If you’re walking into Nintendo Switch Sports armed with fond memories of blissful hours spent playing Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort, you might want to check your face for rose-tinted glasses.
It’s not bad. The Switch’s Joy-Con controllers are in many ways newer and fancier versions of the iconic Wii Remote, sporting the same kind of motion-sensing hardware that made the Wii such a transformational experience. Swinging your virtual tennis racket here feels much the same as it did over 15 years ago. But the old magic, the “wow” factor that made the Wii’s capabilities so fundamentally cool, is gone now.
That puts a lot of pressure to shine on the six sports-themed minigames included in this package on day one (a golf minigame is coming, but not until the fall). Volleyball, Badminton, Bowling, Soccer, Chambara (sword fighting), and Tennis are all charming and (for the most part) intuitively enjoyable to play. But together they make for a very slight experience overall.
Nintendo’s review guidelines create some artificial limitations here, admittedly. Switch Sports has an entire online mode that lets you test your faux sports skills against human players in all six minigames. Victories in that online mode unlock new options for customizing the character you create from a limited set of options the first time you launch Switch Sports. For some players, that kind of pursuit could make the experience stick a little more, but I didn’t get to test it out.
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Still though, the six Switch Sports minigames are woefully shallow. Even the ones that offer alternate ways to play — Chambara, for example, lets you fight with any of three different types of sword loadouts — don’t change all that much from variant to variant. You can select different difficulty levels for AI opponents or compete against friends whether they’re online or in the room with you. But you’ll see all that Nintendo Switch Sports has to offer in the space of a few hours, and none of it ever gets physical enough to give you a proper workout.
As a full representation of the sport, Bowling is still one of Nintendo’s stronger minigames in these collections. You’re able to bowl a full game of 10 frames if you like, alone or alongside other players. You can land strikes and spares of course, but you also have enough control to aim your roll and even put some spin on the ball.
None of this is strenuous in any way, shape, or form, though. You use button and thumbstick commands to adjust aim and ball spin. The only physical movement requirement is for the wind-up and release, which involves bringing the Joy-Con up to your face, holding a trigger button down, and swinging your arm down, back, and forward as if you’re actually bowling.
It’s enjoyable, and challenging enough mechanically that you’ll need to really put some effort into mastering how to roll if you want to score a perfect game. It’s also great fun to play with friends, supporting up to four players in each game. Just don’t expect to feel the burn at any point; if anything, Switch Sports Bowling is relaxing and meditative.
OK, now we’re moving a bit. Just a bit, though. While there is a way to use your feet in Switch Sports Soccer, it’s a separate mode that has some limitations of its own (I’ll get to that in a minute).
Soccer, in its standard team-based modes, lets one or two human players face off in one-on-one or four-on-four matches, with the latter filled out by AI-controlled players. It’s the laughably unintuitive controls that are the problem here. Where soccer is a sport that is expressly about not using your hands, Switch Sports Soccer takes the opposite approach.
The left and right Joy-Con thumbsticks control player movement and camera position, respectively, while other buttons allow you to jump or sprint. But kicking is where things get really weird. You “kick” the ball by quickly swiping either Joy-Con in the direction you’d like to kick (left and right, plus up for high kicks and down for low kicks). You can also execute a diving header by swiping both Joy-Cons downward simultaneously while you’re running at the ball.
It works well enough, but it’s not a particularly active way to play compared to the other minigames. That’s also true of a separate “Shootout” mode, which is the aforementioned “you can use your feet!” option, though you’ll need a Nintendo Leg Strap (or a jury-rigged equivalent).
Once you’ve got a Joy-Con firmly attached to your kicking leg — in-game instructions show you how and where to do it — the Shootout begins. You and another player (human or AI) take turns trying to score goals. There’s no player movement required at all; the ball is automatically served to you when it’s your turn. All you need to do is kick. You’ll have to take care to line up your aim and get your timing right. But it’s one kick per turn, and the challenge never gets any more involved than that.
Where Soccer falls short on intuitive design, Volleyball delivers. The two games aren’t all that different, mechanically speaking. You don’t control the camera here and in fact you only need one Joy-Con, but the thumbstick is how you move around the play space while motion controls handle ball management.
If you’re familiar with volleyball already, learning this minigame is a snap. Most of the controls are contextual; you swipe up and then down to serve the ball, but that same up-then-down motion is also how you spike it. Passing is a simple upward swipe, but when the opposing team is setting up a spike of its own, that same motion executes a leaping block.
As with all of these minigames, timing is really the key here. You need to watch the ball and swipe at just the right moment to maximize your accuracy and power. Unfortunately, none of that ever translates to strenuous physical activity. Volleyball is fun, especially when you can get some friends playing — up to four total for this one — but a workout it is not.
