One of the lasting images of Nintendo’s motion control era is a Wii Remote crashing through a high-definition television, its hapless owner looking on in shock. It would wind up lodged into the collective memory to such an extent that the Hard Drive would eventually memorialize it with the headline, “Neglected Wii Controller Hurls Itself at Flatscreen TV,” complete with a cracked image of Wii Sports Tennis.
It captures a particular moment in video game zeitgeist, when Nintendo inaugurated a new era for motion controls by releasing the Wii and making the world go wild for waggle. It’s a moment that Nintendo Switch Sports seeks to recapture, and as I discovered when my shoe went flying off my foot and bounced off the (thankfully) undamaged television screen, it’s largely successful.
Nintendo Switch Sports is a collection of six sports – some of which will be familiar to longtime Nintendo fans, some of which are brand new. Tennis and bowling are functionally very similar to their counterparts on the Wii, while the more complex motion controls of Badminton and Swordfighting are reminiscent of Wii Sports Resort. It’s worth mentioning that Nintendo Switch Sports has roughly half the number of minigames available in Wii Sports Resort, though it will add Golf as a free download later in the year to bring the total to seven.
What it offers instead is online multiplayer, adding expanded functionality for some of the games, such as eight player multiplayer in bowling. Feedback from a recent online test was good, and there’s every indication that Nintendo Switch Sports’ online multiplayer will be a strength when the final release becomes available later this month.
Realizing the dreams of the Wii
But local multiplayer is the heart of Nintendo Switch Sports’ appeal, and that was how I spent most of my time in my recent hands-on preview. After choosing my customized “Sportsmate” – Nintendo’s replacement for the Mii – I tried all six minigames, beginning with a 13-round shooting session in soccer and finishing up with swordfighting. By the end I had even managed to work up a little bit of a sweat, bringing me back to the days when I would treat Wii Sports as actual batting practice rather than a series of half-hearted wrist flicks.
My favorite of the minigames was the swordfighting. Referred to as chambara – a nod to Japan’s samurai film genre – it pits two swordfighters against one another as they try to push each other off a platform and into the water below. Rounds consist of a breathless flurry of blocks and ripostes that at first feel like the motion-controlled version of button-mashing, but soon reveal a deep and entertaining level of strategy that belie its deceptively simple mechanics.
It made me think of the early days of the Wii, when everyone was obsessed with the notion of a lightsaber game using the Wii Remote. The demand laid bare the limitations of the original Wii Remote, prompting Nintendo to release the improved Wii MotionPlus peripheral alongside Wii Sports Resort. We’ve had many sword games since, but as I overwhelmed Nintendo’s PR rep with a flurry of diagonal slashes, I thought of my once fervent wish for a motion-controlled lightsaber game.
Tennis, by contrast, utterly defeated me. Having made the leap to Switch more or less unchanged, it’s still based more on timing than actual finesse, or so it seems to me. Of course, I’m pretty miserable at tennis in real life, too, so maybe this is just an example of Nintendo Switch Sports being more realistic than I give it credit for. I had better luck with badminton, which was similar to tennis, but featured more precise motion controls on top of a deeper strategy layer thanks to its spike mechanic.
The best moment, though, was when I accidentally reenacted one of the famous memes from the mid-2000s… with my shoe. Nintendo Switch Sports supports Ring Fit’s leg strap, which is used for its new soccer minigame. I was trying out its shootout mode, which involved swinging my leg awkwardly at just the right moment, and off my shoe went. It goes to show that the more things change with Nintendo Switch Sports, the more they stay the same.
Motion controls have come of age in the years since the Wii. They’re far more sophisticated now, and they can be found in everything from Doom to VR platforms. They haven’t quite been the fundamental paradigm shift that some imagined they might be when the Wii was released, but they’ve certainly found their niche.
Either way, I had fun revisiting the early days of motion controls for an afternoon. Like the original Wii Sports, most of the minigames rely more on novelty than substance, which makes me question whether they will ultimately have any degree of staying power. But I don’t think anyone expected to still be talking about Wii Sports more than 15 years after its original release. Some games are just timeless.
Nintendo Switch Sports will be out April 29 on Nintendo Switch.
Kat Bailey is a Senior News Editor at IGN as well as co-host of Nintendo Voice Chat. Have a tip? Send her a DM at @the_katbot.