Everyone and their grandma loved Wii Sports. It was the pack-in game that sold a console to millions of people who didn’t even like video games that much. The game appealed to everyone because it was simple enough to understand in a few seconds and you could quickly and easily get a full group of people taking turns to play. Wii Sports Resort, while not as successful, added on to this idea with a bit more complexity in its sports and a charming locale to play in. What tied it all together were the Miis – equally simple caricatures created in the Mii maker. On the Wii U, Nintendo tried out a sort of subscription model with and upgraded Wii Sports. That obviously didn’t work because, well, no one but me bought a Wii U. Now they’ve resurrected the brand in Nintendo Switch Sports, which does have some of the fun and charm somewhere in it.
Starting up Switch Sports, you’re asked to create a Sportsmate. These are essentially a higher fidelity version of Miis with less customization. After Miitopia’s port essentially perfected the Mii Maker, it’s a bit strange to go back to something with far less options, but I actually think they’re pretty charming. Sure, they lack the variety and diversity of Miis, each Sportsmate has the same head shape and body type, but they’re cute. If you really want, you can swap them out for a Mii and supposedly an animal type body such as a Squirrel, though those aren’t in the game at this point.
Once you’ve created your character and picked a witty title, you can choose from six sports to play: Volleyball (1-4 players), Badminton (1-2), Bowling (1-4 Local), Soccer (1-2 Local), Chambara (1-2), and Tennis (1-4). You may be wondering why there are essentially three types of Tennis in the game, so let’s start with those.
Volleyball is a game of 4 player Simon Says at its core. If you start off serving the ball, once it is returned you waggle at the right time to lob it to your partner, who sets it up for you to spike. You can slightly change the direction of the spike depending on the way you swing, but regardless once it’s returned it’s your turn to set up your partner, and you repeat this loop until someone drops the ball. To make things slightly more interesting, you may be able to move around slightly if you’re blocking or catching, but it doesn’t really matter because the game will automatically move you to the right spot anyway. In addition, if you and your partner waggle at the correct times for each action you can set up a combo to make the spike go slightly faster which, again, doesn’t really do anything because the game will move your opponents into the correct position. I wouldn’t exactly call this sport fun, but it can be nice to just zone out with the slow repetition of actions.
Badminton is the best of the tennis triplets, with just a bit more strategy added in. This is a one on one affair, with players swinging the racket to return the ball with speed increasing after a correctly timed swing. Again, you don’t have to worry about movement, but the small bit of strategy comes in with Drop Shots. By holding the trigger during a swing, you can make the shuttlecock have a shorter arc dropping just beyond the net. They’re very easy to return, but they can psych out your opponent a tiny bit if they were expecting a normal shot. They’re only really helpful if the rally is going fast enough, which rarely happens online in my experience. It’s not as bad a minigame as Volleyball, and is lifted up by the fact that you can use the motion controls to wave at people, which is super cute.
Tennis is basically the same from Wii Sports, but somehow less fun. It’s exactly the same setup: you play as a team of two (either with a human partner or a clone of yourself) and hit the ball by swinging left or right to try and get two bounces on the other side of the court. However, something just feels off. The motion tracking is often inaccurate, with your character swinging left when you swung right, and frequently your character just doesn’t move fast enough to where the ball is going to go. Movement is automated once more, and they can move fast enough to reach in some situations, but more often than not they just… don’t. Like Nintendo wants each match to end as quickly as possible. Hitting the ball will also just send it out of bounds occasionally, which is understandable given it is a normal part of tennis, but it’s far too frequent and inconsistent to know why that particular swing sent the ball out.
You may remember Chambara from Wii Sports Resort’s sword fighting minigame. You duel above a pool of water and try to knock your opponent off the platform by striking them. It’s a best of three match, though in the event of a tie the arena will shrink so whoever gets the first hit wins. You can swing in eight directions or hold one of the triggers to block, the idea being you want to swing parallel to where your opponent is blocking so you hit them and don’t get stunned yourself. Where Swordfighting was chaotic and quick, Chambara is much slower and methodical. After you swing, there is a brief period where you can’t attack again, so you really need to be deliberate with your actions. To add a bit more depth, you can also choose between one of three sword types: a two handed sword, with the highest knockback; a charge blade, which has boosted power for a single swing after it charges; and Dual Swords, which allows you to get tricky with which hand you’re going to swing or block with. This could be a lot of fun once you get the handle on the slower pace, but again the inaccurate tracking betrays it. Far too often I find myself in the drink because the game registered a vertical swing when I was trying to hit up and to the left. It’s truly bizarre how wrong the game can get things, and it’s not just me either – you can see when battling people online how their swings just aren’t correct with regards to where the blade was beforehand. It’s this one simple issue that completely sucks any possible joy out of this sport and others.
