf later in the year as free DLC, but what’s on offer straight out of the box is all too familiar; Bowling plays similarly to what’s found in Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics, and Tennis is, well, very much how you remember it was. In addition, each sport has an extremely limited list of modes available to play, meaning that offline solo players in particular can blast through every activity within a couple of hours on all three CPU difficulties. There’s no way of tracking your progress, and nothing is recorded apart from Bowling high scores, plus, there’s no leaderboard in sight. Admittedly, the CPU can offer a tough challenge when you crank it up to the max difficulty, yet there’s no reward for beating them. Even in multiplayer, you can’t keep track of who is the sporting champion in the same household. This is not to say that Nintendo Switch Sports isn’t a tonne of fun to play, it’s just that there’s simply not enough of it.
Something that is sure to divide players is the new character customisation features. Each player can opt to either import their own Mii head or to make a unique customisable avatar. You’re able to dress your sportsperson in different coloured clothing, change their hairstyle, eye colour, eyebrows, skin tone, and tweak their age thanks to a nifty, easy-to-use menu. Another cool inclusion is the ability to choose a nickname by selecting phrases and names from a pre-set list. Netting points via online play also grants the player access to even more pre-set nicknames; I scored enough points in a simple minigame on the credit screen which added another selection, for example, so be on the lookout for that easy win!
When importing a Mii saved to your Nintendo Switch system, you’ll be greeted with a questionable bobblehead-looking avatar. I also tried importing a Mii by scanning an amiibo and, sure enough, one that I made years ago sprung up on-screen. Though the Mii characters can look horribly out of place, it’s still entertaining to play against some horrific creations online. The new avatar designs won’t be to everyone’s taste either, but at least there are multiple options.
While the sunny location of Spocco Square looks like it’s been pulled straight from a holiday brochure in the Splatoon universe, you’re unfortunately not able to interact with the setting. The sun-drenched city acts only as a hub for you to cycle through menus to select the activities; it would have been nice to have something a little more interactive. Broadly speaking though, the aesthetic of Nintendo Switch Sports is clean, sharp, and what you’d expect from a first-party Nintendo game. Gaming novices won’t have any trouble navigating through the activity and character customisation screens, meaning just about anyone can play, as getting into a game is done quickly with minimal fuss. The punchy sound effects of rackets meeting shuttlecocks, and the rumbling of bowling balls before a loud clatter of pins with a Strike, also help to make the experience more immersive. Then there’s the familiar yet unique theme tune which you’ll without a doubt be humming or whistling when you’re going about your daily business.
For the most part, each sport is easy to master, however, much like Wii Sports Resort, not every sport is as enjoyable as the others. Take Badminton, for example, which was a standout sport from the preview session, and my thoughts on this remain unchanged. The strength and timings of your swings feel impactful, which is more evident when you land a power shot and slam the shuttlecock to your opponent while they’re picking themselves up from the floor after an early return hit. Squeeze ZR and you’ll return a drop shot, granting you extra court space to smash the shuttlecock back to your opponent as they scramble to defend. You don’t actually control your avatar directly, but rather the focus is on timing your swings just right so your character isn’t jumping all over the court. You’ll need to get used to consistently recalibrating your Joy-Con, and thankfully, this is done with a quick press of X while you’re pointing the controller at the screen. It’s a small annoyance – it comes with the motion-control territory – but most players won’t bear a grudge with having to do this necessity now and then.
Then there’s Volleyball, which is a newcomer to the Sports series. In my preview, I mentioned that I felt it would take more time to get accustomed to the mechanics. Well, with more time spent with it, this is arguably the weakest of the bunch. Initially just more confusing to play, Volleyball rarely offered a good time due to its cluttered, clumsy, and slower action. On more than a few occasions, it was difficult to tell what side the ball was, so I found myself blindly reenacting one of the three Joy-Con actions the tutorial taught me in hopes to keep the opposing team from scoring a point. Between bumping, setting, and spiking, it never felt that any of the actions made much of a difference to how the match played out, as it involved just holding the controller up or swinging it in an upwards motion to pass the ball to my teammate. Again, you have little to no control over where you are on the court, so you’re just left thrusting your arms up hoping to connect with the ball.
