Let's start this review with some inside baseball. (No, baseball is not featured in this game, before going any further.) A recurring conversation in the Shacknews Slack channel addresses the topic of "What is retro?" This might be hard for older users to hear, but Wii Sports is considered retro. It's also an idea that one never expected to see again, given that the Wii is a retro console that has seemingly gone away forever. However, Nintendo is nothing if not a miner of nostalgia. With that said, Nintendo Switch Sports is here to tap into the spirit of the old Wii generation and, for the most part, it does that job well.
Bodies in motion
Nintendo Switch Sports is presented as a total throwback to a bygone era. It even starts out with vintage warning screens advising players to have their Joy Con wrist straps tied and make sure there's plenty of space in front of the television. It quickly becomes clear that Nintendo is approaching this as the spiritual successor to Wii Sports and that extends to the full selection of mini-games.
Of course, a lot has changed in the 15 years (!) since Wii Sports first saw the light of day. First of all, there's no sensor bar on the Nintendo Switch, so every game will use either the Joy-Con's analog stick or automated movements. While that takes away from the exercise element slightly, it does lead to greater accuracy across many of the game's sports.
Worrying less about positioning means a greater emphasis on motion controls. Fortunately, the motion controls have proven to be crisp, regardless of the sport being played. Regardless of where I was standing, the Switch was less concerned about where I was standing and more focused on how I was handling the Joy-Con. Whether the sport required some pregame calibration or not, success was usually determined by the direction and manner in which I moved my hands. Refreshingly, it read my movements perfectly and there were no instances where I waggled my controller wildly, the way I would in the old days.
There are six core mini-games in Nintendo Switch Sports: Volleyball, Badminton, Tennis, Soccer, Chambara, and Bowling. Some of these games have a few variants, such as Bowling's multiple settings and Soccer featuring a Shoot-Out mode. After playing through all of them, there are more hits than misses, though one game really has more staying power than anything else and that's Bowling.
The Bowling experience is wildly fun, especially with the ability to hook shots with a flick of the wrist. The ability to position oneself with the analog stick is invaluable, allowing players to focus more on their form and their technique. Getting a strike is much easier than the game's real-life counterpart, though maintaining the right form to consistently knock all the pins down is a tougher challenge than it looks. If standard Bowling sounds dull, the Advanced setting is where Nintendo takes advantage of the fact that this is a video game. Each frame will feature randomized obstacles, like moving bridges, bumpers, and inclines. Getting a strike now involves strategic positioning as much as it does a proper technique and it's brilliant. It's one thing to have a few drinks with friends and bowl a standard game, but toss these obstacles into the mix and the night picks up fast.
The same cannot be said for Soccer. I give Nintendo an "A" for effort with this addition, but 1v1 and 4v4 sessions are mainly controlled with the analog stick. Players gesture with the Joy-Con to deliver different types of kicks, which means that you're technically hitting the ball with your hands. That's not the futbol the world has come to recognize. However, Shoot-Out might be more in line with the beautiful game as everyone knows it. This is where players catch balls coming from the corner and must aim it at the net. The difference here is that the Leg Strap accessory from Ring Fit Adventure is used to read the player's leg movement. This is a much more true-to-life soccer experience, though it can be really easy to get careless and kick something over in real life. Watch your surroundings!
Tennis and Badminton are mostly redundant, but have a few subtle differences. Mainly, Badminton is a 1v1 game, while Tennis focuses more on doubles. Again, without a sensor bar, movement is done automatically and the games focus more on gesturing with the Joy-Con. That actually felt somewhat disorienting to me, since the real-life versions of these games are so cardio-focused. If nothing else, I got to work on my technique, but something felt off about playing Badminton and Tennis.
By that logic, I should have the same complaints about Volleyball, since that also doesn't utilize footwork. However, I came to enjoy Volleyball, simply because it started to feel more like a puzzle. This activity measures the player's Joy Con movement to register bumps, sets, spikes, and blocks. Depending on what the opponent does, players need to register the right Joy Con movement that gives them the best chance to win, whether it's setting up for a teammate or jumping up to block an incoming spike. Volleyball can be surprisingly intense and proved to be a favorite by the end.
Speaking of reading opposition movements, Chambara rounds things out and this is a blast. This is basically battling with swords atop an elevated platform. Players can select between standard swords, charged swords, and twin swords and that can lead to fast-paced and cerebral matchups. Victory in Chambara is determined by how much offense players can get in. However, if the opponent can score a block, the striking player is left in a dizzy state. Holding the Joy Con vertically, horizontally, or diagonally not only determines how you'll swing your weapon, but it also establishes the position of your block. Chambara matches can turn into battles of attrition, leading to fun times and one of the highlights of the Nintendo Switch Sports package.
Full disclosure before going further: The online component for Nintendo Switch Sports was not active as of this review. That means we weren't able to test out the game's netcode, the Survival Bowling component, nor the unlockables that came with online progression. This is where I'd also like to note that the game's character builder is a charming piece of work, giving players newer-styled character models to build from the ground-up, though the option is also available to import Mii characters.
As an offline package, Nintendo Switch Sports is a hoot just for Bowling and Chambara alone. The other games are worth trying at least once. Volleyball might even grow on some people. Unfortunately, Badminton, Tennis, and Soccer lost steam with me after a while, but half a package that I'll return to again and again is certainly nothing to sneeze at. I hope this is a collection that will continue to grow, because I had forgotten what a crowd-pleaser the Wii Sports era was. It's good to have that spirit back.
This review is based on a Nintendo Switch digital code provided by the publisher. Nintendo Switch Sports will be available for Nintendo Switch on Friday, April 30 for $39.99 USD. The game is rated E10+.
Nintendo Switch Sports
- Crisp motion controls with no frustrating waggle
- Bowling is fun for solo players and groups
- Chambara is a blast
- Volleyball has some staying power
- Soccer Shoot-Out is a cool use of the Leg Strap
- Limited selection of sports
- Tennis and Badminton lose steam fast
- Soccer relies on hand gestures? What?
- Can't earn customization pieces by playing locally
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Nintendo Switch Sports review: Wii would like to play
I was on Youtube, refreshed my subscription page and there is a wall of Shack videos about this game. Unless my WiiU dies, I don't seem myself getting another one like this any time soon.
Damn you still got a WiiU hooked up? What are you even playing on it these days? You could put a Switch in that spot on your entertainment center!
The most played game these days is Just Dance 2015. The next two is Wii sports, and Mario Kart.
My daughters are clamoring for this game. I wish it would work where they could play on their own Switches. But, this is one I'll have to buy on my account and keep my Switch docked in the living room. Good example of how the Lite kind of limits sales on a game like this.