Nintendo Switch Sports Review
A swing and a miss
The Nintendo Wii was a huge success for Nintendo. Led by its motion-control focus, the console was able to reach an audience far wider than any console before it. Its huge success was likely spurred by Wii Sports, a game that was freely bundled with each Wii unit. This collection of arcade sports minigames became a huge hit, letting the most unlikely participants get into the action and paving the way for other games to adopt the tech. The modern Nintendo Switch retained some of that motion-control design focus, though portability was also a key design factor. Now well into the life cycle of this current console, Nintendo felt it was time to bring back the Wii Sports idea, with Nintendo Switch Sports. However, the new title arrives with poor timing and poor value.
Before jumping into the action, players can create their virtual avatars. You can either import the Mii characters, or create a new Sportsmate. There are a few faces, eye brows, and skin colors to choose from; the selection is initially quite limited. You can further customize your look with accessories such as hats and glasses, outfits, and different items for each sport – new colors for the bowling ball, tennis racket, volleyball, and so on. New customization items are then unlocked as you earn points by playing.
Nintendo Switch Sports offers a collection of six arcade games, to be played using the motion controls of the Joy-Cons. Bowling is a classic option, and is quite straightforward. Between 1 and 4 players can partake, and there is a Standard mode and a new Special mode. In the Standard mode, you are just playing some bowling. You can position your avatar with the analog stick of the controller, adjust the throw direction, and then swing your arm in the same way as you would when bowling in reality. As you swing your arm, it's possible to make minute adjustments to the speed and direction of your attempt. It's a fairly basic and typical imitation of the sport, and players can either take turns or bowl at the same time.
Special mode in bowling thankfully makes things at least a little more interesting. The gameplay mechanics remain the same, however now players are faced with a variety of challenges in the bowling lane, with three difficulty levels to choose from. There could be obstacles that move across your lane, or pop up, so you have to time your throw. The lane itself can also change – there will be changes in elevation, narrowing of the lane, and protruding curves that affect your bowling direction. This mode adds some much needed variety to the otherwise predictable gameplay experience.
Next is a sword-fighting sport called chambara. In this sword fighting mode, 1-2 players can compete by using the Joy-Con as if holding a weapon, in a pseudo first-person perspective. Players try to fight each other by swinging the controllers at the exposed areas of their opponent's body. There are three main planes – vertical, horizontal, and at a 45 degree angle. Players can attack or block in these directions. Timing is important, and if you block successfully, it momentarily stuns the opponent, giving you a free hit. The first player to land the most hits and push their opponent out of the arena wins the round.
Chambara is a fairly simple game, similar to Wii Sports Boxing. There's no movement to worry about, and the mode has an arbitrary short time limit for each round – if neither opponent wins, the round is declared a tie. So you could be having fun in a close match, just for it to end unexpectedly. The mode tries to add complexity by offering three different sword types – basic, charged up with a corresponding energy-building mechanic, and dual wield option that has a special spin attack. But overall, it's a fairly shallow arcade experience.
Next is badminton, a mode for 1-2 players. Here again you do not control the movement of your avatar, you just have to use your arm to swing at the incoming shuttles with good timing. You can slightly control the direction of your return as well, by swinging your arm in the desired direction. By pressing a button on the controller, you can perform a drop shot instead. It's a fairly simple version of the sport, like most of the games in this collection. One nice thing here is that you can press a button on the Joy-Con to quickly reset the motion tracking, in case it gets out of whack with all the constant high intensity swings.
Tennis is another straightforward sport mode implementation. Between 1 to 4 players can partake, but you always play duos. When playing solo, instead of an AI player you actually swing for both your front and rear avatar at the same time. The sport is played as single match, best of 3 or best of 5. You swing your arm to strike at the ball, again with the ability to adjust for speed and direction depending on how you swing the Joy-Con. There are no gameplay altering mechanics here, and you don't control avatar movement. It can be slightly fun, but is quite barebones.
Things thankfully get a little more advanced with the remaining two sports, Soccer and Volleyball. The latter sport is again for 1-4 players, played as duos, as you take turns being the setter and hitter. You swing the Joy-Cons from below to bump, the second player then sets you up by extending their arms/controller upward, and you swing down with the controller to strike the ball. On the return, you can jump up and block an incoming spike, and then repeat the sequence, though being the set-up player this time. The depth of the mode comes from the alternating role mechanics, attacking and defending, and having to manually move your player during defense. Success comes from well-timed contacts with the ball, which are helped by visual indicators. Volleyball is a fun arcade mode thanks to its variety and decent depth.
Lastly, soccer is perhaps the most varied mode of the bunch. In this 1-2 player mode, there are a few options. In free practice mode, you can get comfortable with the controls; players can freely run around the field using the joystick, and kick the ball with the swing of the controllers. The direction of your swing indicates where you will kick the ball – forward low and high, or the side. You can also perform a diving header by swinging both controllers down, as well as dash and jump. It's the most well-realized sport of the bunch, though the standard isn’t set very high. After some practice, you can head into a match of 1v1 or 4vs4 variety, with the objective of scoring goals.
There is an additional mode in soccer called Shootout, which requires a leg strap accessory to attach the controller, so the game can track as you kick the ball. If you got a digital copy of the game, the accessory can be bought separately, or there are retail bundles available with the game and strap. The Ring Fit Adventure strap works too. However, you’re not missing out on much if you choose to forgo this – the mode is simple and tracking accuracy is questionable, as you just kick the ball at the net.
The sports can be played solo with AI opponents, and three levels of difficulty are available. Players can also head online, and play either with friends or in random competitive matchmaking (though limited to 1v1 online). The connectivity seems fine and there are no issues with lag, so the modes where reaction time is important perform well.
Across all sports modes, the accuracy of the motion tracking from the Joy-Cons can be iffy, especially in the higher-paced activities. Though that's not really specific to this title. What's more disappointing is the lackluster quality of the visuals. The experience feels fairly barebones in graphical fidelity, with bright colors and generic charming atmosphere not making up for the poor looking environments and basic animations. Audio design is equally minimalistic and generic. The game just lacks a sense of personality that comes with other games of this nature.
Nintendo Switch Sports is mostly a victim of its own poor decisions. To release the game so late into the lifecycle of the Switch console means that it's going up against plenty of competition – even from Nintendo's own other releases. With just six sports included – golf is promised in a free update later – there's not much to dig into. Whether you consider Mario Tennis Aces, Mario Golf Super Rush, or the Mario & Sonic Olympic games, the minigames in this new collection have been done already, and better, elsewhere. With more personality, to boot. And in that context, pricing this game collection at $50 CDN / $40 USD is a bit outrageous ($65 CDN / $50 USD with a leg strap) – and that's not even considering the precedent set by Wii Sports as a free bundled game. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with Nintendo Switch Sports, but it comes too late and offers too little as a 2022 release.