Tennis / Badminton
I’m lumping Tennis and Badminton together because they’re basically the same thing in Switch Sports. Both minigames have you swinging a racket to smack a small ball or shuttlecock back-and-forth over a net. When one side misses their shot, the other side scores. Both games use only one Joy-Con and move your character(s) automatically. Hitting the ball (or shuttlecock) is a matter of timing and aiming your swipes. The differences beyond that are in the finer details.
Badminton is a one-versus-one minigame. The shuttlecock that you hit is lighter than a tennis ball, and it moves through the air in a floatier way. You can hit it with a simple swipe (or an up-then-down motion when it’s your turn to serve), and you can turn any hit into a weaker, shorter distance “drop shot” by holding the trigger as you swipe.
Tennis is a bigger game, pitting teams of two (as many as four human players) against one another. When you’re playing all alone, you control the swings of both players on your side — again, it’s a matter of timing. Swipe your Joy-Con as the ball is passing by the player closer to the net, and that’s the racket you’ll swing. Wait for the ball to travel further and your rear player becomes the one who responds to swipes. It’s all automatic.
Neither of these minigames will give you a workout. The swipes happen more quickly as you climb to higher difficulties, to the point that you may actually feel the memory of breaking a sweat.
Switch Sports‘ sword-fighting minigame is the highlight of this package just because it’s something entirely different. Where the rest of the games mostly reward timing, Chambara is more about precision.
You and another player (human or AI) face off on a raised, round platform that’s suspended over water. The idea is to smack your opponent enough times to drive them back to and ultimately over the platform’s edge for a big, satisfying splash. There’s just one complicating factor: Both fighters have the ability to block, and successfully blocking temporarily stuns the attacker, leaving them open to a counter strike.
Chambara’s swipe-based attacks are entirely directional: Left-right and right-left movements deliver a horizontal slash; up-down and down-up are for vertical slashing; and diagonal swipes equate to diagonal slashes. Blocking is a matter of holding down the trigger and then reading your opponent’s sword positioning while angling your own sword so that the eventual slash lands at a perpendicular angle to your blocking maneuver.
A lineup of different swords options shakes things up a bit here. The basic sword works as described above: you slash and you block and that’s it. With a “charge sword” equipped, your blocks serve a secondary purpose. Successfully warding off an attack adds to a charge meter. Doing it twice fills the meter completely, at which point you can hold down the Joy-Con’s shoulder button as you slash to deliver a powerful charged attack.
While both of those sword options require only one Joy-Con, the third and final variant allows you to dual-wield Twin Swords. The individual controls for the two blades are the same on each Joy-Con as they are for the basic sword. But Twin Swords also have a charge attack of their own that becomes available once a meter, which fills up automatically over time, is topped off. At that point, you can swipe both Joy-Cons together in any direction to deliver a Spinning Strike.
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While Chambara is just nonstrenuous as every other Switch Sports game, it requires a kind of focus that makes it stand out from the other options. You’ve got to read your opponent’s movements and continually shift your positioning to be ready for a block, since strikes happen quickly. While all that is unfolding, you’ve also got to watch for openings and remember to go on the offensive whenever an opportunity presents itself.
The addition of multiple sword types, and the ability to pit different sword types against one another, adds yet another layer of depth that feels downright surprising compared to the five other minigames. Yes, the basic sword is at a distinct disadvantage against the other two with their charge attacks. But there’s flexibility to this minigame that is noticeably absent in the rest.
There’s no workout here, and there never was one. Wii Sports and the two subsequent minigame collections it spawned — yes, this one included — only ever created the illusion of physical activity. They really shine the brightest as party games, with each minigame amounting to a competitive but entirely low-stakes affair that’s easy for anyone, in virtually any kind of altered or inebriated state, to pick up and play.
Is that worth the $50 price of entry that Nintendo put on this package at launch? I couldn’t say. Probably not if you don’t host visitors too often. I admittedly wasn’t able to test out the online play, but the prospect of playing any of these minigames online — especially in the random matchmaking-only mode that nets you unlocks — isn’t terribly appealing.
There’s no workout here, and there never was one.
Wii Sports, the O.G. of this series, was never much more than a technical demonstration of its home console’s capabilities. This shiny, new successor doesn’t step too far beyond that. Its minigames are charming, and they’ll inject a spirit of light-hearted competition into any party. But that’s as far as it goes. The most strenuous workout you’ll face here is the thought exercise of figuring out how to squeeze more fun out of Nintendo Switch Sports once the party’s over.