Nintendo Switch sports review: Go for the feel of a classic
Nintendo Switch Sports is Sports Wii in all but name, a revamp of the popular motion-control sports title on an all-new console (still slightly aging but potentially OLED-enhanced).
If you played Sports Wii before – and let’s face it, who hasn’t – you’ll be right at home with the Switch version. At launch, a total of six sports are offered: tennis, bowling, chambara, football, volleyball and badminton. A seventh, golf, is planned as a post-launch update.
All sports are played in Spocco Square, a bustling and colorful little hub of activity that adds plenty of background flavor to the proceedings. It’s a nice touch, albeit entirely cosmetic, as are your character customization options. Players can choose to use a customizable avatar or their Mii, with a host of options to access, earn and apply. I decided I was better off as a “Rookie Cat” rather than a boastful sportsman; maybe people will be kicked out of their games wondering why?
Before getting dirty, players select their laterality when setting up their character. Despite being a left-handed gamer, I was able to use a right-handed Joy-Con with nearly equal ease.
With the niceties out of the way, let’s break down the sports one by one.
Sports Bowling Nintendo Switch
Bowling was the biggest asset of Sports Wii in my house, being the closest to real-world activity, and it remains the same in this new iteration. I had extended family to give Change sports one try and that’s what they kept wanting to play.
Bowling is relatively simple to pick up and play. I had a lot more trouble convincing family members unfamiliar with the Switch to find the Joy-Con up and fire buttons than I did using the motion controls to go bowling. The Switch’s detachable controller has a similar function, but not as intuitive for casual gamers as the Wii Remote.
Players use a single Joy-Con – either sharing one among up to four players, or having one per person, allowing you to all bowl at once instead of one after the other. Positioning is done using the joystick and the left and right buttons (if you want to tilt for the latter, that is). Simply hold down the trigger button and perform a steady bowling action; swing your arm back, then forward. Advanced players can spin the ball by twisting their wrist during delivery; speed can also be controlled by gentle or fast bowling motions.
As I found in my preview, family members struggled to remember to hold the trigger down throughout the early bowling motion; our Sports Wii muscle memory made us all pull the trigger with our forward momentum. While we tried the simultaneous bowling option, we reverted to the traditional style because 1) speed bowling wasn’t as fun as watching family members play and 2) our humble little living room isn’t big enough for four people. standing with swinging arms.
Bowling is one of the easiest sports to learn in this pack, and by far the most fun to play as a family with a range of experience levels.
Nintendo Switch Sports tennis
Tennis is by far the better of the two (!) racquet sports on offer, allowing for more strategy than badminton. Use the Joy-Con buttons for lobs and a twist of the wrist for backspin or topspin. Timing is obviously important when it comes to making contact with the ball, but most found their groove fairly quickly after the start.
Our house of tennis pros have found it to be the most competitive sport in Change sports‘ pack. It’s a good thing we’ve listened to the game’s constant reminders to use the Joy-Con straps – the ones we never use – or I’m afraid we need a new TV.
As with bowling, my test group of casual gamers found menu navigation and Joy-Con calibration more difficult than tennis-inspired movements. Due to our lobby setup, 1v1 matches were generally better than anything that required more players. While it’s 1v1 in player count, it’s 2v2 on screen like Change sports tennis is a game of doubles, which means you control both characters on your side. It takes a bit of getting used to, as I found I focused more on my trailing player than the one at net.
Nintendo Switch Sports Volleyball
Volleyball is relatively easy to master in terms of movement, but more difficult in terms of timing. To perform actions such as bumping, tweaking, and poking, all you need to do is mimic the actions with a Joy-Con in hand. If you have your timing, not only will you hit the volleyball, but you’ll essentially create a combo meter (totally fictional, not actually depicted onscreen) which means your opponents will have a harder time returning the ball.
