Nintendo Switch Sports channels 2006’s Wii Sports’ energy and is shaping up to be the perfect reason to get the family round in 2022.
I don’t know about you, but Wii Sports has always been untouchable for me. The perfect mix of “pick up and play” sensibilities and some of the best usage of motion controls, it’s stood alone as that rare party game that even your grandparents, parents, and wider family could enjoy.
In the decade and a half that followed, there have been imitators. Kinect burned out quickly, while a variety of shovelware options for the Wii, Wii-U, and Switch attempted to bridge the gap. Consider Nintendo Switch Sports the return of the king, then, and the game may just usurp its predecessor.
Home field advantage
The first thing that stands out in Nintendo Switch Sports isn’t the actual gameplay itself, but the gorgeous visuals. Wii Sports’ limited color palette has been thrown to the wind, and in its place, every sport takes part in the vibrant Spocco Square.
This new location is visible from the “Sport Select” menu and gives an indication of just how far Switch Sports has come since those halcyon days of white-walled bowling alleys and relatively flat tennis and baseball crowds.
Character creation is now divorced from your Mii avatar, too, if you so choose. Customization options are deeper and more varied, and Nintendo tells us that more unlockables will roll out on a weekly basis to offer incentives to log in and play. Perhaps most jarringly, your “Sportsmate” now has arms rather than the little detached blobs of yesteryear. That may sound insignificant, but it allows for much more subtle tells in the likes of Chambara and even Tennis, opening up more depth in Nintendo Switch Sports’ available modes.
Pick a winner
The sports here on offer are a little different to what you may be used to. Included here are tennis, bowling, soccer, volleyball, badminton, and chambara (swordplay). Golf is expected later in 2022 as a free download.
Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay the lineup of activities is that I simply couldn’t settle on any that I’d suggest are weaker than the others.
Tennis and bowling remain much the same as they were back in 2006, but the advances in technology mean that backhand shots feel, well, like backhand shots, while curling a bowling ball to perfection remains a shot of serotonin that lingers long after a match. A special mention should be given to HD Rumble, too, which makes hitting the ball in tennis feel much more lifelike.
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If tennis is about speed and precision, then badminton rewards technical skill and positioning with the analog stick. Lobbing, smashing, and drop-shots are all rewarding to pull off which means even when you’re not winning, it can be fun to just keep a rally going for as long as possible.
Volleyball, on the other hand, is about co-operation (at least in our 2 vs 2 match). Players need to serve, set, spike, and recover, with each successful move increasing a modifier. This can make spikes much harder to defend against, and feels like volleyball by way of Mario Strikers — it’s flashy and arcadey, but it also requires precise timing.
Soccer (or football for us Brits) is split into two modes in Nintendo Switch Sports. The four-on-four mode plays out in a vaguely Rocket League-inspired arena, with curved sides and plenty of scope for trick shots. Using the Joy-Con, you can kick, call for a pass, or (my personal favorite) look to hit a diving header by throwing your controllers downward in unison. Matches are short and moreish, and there’s an emphasis on positional awareness. Even in our short preview, I found myself yelling “get in the middle” like I was over the park.
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The second mode requires the leg strap that’s found in Ring Fit Adventure, and simulates a volley contest. The ball comes in and you swing your dominant foot at it. So far, so simple, but you’ll need to nail the timing — particularly as the goal begins to close in and get smaller. Not jumped into Ring Fit yet? Don’t worry, you’ll be able to buy a version of Nintendo Switch Sports that comes with a leg strap.
Finally, there’s chambara. Players pick a sword (or two if you want to use both Joy-Con) and battle to knock each other off of a podium. You’ll block directionally and look to counterattack, meaning a measured approach is encouraged lest you end up leaving yourself wide open. Build up a meter and you can unleash a powerful charge attack, but time it wrong (as I did a few times) and you’ll end up bouncing off a guard and plunging into the water below in no time. Oh, and if you make it to a tie-breaker round, there’s even a special surprise.
I came away from my Nintendo Switch Sports preview itching to play more, and wanting to jump into any of the six sports categories again, and again, and again.
There are some question marks about how well the fast-paced nature of some of the sports will transfer to an online setting (although Mario Kart 8: Deluxe has shown Nintendo is a lot better than it used to be), but for now, I’m desperate to play more when the game launches later this month.
Nintendo Switch Sports is slated for release on April 29, 2022.