Tennis, on the other hand, felt better than ever. Playing with four players in the same room, the action quickly got frantic and downright hilarious. The fine-tuned precision of the Joy-Con meant that returning the opponent’s shots was easy. With my muscle memory reawakened from the Wii Sports era, I was soon timing my swings almost perfectly, and, in single-player, you’re in control of both the front and back players, which gives you the option to exercise your sneaky backhand tactics once again. Keeping your opponent on their toes by twisting your wrist at the last second allows for a quick topspin or slice, which adds a little more variety to the already familiar gameplay. The main drawback here is the omission of a singles option. You have no choice but to play doubles, which may be a blow to some players.
On the subject of familiarity, Bowling makes a return, and with it, comes a few tweaks from the Wii version. You’re able to choose from two types of lanes: Standard and Special. The latter provides obstacles that change with each lane; upping the difficulty means harder obstacles, such as inclines, moving blocks, and pillars that aim to hinder your hopes of scoring a Turkey. The Special lanes forced me to rethink my usual method of shifting slightly to the right to account for my natural right-hand bowling curve, and in multiplayer, it forced my opponents to do the same. Of course, the standard bowling was fun too, but if you’ve played Bowling on either Wii Sports or Wii Sports Resort, then don’t expect too much difference here. Things do change when you play online, however, but I’ll get into that in a bit more detail later.
One drawback of Wii Sports was that each game of Bowling took far too long waiting for everyone to have their go. Here, there’s now the option to play simultaneously, which speeds up the process drastically. With four bowlers all gunning for the top spot at the same time, and with everyone trying their hardest to distract the person next to them, this was my favourite mode out of all of the sports on offer. There was some noticeable technical slowdown when all four players were bowling at once, yet it never impeded our ability to bowl effectively.
Perhaps the most involved sporting activity in Spocco Square is Football/Soccer. As said before in the preview, the action felt akin to Rocket League, albeit on a much less frantic scale. In the One-on-One and Four-on-Four modes, grasping a Joy-Con in either hand, your aim is to score goals, making use of the right Joy-Con to kick, and the left to navigate the pitch. Swinging both hands forwards will make your sportsperson perform a diving header, and pushing ZL causes your character to burn through a stamina gauge, similar to the one seen for Link in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (no constant rain or slippery cliffs here though, thankfully). Carefully using the allotted stamina to get ahead of opponents was risky business, as it doesn’t refill when the match is reset after a goal is scored. I found my avatar panting more often than I care to admit, as I got greedy with sprinting. Poor thing.
Football’s “Shoot-Out” mode makes use of the leg strap accessory. You’ll have this on hand already if you’ve purchased Ring Fit Adventure, but rest assured, it’s also bundled with the physical edition of Nintendo Switch Sports. Choosing from one of the three difficulty settings in single-player, and strapping the Joy-Con to your desired kicking leg, you’re tasked with scoring goals with goalposts that decrease in width with every successful attempt. The oversized football’s trajectory changes with each difficulty level and timing your kick can be tricky, but the ever-shrinking goalposts can create a tough challenge. Sadly though, I never felt compelled to return to this mode that often, as it was purely down to timing and nothing else, but at least the One-on-One and Four-on-Four modes kept my interest for far longer.
Another returning sport from Wii Sports Resort is Chambara (originally named Swordplay). It’s just you and an opponent that you need to successfully strike enough times to have them reach the edge of the platform and fall off into the pool below. In the Wii variation, you had three modes to choose from, but unfortunately, there’s just one here in Switch Sports. There are, however, three different swords to choose from: Twin Swords, the Charge Sword, and a standard Sword. The Charge Sword builds up with energy while you block, and with a squeeze of R, you’re able to unleash a more powerful blow to your foe and the Twin Swords grant access to a powerful Spinning Strike. Each sword provides a different style of play, and the more calculated nature of waiting for your opponent to leave themselves open for a strike is, again, far more amusing in multiplayer. Simply flailing your arms aimlessly doesn’t work here; precision, patience, and timing is key.
