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Nintendo Switch Sports is the successor to the most mainstream sports video game of all time, Wii Sports. And Nintendo hopes this version will make gamers and non-gamers alike get excited about playing sports on the Switch.
This could be a big title for the Switch, which Nintendo said in February sold more than 103.54 million units as of December 31, a huge number of units since March 2017. The Switch milestone meant that it surpassed the Wii’s previous record of 101.63 million consoles sold. And Wii Sports was a huge accelerant for the Wii.
The new Nintendo Switch Sports title will launch on April 29 and have six sports played with Joy-Con controllers. The sports include Soccer, Volleyball, Bowling, Tennis, Badminton, and Chambara (Swordplay). I was able to play all of them briefly at a demo this week at Nintendo’s U.S. office in Redwood City, California. Switch Sports takes place in a big area subbed Spocco arena where you can choose any of the six events.
You can create your avatar, doing it quickly or spending as much time as you want on it. You can create your own Sports Mii character and choose among a lot of options for hairstyle and faces. The resulting characters are far more expressive than the old Miis.
With Switch Sports, you can play in the same room with people on a split screen, as I did with the bowling game. Or you can play against online players with different configurations. For instance, you can play with two players in your own home against two on the internet.
Players can try to reach the pro League in every sport. You can redeem ports you earn for in-game rewards such as outfits, sports accessories, and other gear. The selection of items will rotate each week. Later this year, Nintendo plans to add a seventh sport with a new golf mini-game.
We started with the Soccer mini-game. In the mostly empty building, Nintendo’s demo people started out showing me the Leg Strap accessory (from Ring Fit Adventure) that strapped around my right thigh. You take one of the Joy-Con controllers and put it in the strap and it detects your leg movements. I used it to play a shootout kicking a ball at a goal. The game character kicks the ball at you, and your job is to then kick the flying ball into the goal. You can play either left-footed or right-footed, as you wish.
With this Leg Strap attached, I could try to kick the soccer ball as it was coming at me on the screen. But this was perhaps the weakest demo to start with, as it was pretty hard to judge the timing for the ball as it came at you. It was very easy to kick to early or kick too late. So the only way to really judge properly was by trying to figure out the size of the ball as it approached and the speed. This was total guesswork, but I think most people could get used to the timing eventually. The problem, I think, is that it’s not intuitive when you should kick.
The rest of the games I played with one or two Joy-Cons in my hands, and I didn’t see any of that problem with the handheld controllers at all. There is also a mode where two players can play with Joy-Con controllers against two others in soccer matches.
The bowling mini-game was good. It cleverly saves time by allowing all players — three in this case — to bowl all at the same time. It split the screen into three parts and we all concentrated on our own part of the screen while mimicking throwing bowling balls down our lanes. It seemed pretty accurate in detecting exactly where I was throwing the ball.
I had to figure out to keep holding on to one of the buttons. If I let go of that button, I would drop the bowling ball on the ground. Even when I rolled the ball, I was supposed to keep holding the button. That wasn’t at all intuitive. But it was quite easy to line up my body against the bowling pins and let loose. I could spin the ball using a flick of my wrist that the Joy-Con captured quite accurately. Overall, in my first game, I was able to get a number of spares and strikes.
Volleyball was a little more complicated to play, but it was a lot more intuitive than kicking the ball in Soccer. We played a mode where we had one CPU player and one human player on one side, playing against the same on the other side. The tutorial walked me through the complex moves.
There were a few different moves to master. First, you had to learn how to serve. You did that by holding your hands together with one Joy-Con. You tossed the ball up by raising your hands and then you served it by slamming downward.
That sends the ball over the net to the other team. To receive that ball, you have to swoop upward with your hands as if you were hitting a real volleyball. If you get the timing right, you can set the ball for your net players to spike it. If you miss, then the other team scores a point. You don’t really have to worry about positioning your player as the game does that for you automatically. All you have to worry about is hitting the ball with the right timing.
Once you set the ball, the second player (or, in one-versus-one mode, you) can jump up in the air with an upward movement and then spike the ball with a downward movement. All of these moves were fairly complex to learn, but they were all very intuitive. I was able to jump right into rallies in the game as I battled one-versus-one against another player in the same room. During the gameplay, the CPU player handled one of the moves and then I moved in to do the next move.
If your opponent is getting ready to spike, you can also raise your hands upward at the right moment and attempt to block the spike. Your player at the net will jump up and block it if the timing is precise. You can get into a good pattern of bump, set, spike, and block over and over again. Depending on how your timing is and the direction you move, you can spike into the right spot of the court where your opponent can’t get to it. Like I said, this one was really well done.
Tennis was also pretty intuitive to learn. You swing upward to start a serve and swing down to serve it. It’s a little like Foosball in that you actively control both players in a doubles match on the court. If you swing at a ball, the character on your side who is closest to the ball will take the swing at the ball. This is where the more accurate Joy-Con hardware shines compared to the old Wii Sports Tennis. You can play back and forth for a long time as each player will likely have an easier time getting the timing right on swings.
Badminton was a lot like tennis, but it was faster action as the shuttlecock moves fast. You have to swing up, down, or sideways to hit it right. Timing matters. You do a gentle upward stroke to serve a lob over the net first. Then you can do gentle counter lobs by holding down a button. If your opponent isn’t paying attention, the lob could catch them off guard. Or you can use a slam stroke to finish an opponent off with a fast slam.
Chambara is swordfighting that takes place on a relatively small round arena. If you step off, you fall off the platform into water. The game allows you to use one or two Joy-Cons. I played with just one. You put both hands on the Joy-Con as if you were holding the base of a samurai sword. (The blade isn’t sharp.)
It’s pretty intuitive to swing it overhead in a downward slice or sideways in a horizontal attack. If you hold down a button, then you can block the attack. But here’s the weird thing. If your opponent is holding the blade vertically, you can’t block it by holding your blade horizontally. You also have to hold your blade vertically to block it.
That didn’t really make sense to me, but so be it. You can switch between offensively attacking or blocking just by engaging the button. Then the instincts of swordfighting take over. You can bash rapidly at your opponent in the hopes of getting some quick strikes in. But if the opponent blocks you, then you get stunned and can’t move. That opens the way for a counterattack that scores a point on you.
If someone is blocking you vertically, you can swing sideways to break their guard. You can also do a diagonal stroke that’s harder to get right but also harder to block. I managed to win in a sudden death round in my first Chambara match. Not bad for the first time at all. And overall, all of the games are easy to learn.
At the end of it all, I was pretty sweaty. And I had to drink water in between each round. I think Nintendo will have another big hit on its hands with Nintendo Switch Sports.
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