Much like bowling, trying to get all four family members up and playing at the same time proved difficult in my small living room; for this reason, it was less of a favorite among the group. You have plenty of options despite this; playing in one or two player competitive or co-op modes made the most sense for my house, and also proved to be incredibly enjoyable.
Unlike tennis, if you’re playing solo (or 1v1), you won’t have control of the second player; the CPU handles that, love or hate the idea.
Nintendo Switch Sports Soccer
Above all, football is a two-handed experience. You use one Joy-Con to move your character and the other to kick the ball. A Joy-Con strap can currently be used for shootout mode, although Nintendo plans to update Change sports so that all football modes can enjoy it. Because every player needs two Joy-Cons, soccer is a two-player experience at most. For once, we didn’t have any spacing issues!
My family had the most fun with regular games. You are playing with an enlarged ball in a field with plenty of space to get away from opponents and therefore implement decent strategies. Players can dash forward to head the ball by flicking both Joy-Cons at once and can also coordinate movements to jump and kick at the same time. Kicking is controlled by Joy-Con motion – either in the hand or attached to your leg
The shoulder button allows for a brief sprint, but players will need to manage their bursts of speed against an ever-depleting green stamina circle. The non-shootout experience really feels like rocket league with the Miis.
Shootout mode is decent, but a bit bland for my taste. A character will throw a ball at you and it’s all about kicking your leg attached to the Joy-Con with the right timing. It takes a bit of practice to do well and isn’t that rewarding when you do.
Nintendo Switch Sports Badminton
I don’t really have much to say about badminton other than it’s fast and it’s a two player affair that has nothing to do with tennis. There’s less strategy involved in terms of shot selection – you can hold down a trigger to perform a soft shot – and rallies can go on and on if players have their timers.
I’m also a little puzzled as to why badminton is just a two-player sport while tennis is purely a four-player sport. Surely we could have options for 1v1 tennis and 2v2 badminton?
Chambara Sports Nintendo Switch
Chambara is meant to be a tactical affair, but largely ends up being a contest of which player can manage to throw their arms the fastest.
If you manage to reach a friendly agreement with those you play with, the chambara is a delicate dance. A button press will block – though you’ll also have to physically position your Joy-Con powered sword at the same time – while a swing action (or two, depending on your setup) will attack. When it works well, combat is similar to the rock-paper-scissors system found in the likes of For honor — you must have an open path to score a hit. If an opponent blocks vertically, they will successfully nullify an opponent’s vertical slice. Diagonal attacks are also possible, so the attacker should slice in the same path as a blocked sword.
Chambara, it’s fine, but we have the feeling that it’s figurative. It was largely a case of “try it and forget it” with my family test group.
The listed structure of this review places the activities presented in Nintendo Switch Sports in the order of my pleasure. Badminton is not comparable to tennis, and the chambara is not up to par Wii Sports’ boxing. You’ll definitely find yourself playing – and revisiting – some sports more than others. As they did in 2006, it’s bowling and tennis that lend themselves best to animated gameplay and steal the show.
The package is solid nonetheless, and that’s because Nintendo nailed the formula the first time around on the Wii. There are no big risks to take, and there is no need. It was a cultural revolution all those years ago, and it’s been gone long enough to be a welcome return to familiar family entertainment on Switch. My only real complaint is that even though games like Switch 1-2 work well in tabletop mode thanks to simple displays, trying to line up a bowling shot means you’ll probably have to put your face directly on screen so you can see what’s going on. If you’re playing in a group – which my family in Canada and I used to do using tabletop mode in those minigames – no one else will really be able to see what you’re doing.
As usual with any Nintendo title, this comes with a catchy, earworm-producing soundtrack and heaps of clean, wholesome fun. Those looking to rekindle a family gaming session similar to those enjoyed in the past with Sports Wii will find this a sure winner.
PSA: You’d be much better off buying it physically rather than digitally as you’ll get a Joy-Con leg strap peripheral for AUD$2, as part of a total cost of AUD$58.
Nintendo Switch Sports is heading to the Switch on April 29.
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