Players who have a Nintendo Switch Online subscription can play against random people online or create and join rooms with their friends. This is where Switch Sports comes into its own, and where most folk will spend their time, as playing against global opponents will net them with points which can be used to unlock timed-exclusive gear such as colourful rackets, funky headgear, and new clothes for your avatar to wear. I had a tonne of fun with online, and I was motivated to keep playing to earn myself a vibrant shell suit by earning enough points to complete the board of collectables. Even when losing games, my path to grabbing all the fun gear wasn’t an arduous task, but rather a rewarding one, and being awarded bonus points for excellent or standout gameplay was a nice touch too. Gaining an ‘MVP’ bonus in Football/Soccer and a ‘Comeback Kid’ perk in Chambara urged me to not only win but to try different methods and tactics to gain those extra points.
On top of new outfits and cute headpieces, there are also stamps to collect, and as mentioned earlier in the review, more pre-set nicknames to unlock. Stamps are used in a similar fashion to Mario Party Superstars, and can be used to show your frustration or joy with your fellow sports folk before and after each sport. It was humbling to see my opponent applauding me for a sneaky shot in Badminton or a well-timed, victory-earning swing in Tennis. Using stamps never felt intrusive either, even when an opponent hammered the sad react stamp when they failed miserably in a game of Chambara.
While most sports are played out exactly as they do in local and single-player settings, there is a caveat with one of my favourite activities available, Bowling. At the moment, you’re only able to play against 15 other opponents in a knockout-style game, and while it’s entertaining seeing people drop off as you score consecutive Strikes or Spares, it would’ve been nice to have the option to go one-on-one. Still, the 16-player mode is fast and frantic without too many pauses, which is understandably what Nintendo wants to focus on to keep a steady flow and people’s interest. Bowling with a friend online? You’ll still have to play a knockout game joined by six other CPUs, as there isn’t the option to go head-to-head.
Pro League is another new feature for the Sports series. By competing in a set number of online matches in a sport, you’ll earn the ability to be ranked from E to A and face players in similar league placements. It acts as another incentive to keep playing by climbing the league ladder, which will go down well with the more competitive players out there. Interestingly, Nintendo has made sure that gamers who don’t own a Nintendo Switch Online subscription aren’t left out, as they’ll still have access to a trial version of the online modes. There are limitations however, as it’s only possible to unlock two items a week, and you can only face off against easy CPUs, but the option is there and may provide a tantalising urge for those who don’t own a subscription to purchase one.
Overall, playing online provides the most enjoyment if you don’t have friends or family playing in the same room, and I never had a dip in performance – even with my questionable internet stability. While it won’t recreate that unmistakable local multiplayer competitiveness, the drive to earn points to unlock outfits and accessories can keep you hooked for hours, and with Pro League added into the mix, there’s just enough to maintain interest for those wanting to keep a formidable ranking among friends. These aspects, coupled with being able to grab a friend to join you against global players, makes the online mode a standout feature of Nintendo Switch Sports.
Nintendo Switch Sports succeeds in giving players another way of getting off their couch and being active in the comfort of their homes. Even though it fails to revolutionise and go much beyond the previous titles, things once again really shine when you have friends in the same room, and the online features provide a healthy amount of staying power. The small selection of sporting activities is the main thing that holds it back from being truly excellent. What we have at launch is promising, and with the addition of Golf later this year, as well as planned timed-exclusive gear to unlock in the coming months, Nintendo Switch Sports earns a modest place in the titles that get picked when you want a few laughs with friends and family, almost like what the original Wii Sports achieved 16 years ago.
A copy of Nintendo Switch Sports for Nintendo Switch was provided to My Nintendo News by Nintendo UK for the purposes of this review.