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Nintendo Switch Sports Review: Going for the feel of a classic

Nintendo Switch Sports is Wii Sports in all but name, a revamp of the popular motion control sporting title on a brand new (yet slightly aging but potentially OLED-enhanced) console.

If you’ve played Wii Sports 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 on offer: tennis, bowling, chambara, soccer, volleyball and badminton. A seventh, golf, is planned as a post-launch update.

All the sports are played in Spocco Square, a lively, colourful little centre of activity that adds a lot of background flavour to proceedings. It’s a nice touch, though wholly cosmetic, as are customisation options for your character. Players can choose to use a customisable avatar or their Mii, with a multitude of options to be accessed, earned and applied. I’ve decided I was best as a “Rookie Cat” rather than a boastful sportsman; maybe people will be thrown off their games wondering why?

Before getting down and dirty, players select their handedness while setting up their character. Despite being a left-handed player, I was able to use a right-handed Joy-Con with practically the same ease.

With the niceties out of the way, let’s break down the sports one by one.

Nintendo Switch Sports bowling

Bowling was the biggest drawcard of Wii Sports in my house, being closest to the real world activity, and it remains the same in this new iteration. I had extended family over to give Switch Sports a try and that’s what they kept wanting to play.

Bowling is relatively simple to pick up and play. I had a much harder time getting family members unfamiliar with the Switch to find the up and trigger buttons on the Joy-Con than to use the motion controls to bowl. The Switch’s detachable controller is similar in function, but not as intuitive for occasional players as the Wii Remote.

Players use a single Joy-Con — either sharing one between up to four players or having one per person, which allows you to all bowl at the same time instead of one after the other. Positioning is performed using the joystick and left and right buttons (if you want to angle yourself for the latter, that is). Simply hold down the trigger button and perform a regular bowling action; swing your arm back, then forward. Advanced players can put spin on the ball by twisting their wrist with the delivery; speed can also be controlled by gentle or fast bowling motions.

Like I found in my preview, family members struggled to remember to keep the trigger depressed throughout the entire bowling motion at first; our Wii Sports muscle memory had us all releasing the trigger with our forward swings. While we tried the simultaneous bowling option, we reverted back to the traditional style as 1) speed bowling wasn’t as fun as watching family members have their go and 2) our humble little lounge room isn’t big enough for four people to be upstanding with swinging arms.

Bowling’s one of the easiest sports to pick up 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 best of the two (!) racquet sports on offer, allowing for more strategy than badminton. Use the buttons on the Joy-Con for lobs and a twist of the wrist for back or topspin. Timing is obviously important to make contact with the ball, but most found their rhythm quite quickly after starting up.

Our house of tennis pros found this one to be the most competitive sport in Switch Sports‘ bundle. It’s a good thing we listened to the game’s constant nagging reminders to use Joy-Con straps — the ones we never use — or I fear I’d be in need of a new TV.

As with bowling, my casual player test group found navigating the menu and calibrating the Joy-Con harder than the tennis-inspired movements. Because of our lounge room setup, 1v1 matches were generally better than anything requiring more players. While it’s 1v1 in player count, it’s 2v2 on-screen as Switch Sports tennis is a doubles game, which means you have control of both characters on your side. That takes a bit of getting used to, as I found I focused more on my trailing player than the one at the net.

Nintendo Switch Sports volleyball

Volleyball’s relatively easy to pick up in terms of motions, but harder when it comes to timing. To perform actions like bumping, setting and spiking you simply mimic the actions with a Joy-Con in hand. If you’ve got your timing down, you’ll not only hit the volleyball, but essentially build up a (totally fictional, not actually represented on-screen) combo meter that 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 lounge room; for that reason, it was less of a favourite amongst the group. You’ve got a lot of options despite this; playing in single-player or two-player competitive or cooperative modes made the most sense for my house, and also proved incredibly enjoyable.

Unlike tennis, if you’re playing in single-player (or 1v1), you won’t have control of the second player; the CPU handles that, love or hate the idea.

