16 years ago, Wii Sports changed how people interact with games and who those people are. Its release was a pivotal point in gaming history and culture when everyone and their mother (often quite literally) was playing it. Wii Sports captured an unadulterated sense of fun that was seldom seen in games at the time that appealed to such a broad demographic. Nintendo Switch Sports, a successor of sorts, attempts to recapture the same feeling of standing in a room and brazenly swinging around your limbs to act out a sport while you compete with friends and family. During my hands-on time with Nintendo Switch Sports, I consistently lost at Volleyball but managed to wreck my opponent at Badminton, and regardless of my success, I had gleeful fun.
At one point during my 45 minutes of hands-on time with the game, I stood in a room with two Nintendo representatives as we bowled together in the all-new Simultaneous Mode. These people were complete strangers to me, but in that moment, I laughed with them, teased them when they didn’t pick up a spare, and cheered when they got a strike–it was an absolute blast. There was a moment when all three of us got a strike at the same time, sending us into a collective roar, even though we were still competing with one another. This is the kind of joy that Wii Sports brought to living rooms around the world, and what Nintendo Switch Sports encapsulates once more.
Nintendo Switch Sports already feels like a complete package, which is a contrast to the original Wii Sports that, although very fun, felt more like a proof of concept for the Wii’s motion controller than a full-fledged product. Nintendo Switch Sports iterates on what came before by building on Wii Sports and its successor, Wii Sports Resorts. This is immediately apparent in the game’s character models, which are more akin to Splatoon’s Inklings and their fashionable fits than the rudimentary design of Miis. Don’t worry, though: The iconic Miis are still available to use as your avatar. In fact, Nintendo Switch Sports as a whole, from its setting to the character models of those taking part, shares a striking resemblance to Splatoon’s stylized aesthetic. And, even as a Wii Sports purist, I’m cool with it.
From the very start of the preview, it was clear that Nintendo Switch Sports was more deliberate in its setting and aesthetic than previous installments. I could choose from one of six sports that were displayed over the map of a detailed sports center called Spocco Square. Each sport takes place in a realistic and stylized environment within the hub, like the Volleyball court outside the cafe and bookstore overlooked by a modern city skyline. The first stop was tennis, which felt like returning to Wii Sports in a very natural way. Within moments, the timing of the hits came back to me and I was in the heat of little cartoon people furiously launching the ball back and forth. The improvement for the Switch version comes from the additional accuracy afforded by the Joy-Con. Smacking the ball with the twist of wrist, and seeing it spin to the other side just felt great–a delightful thrill tinged with a little nostalgia.
Badminton, meanwhile, was a challenging change of pace. Nintendo Switch Sports managed to capture the energetic back-and-forth and frenetic nature of Badminton very well. Unlike tennis, which just asks the player to swing the Joy-Con, Badminton uses gyro motion and has the player utilize full motion of their arm for more precise aiming in hitting the shuttlecock. Each round was an intense dance as my adversary and I swatted the birdie at one another, looking for an opening and opportunity to catch the other off-balance. After a long ballet of volleys, lightly tapping the birdie over the net at the perfect moment and watching my opponent’s avatar flail and fumble to reach it before it hit the ground was incredibly satisfying.
During my hands-on time with Nintendo Switch Sports, I consistently lost at Volleyball but managed to wreck my opponent at Badminton, and regardless of my success, I had gleeful fun
After a sweaty match of Badminton, we played Chambara (Nintendo Switch Sports’ version of Wii Sports Resorts’ swordplay). Chambara follows the same basic rule as swordplay: two players stand in a ring seeking to overthrow each other, and whoever is knocked off the ledge first loses. Unlike swordplay, however, Chambara adds weapon selection, allowing each player to choose from a sword, charge sword, or twin swords (which requires the player to use both Joy-Cons). For this hands-on, we went toe-to-toe with a single sword only. Coming right off of the desperate flailing of Badminton, Chambara was slow and methodical. It required me to carefully observe my opponent’s sword and its position, which led to a tense standoff, with opportunistic strikes knocking each closer to the ledge. These moments were punctuated by swift comebacks and climaxed in triumphant victories or woeful losses. Again, in both cases, it was exhilarating and, most importantly, fun.
Then there was Volleyball, which required constant change of the kind of physical movement I was doing with my arms. In moment-to-moment gameplay I went from bumping to blocking to jumping, and spiking. My avatar moved automatically around the court, changing positions based on the ball’s placement, which meant I was entirely focused on what move to use next. Thankfully, the game signaled whether I should bump, block, or spike in the corner of the screen to make it a bit easier. It felt a little difficult to adjust to at first, but I’m sure after a few rounds I’d get the hang of it. In the short time I had, however, walked away from Volleyball feeling like it wasn’t as intuitive or as approachable as the other sports.
Of the six sports, the most compelling–possibly most flawed–is Soccer. It features the most intricate controls, which are more relative to a traditional sports game. In the 1v1 or 4v4 modes, two Joy-Cons are required for each player so they can have full control over moving the avatar around the field (opposed to avatars moving independently as in other modes), while also having buttons for sprinting and jumping. In order to kick the ball, players have to swing either controller in the direction they want to kick it. For me, what ensued was a big deviation from the other sports I had experienced. Instead of my avatar standing in place with me as the player using a single Joy-Con to act out motions, I was put into a more focused state of play as I maneuvered my avatar around an open field, kicking a giant Rocket League-sized ball. I had to jump and swing the controller upward to give the ball more air, left or right to get it out of an opponent’s reach, or swipe both Joy-Cons down at the sametime to launch my character head first into the action. All of that sounds great on paper but, despite the extra functionality and more in-depth control scheme, I found it to feel unnaturally slow and tedious getting my player to run towards the ball, which put a damper on the excitement of the action. Still, the mode has potential to become something exciting by having a higher skill ceiling than the rest of the sports involved. I can envision playing online with a group of friends, using planned tactics and precise executions that could lead to exciting prospects, and I hope that it clicks with me eventually so I can have that experience. But, for now, Soccer left me a little underwhelmed.
Also in Soccer there was Shoot-Out mode, which was the only mode to feature the use of the Joy-Con leg strap (the same one used with Ring Fit Adventure). In this mode, I strapped the Joy-Con to my leg and had to kick an incoming Soccer ball into the goal. With each successful goal, the point of entry for the ball to go into the net narrowed more and more, as the ball changed variables like speed or adding spin, requiring me to be more precise with the timing and execution of the kick. A leg strap is required to play this mode, so if you don’t have one, or plan to purchase Nintendo Switch Sports digitally, keep that in mind. Thankfully only one strap is required even for two players.
The most apparent absence from the list of sports, for me, was boxing. boxing in the original was the height of Wii Sports jankiness and the pure joy that can come from a weird and wacky motion-controlled mini-game. I’d love to see what boxing could be like in Nintendo Switch Sports with the Joy-Con’s motion tech. In the meantime, Chambara is a suitable 1v1 combat replacement.
Even though I wasn’t thrilled with Volleyball or Soccer, I still walked with a buzzing sense of excitement, for both myself and my friend group. Excitingly, there was a lot I didn’t see. Each sport has different modes and difficulties that I didn’t get to interact with. I also didn’t have the chance to delve into character customization and unlockable cosmetics, or online play, which features several additional modes including 16-player bowling. But, in my time with the game and the six sports I played, I saw a lot that would satisfy those looking for a Wii Sports replacement for the modern era. Nintendo Switch Sports is shaping up to be a welcome return for a Nintendo classic.