So far, 2022 isn’t just a stellar year for video games: It’s a triumphant return for single-player games. From Horizon Forbidden West to Pokémon Legends: Arceus, the first quarter of the year was loaded with strong experiences for one. Even games like Elden Ring and Kirby and the Forgotten Land, which feature multiplayer components, are primarily solo adventures first. With more major single-player games like Starfield on tap for 2022, the field is wide open for a surprise multiplayer hit.
Nintendo Switch Sports may just be that game. The unlikely successor to 2006’s mega-popular Wii Sports lands on Switch on April 29, and it looks to recapture lightning in a bottle. The new installment is more than a nostalgic cash grab, though. It’s a surprisingly robust modernization of a 16-year old classic that has a much stronger focus on multiplayer, both online and locally.
I participated in an in-person Nintendo Switch Sports demo, where I got to try out all six of the activities that will be available in the game at launch. As I gleefully trash-talked a room full of Nintendo demoists, I was already making a mental list of all the friends I’d invite over to play with me this spring.
Party Grandpa vs. The Boy
For the demo event, Nintendo put together a mock living room and had three demoists on hand. The team walked me through each of the game’s six sports, though I only played a variation of each. Nintendo Switch Sports is a little larger in scope than it looks on paper, as some sports have multiple modes. In soccer, for example, there’s a shootout mode that involves wearing a Joy-con leg strap and a full three-minute match where players run around a field.
Usually reserved at press events, I instantly became a terror. The game allows players to customize their own “sportsmate,” a modern spin on Miis, which includes creating a “title” for them that appears over their name. I insisted that my demoist change his title to “Party Grandpa.” From then on, I was a trash-talking machine (nicknamed “The Boy”) ready for some friendly competition.
The rivalry between Party Grandpa and The Boy quickly became as heated as Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird. It began with the aforementioned soccer shootout where we took turns kicking a ball into a net, which would get smaller when one of us landed consecutive goals. I started the day with a victory, but it was back and forth from there. We had an intense game of badminton, with long volleys that had me sweating. I lost that round and unfortunately couldn’t blame it on the motion controls, which were perfectly responsive.
I got the ultimate victory in chambara. The standout sword-fighting minigame has players blocking and attacking by positioning the Joy-con vertically, horizontally, and diagonally. The goal is to knock the other player off a platform and into the water below. It was a fitting rubber match, acting as a more strategic version of boxing. Party Grandpa and The Boy went back and forth, trading wins, leading to a sudden-death finale where the platform shrunk significantly. Grandpa came out swinging with a fast attack, but I blocked and countered to pull off the win.
Each of those sports was a blast to play with another person physically present. After two years of gaming with friends digitally, I’d almost forgotten how fun a great local multiplayer party title can be. It’s hard to replicate the unique joys of joking around with another player and trading friendly barbs in-person. The original Wii Sports understood the power of that experience and Nintendo Switch Sports only doubles down with strong competitive modes fueled by intuitive motion controls.
In addition to its one-on-one events, Nintendo Switch Sports has several four-player minigames. In both tennis and volleyball, up to four players can compete in doubles matches. Tennis is simple enough, with players swinging back and forth to execute front and backhand shots while their sportsmates auto-move towards the ball.
Volleyball is a more complex spin that requires extra teamwork. Players need to master several physical movements to bump, set, or spike the ball. In the round I played, Party Grandpa and I put our differences aside and teamed up to become the modern-day Mega Powers. Gramps would pop the ball up in the air, letting me jump up and spike it at my opponents.
Soccer is similarly involved, as players run around a large field trying to score as many goals as possible in three minutes. There are several motions used to hit the ball, like shooting both joy-cons forward to do a diving header, and a bit of stamina management. It’s almost like a mini Rocket League, minus the cars (okay, I guess that’s just called soccer).
While the team games get much more complex than Wii Sports’ minigames, one of its classic sports still steals the show. Bowling is back, though this time four players can roll simultaneously instead of taking turns. Rounds go by much quicker as players don’t need to wait around while three people bowl. That aspect makes it the most appealing game in the bunch from a multiplayer standpoint. With its incredibly simple, yet satisfying motion controls, I can already see how the mode would be an absolute hit at social gatherings.
During my playtime, I appreciated the range of challenges the games presented. Volleyball had me playing more strategically and communicating with my teammate, while I could casually chat with the demoists while bowling a strike. Wii Sports kept everything simple, courting a casual audience that wasn’t familiar with games, but Nintendo Switch Sports supports varying levels of skill. I can’t wait to see the first Switch Soccer esports league.
The most exciting — and potentially terrifying — part of Nintendo Switch Sports is that it features a heavy online multiplayer component. I say terrifying because Nintendo’s reputation for stable online experiences is spotty at best, but in theory, it could give the package a long lifespan.
While I didn’t test online play during my session, Nintendo made it clear that it isn’t a throwaway integration. For one, players will earn cosmetic items during online matches, used to customize their sportsmates. It sounds like that includes some limited-time items that players will need to sign on in a specific window to grab. Online players get a few extra modes too, including an elimination-style bowling tournament, which I imagine will take up the bulk of my solo playtime.
With content updates planned through the year, including a fall DLC that adds golf to the game, I could see Nintendo Switch Sports blossoming into a late lifespan Switch staple. My hour with the game reminded me why so many fell in love with Wii Sports in 2006. It’s the ultimate multiplayer game: A joyous, intuitive experience that takes down all the frustrating barriers usually present in video games. I just hope my friends are mentally prepared to be trounced by The Boy when I invite them over to play this spring.
Nintendo Switch Sports launches on April 29 for — you guessed it — Nintendo Switch.