Remember when everyone and their grandma was caught up in the Wii Sports craze more than 15 years ago? Nintendo Switch Sports tries to recapture that lightning-in-a-bottle moment with a tighter but all too familiar experience, refining the same concept of simple, family-friendly motion-controlled games and applying it to new and old sports alike. Just like Wii Sports before it, Nintendo Switch Sports is best played as a fun but shallow party game that you can break out for friends and family in a pinch, though this time it’s not quite the novelty it was back in 2006.
You can play any of Switch Sports’ six games (volleyball, badminton, bowling, soccer, chambara/sword fighting, and tennis) alone or with friends, both locally and online. They’re all generally high quality, but pale in comparison to Wii Sports Resort’s 12 (admittedly less consistent) games when taken as a full package. My first day I spent time playing each sport alone to get a feel for them, and while putting spin on a backhand return in tennis to the tune of its excellent music tracks gave me a dose of nostalgia, it wasn’t until I decided to play a few rounds with my parents that the magic of Wii Sports came back in force. There’s fun to be had in playing a quick tennis match against some NPCs or bowling a few frames alone, but Switch Sports is undeniably at its best when you’re playing in the same room with other people, waving your arms and legs around like maniacs.
Although I stood relatively still when playing a match of badminton against my mom, making the bare-minimum motions with the Joy-Con necessary to trigger on-screen movements, my mom would lunge across the room to return a shot, throw her shoulder into each smash, and ultimately ended up winded because she wasn’t playing Switch Sports like a video game: she was playing it like the real thing. Similarly, when bowling, both my parents tended to walk up to the screen every time they threw the ball because the simplicity of it made those movements feel all the more natural to them – like they were bowling a round in real life. The special sauce that Wii Sports always had to bring in frequent gamers and the uninitiated alike is absolutely still here, and it’s the simplicity of the motion controls that makes it work.
But to really test out Switch Sports in its natural environment, you need a party. So I got together with a group of 12 friends and let them have at it. Beyond some of the routine headaches with connecting all the Joy-Con correctly, getting my friends up and at it was a breeze. Every single game in the collection is immediately more fun in this setting – chambara becomes a series of wild flails while onlookers cheer on, badminton emerges as an intense back and forth with neither player willing to accept defeat, and soccer turns into a mad sprint to the ball to try and get some last-second diving headers in before the clock hits zero.
Some of the individual games fare better than others when it comes to the intuitiveness of the controls – specifically, volleyball is the most difficult sport to simply pick up and play. During any given match you’ll be automatically shuffled through all the different positions, from server to setter to blocker. Your success is almost entirely based on cooperation with your teammate, because well-timed sets, jumps, and spikes compound into stronger, harder-to-return shots. Once everyone gets the hang of these motions it’s a lot of fun and made us feel like we were working as a team, but getting to that point wasn’t nearly as instinctive as the other games.
Badminton is easily my favorite sport of the bunch. It offers the most control, rewarding underhand returns, smashes, birdie placement, and more fine-tuned executions. You can even hold the trigger to initiate a drop shot, forcing your opponent to rush the net so you can then satisfyingly smash the birdie to the opposite corner of the court. It’s limited to two players at a time, but the often-heated returns feel much more intense for it. Badminton is also the only sport in the collection that made me notice the Joy-Con’s HD Rumble – precise haptic feedback that I could feel in my hand whenever the racquet connected with the birdie to make a satisfying *ting* sensation.
Bowling also gives you a high degree of control over the ball, and I was quickly bowling 150-point games without breaking a sweat. But the real challenge is in the Special mode, which throws increasingly difficult obstacles in the path of your strike and will give even the best Wii bowlers a run for their money. It also gives you and up to three friends the option to play simultaneously, so everyone doesn’t have to sit around and wait for each person to finish a frame – the result is chaotic and fittingly fun. Unfortunately, the 100-pin bowling mode from Wii Sports Resort is nowhere to be found.
Soccer is the most disappointing: it plays like a slower, less flashy version of Rocket League. The ball is larger than the players, and you spend most of the time in a match slowly running across the field. 1-on-1 was generally more enjoyable simply by virtue of the field being smaller, while 4-on-4 takes forever with the ball constantly trading possession. Soccer also bafflingly only allows for up to two human players at a time, preventing it from being redeemed as a fun party game.
Chambara’s sword fighting produces the most intense bouts of the lineup. Both fighters enter a sort of stilted dance, where one blocks while the other attempts to pull off parallel slashes to cut through their defenses. If you’ve chosen to use the Charge Sword, more successful blocks result in a powerful and satisfying return strike, while Twin Sword wielders can swing their weapons in unison to execute a Zelda-like spin attack that makes their generally more awkward handling worth it. Though the motion controls don’t always feel perfectly accurate, the matches can result in memorable come-from-behind moments where you go from being on the defensive to moving in for the “kill,” so to speak. The loser just comically falls into a pool of water – this is Nintendo, after all.
Switch Sports’ version of tennis is almost exactly like it was in Wii Sports, and you can only play doubles (with other players or against NPCs), which differentiates it from the 1v1 matches of badminton. It feels far more timing-oriented than badminton too, but it does give you the ability to slice and lob based on how you hit the ball. Those differences make it better for bigger parties, but it feels shallow by comparison.
Switch Sports includes online play, which allows you to unlock additional cosmetic options for your characters, but we weren’t able to test it out during our review period. However, I primarily consider Switch Sports to be an in-person party game, and could not care less about how my character looks, so even if online play doesn’t work at all for some reason, I wouldn’t be terribly broken up about it – the lack of depth to these games means that if I’m not playing it in a living room with friends, I might as well be playing against an NPC.
It’s unlikely to take you more than an hour or two with some friends to play through everything Switch Sports has to offer. While simplicity is what makes it work so well as a party starter, its selection of six sports feels meager in comparison to Wii Sports Resort’s 12 games. The lack of golf at launch is also sorely missed, but it’s an exciting prospect to hit the links again when the DLC is released this fall.