Bowling fares much better, and actually brings something new and interesting to the table: a battle royale. When playing online, you and 15 other people compete for the highest score, with some of the lowest players being eliminated every three Frames. It’s a ton of fun, though it can be too easy once you figure out how to consistently get strikes or spares, or too hard if you encounter someone else who can do so before you get there yourself. The only issue I have with the mode is spectating. Once you finish your set, you obviously can watch others complete theirs, but you can’t choose who to watch – it’s always randomly selected. Additionally, when you’re eliminated you have to wait for spectating to start before you can leave the match which takes far too long.
Finally, we have what’s by far the best mode: Soccer. This is a 4v4 affair, where the blue and pink teams face off to get a comically oversized soccer ball into the opponent’s goal by kicking and passing with motion controls. This is the only game played with two joy-con at once (unless you’re using dual swords in Chambara). You move with the left stick, adjust the camera with the right, and shake either controller to kick or both at once to do a dive. By holding ZL you can sprint, though be careful not to run out of stamina as it regenerates slowly, and holding ZR while kicking will pass the ball to a teammate who called for it by pressing A. A single match lasts about 2 minutes, but almost always goes into overtime, where the goals get bigger and whoever scores first wins.
Despite a lack of teamwork online, Soccer is a blast to play and is my most played sport. I quickly unlocked the Pro League, which is something of a ranked competitive mode for each sport with your letter grade starting from E and going to A + after winning enough matches. It’s nice to have the option for a more competitive style of play, but since it’s enabled by default upon unlock and people somehow still don’t know how to pass or work together it feels kinda pointless. You can rank down if you lose enough too, which makes it weirder that this is even in what is advertised as a casual sports title.
You can toggle Pro League for each sport in the options if you’d like, which is nice and surprising given Nintendo games rarely have options. There’s even a single accessibility option: Alternate Colors. It doesn’t describe what it does and I can’t see any difference with it on, but it’s there nonetheless. But if you’re impaired or disabled in any way, Nintendo once again says “nope” with absolutely no way to play without motion controls. Want to play portably or have a Switch Lite with no extra Joy-Con? Well you’re out of luck, you can’t even get past the main menu. I really don’t understand why we let this slide with Nintendo of all companies. Half a decade into their most successful console’s life cycle and Splatoon 2 still has the most robust options menu from a first party game, and even then they’re still leagues behind any of their big budget contemporaries. I’ll keep saying this until it happens, but do better Nintendo.
Nintendo Switch Sports is also very much intended to be played online, with a reward system only progressed through online matches and the slow drip of future content we’ve come to expect (and dislike in most cases) from titles like Animal Crossing and Splatoon 2. As you play online, you’ll earn points towards a new reward. Once you reach 100, you can choose a reward card to randomly receive a customization item such as new titles, clothes, hairstyles, eye colors, and sports equipment. I’m not against this in theory, progression systems tied entirely to cosmetics can be fun, but locking so many items behind it when the initial character creation feels lacking is just a slap in the face. I had to play several hours of the game just to unlock my eye color, green, and I only got that after finishing most of the reward card because of the random selection. Completing a card will unlock two new outfits pictured on the right side, so there is a nice incentive to get everything before the cards rotate out each week, but once again it’s frustrating that you start with exactly one outfit with some color variations.
If there was a particular outfit, piece of gear, or body type you wanted from the trailers, you better like the waiting game then because once you unlock everything from that week, you have to wait for the next to start earning whatever Nintendo chooses to let you have. Again, I actually like this system in theory, but its implementation is so backwards and frustrating. I would like the new Sportsmates if they had more initial variety, which is clearly in the game because the rewards just rotated without a need to update the game, but Miis offer so much more customization and personality right now.
However, Miis do look a bit off in the game’s gorgeous, cartoony art style. The game takes place entirely within Spocco Square, which feels shockingly lively with the detailed backgrounds. There are also some really nice touches with the music – it’s clean during replays or when navigating menus, but sounds like it’s coming from distant speakers when actually playing a sport. I really wish you could explore the Square, because it could make for a nice alternative to Woohoo Island.
Nintendo Switch Sports
Nintendo Switch Sports has moments of fun, but they’re buried under forced, inaccurate motion controls and lacking minigames. Only 2 and a half of the six sports on offer here are really fun or engaging, character customization is shockingly sparse, and the novelty wears off in minutes. This feels more like a cheap imitation of Wii Sports, which was free, than anything close to worth the price of entry.