Nintendo Switch Sports soccer

Soccer is primarily a two-handed experience. You use one Joy-Con to move your character and the other to kick the ball. A Joy-Con legstrap can currently be used for shootout mode, though Nintendo plans to update Switch Sports so all soccer modes can take advantage. Because each player needs two Joy-Cons, soccer is a two-player experience at most. For once, we didn’t have issues with spacing!

My family had the most fun with regular matches. You’re playing with an enlarged ball in a pitch with plenty of room to distance yourself from opponents and therefore, set up some decent strategies. Players can throw themselves forward to header the ball by flicking both Joy-Cons at once and can also coordinate movement to jump and kick at the same time. Kicking is controlled through Joy-Con motion — either in-hand or strapped 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 akin to Rocket League with Miis.

Shootout mode is okay, but a little bland for my taste. A character will kick a ball out to you and it’s a matter of kicking your Joy-Con-strapped leg with the right timing. It takes a bit of practice to get right and isn’t that rewarding when you do.

Nintendo Switch Sports badminton

I don’t really have a lot to say about badminton apart from it’s fast and a two-player affair that doesn’t come close to rivalling tennis. There’s less strategy involved in terms of shot selection — you can hold down a trigger to perform a drop shot — and rallies can go on and on and on if players have their timings down.

I’m also a bit perplexed as to why badminton is only a two-character sport while tennis is purely a four-player sport. Surely we could have options for 1v1 tennis and 2v2 badminton?

Nintendo Switch Sports chambara

Chambara is meant to be a tactical affair, but largely winds up being a contest of which player can manage to fling their arms around the fastest.

If you can manage to enter into a gentle-people’s agreement with those you’re playing with, chambara is a delicate dance. A button press delivers a block — though you also need to physically position your Joy-Con powered sword at the same time — while a swinging action (or two, depending on your setup) will attack. When it’s working well, fighting is similar to the rock-paper-scissors system found in the likes of For Honor — you need to have an open path to score a hit. If an opponent is blocking vertically, they’ll successfully negate a vertical slice from an opponent. Diagonal attacks are also possible, so the attacker would need to slice in the same path a blocked sword is being held in.

Chambara is okay, but there’s a sense that it’s making up the numbers. It was largely a case of ‘try it and forget about it’ with my family test group.

The listed structure of this review puts the activities featured in Nintendo Switch Sports in order of my enjoyment. Badminton doesn’t compare to tennis, and chambara doesn’t hold a candle to Wii Sports’ boxing. You’ll certainly find yourself playing — and revisiting — some sports more than others. As they did in 2006, it’s bowling and tennis that best lend themselves to motion gameplay and steal the show.

The package is solid nonetheless, and that’s because Nintendo nailed the formula the first time on Wii. There aren’t any big risks being taken, nor do there need to be. It was a cultural revolution all those years ago, and it’s been gone long enough to be a welcome return to familiar family fun on Switch. My only real complaint is that while games inside the likes of 1-2 Switch work well in tabletop mode thanks to simple displays, trying to line up a shot in bowling means you’ll likely have to put your face right up to the screen so you can see what’s going on. If you’re playing as a group — which my family in Canada and I used to do using tabletop mode in those mini-game fests — no one else will really be able to see what you’re up to.

As per usual with any Nintendo title, this comes complete with a catchy, earworm-producing soundtrack and oodles of clean, wholesome fun. Those looking to rekindle a family gaming session akin to ones enjoyed in the past with Wii Sports will find this a sure winner.

PSA: you’re far better off buying this physically rather than digitally as you’ll get a Joy-Con legstrap peripheral for $2 AUD, as part of a total cost of $58 AUD.

Nintendo Switch Sports heads to the Switch on 29 April.

8.5 out of 10

Nintendo Switch Sports was reviewed using a promotional code on Nintendo Switch, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.

Nintendo Switch Sports

29 April 2022

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About the author

Steve Wright

Steve's the owner of this very site and an active games journalist for close to fifteen years. He's a Canadian-Australian gay gaming geek, ice hockey player and fan. Husband to Matt and cat dad to Wally and Quinn.