Nintendo Switch Sports Review — Stellar Gameplay in a Bare Bones Package
One of Nintendo’s most well-known properties is finally on Nintendo Switch with Nintendo Switch Sports. It’s a sequel to the Wii Sports series, but with slightly updated branding. Despite the new name, the game delivers on the classic gameplay that it’s known for.
The wrapper that those simulations come in feels like an afterthought though. Playing each sport is fun, but things like tutorials or variety in how you use the mechanics are non-existent.
Nintendo Switch Sports Review — Stellar Gameplay in a Bare Bones Package
The Nintendo Sports series is a collection of sports simulations that implement motion inputs. To swing the racket in tennis, you swing your Joy-Con like a racket. This part is still magical. Performing the motion to roll a bowling ball down a lane with the game reflecting that motion is captivating. It’s also an experience that’s hard to find anywhere else. That does mean Nintendo Switch Sports is a big fish in a small pond, but it’s still good to be the big fish.
There are six games included in the package: volleyball, badminton, bowling, soccer, chambara, and tennis. All of them are fun to play, though some are more fun than others. I’m not particularly in love with volleyball and chambara, but each one is worth playing even just to see how the motion controls were adapted to each sport.
Sports that seem like they would be incredibly similar, like badminton and tennis, feel very different when actually playing them. Tennis requires you to focus on keeping the ball in bounds where that’s impossible in badminton. Tennis balls travel faster and farther while shuttlecocks are floatier.
Soccer is an early candidate for my surprise of the year. The version in Switch Sports is a Rocket League clone where the ball is oversized and the goals are huge. It’s the most fun I had during my time with the game.
Switch Sports launches with online capabilities for all its simulations. You can play matches against random players or invite friends and family to play over the internet. Setting this up is easy and works well. The lobby system is intuitive to use; I didn’t experience any lag or stuttering when playing online with friends.
For more competitive players, playing against random people online will eventually unlock Pro Leagues. These are ranked matches where you gain or lose ranked points by winning or losing. It’s possible to opt out of ranked matches if you want a less stressful online experience.
The mountain of issues looming over Nintendo Switch Sports consists of everything outside of actually playing those games, the biggest of which is the tutorialization. For basic controls, the tutorials are adequate. They're either on the screen as you play or there are small demonstrations when you start. The problem is that not every control is in these tutorials.
There are important, game-altering techniques that are not mentioned when you start playing. Opponents would do something that I didn’t know was possible, then I would spend several matches trying to guess at the hand motion to make it work, all while playing against people who already knew how to make it work. It’s an incredibly frustrating situation. Forcing you to lose several matches for reasons you don’t understand is a baffling design choice.
Eventually, the game does tell you some of these advanced techniques, but it’s in the worst way possible: in post-match loading screens. These could be tutorialized anywhere else, so why not put all of the possible controls in the actual tutorials? Why is there not a section mentioning it’s possible to spike the volleyball in a specific direction or how to add topspin or backspin to a tennis ball?
Making training areas to practice sports would have been even better. If I want to practice serving in tennis, why can’t I go to a section that only has me serving the ball? There could have even been little score attack minigames.
Making learning techniques a minigame would solve one of the game's other issues: a disappointing lack of additional content. Two of the sports use twists on the mechanics. Bowling has challenge lanes where the lanes have dips, bumpers, gaps, and other obstacles to bowl around. Soccer has a shootout mode where you can kick a ball into an increasingly smaller goal.
It’s a missed opportunity to not have these for every sport. Previous entries have minigames like target shooting using the tennis mechanics. That minigame teaches you how to control the ball better while also being fun. Chambara could have had a minigame similar to Fruit Ninja.
Spocco Square, where the sports take place, is surprisingly devoid of life, acting as just a menu. The developers designing the square really tried to add personality to the locale, but it all feels meaningless, since you can't interact with any of it. One of the loading screen tips tells you that a shuttle goes from each sport venue every 15 minutes, and you can see the shuttle travel in the background. But you can't actually ride it. Spocco Square feels like it should be more, but there's nothing to it.
Customization is a sore spot as well. There just aren't enough options for the main avatar type, Sportsmates, the new and more realistic style of player character debuted in Switch Sports in lieu of Miis. You start with two outfits in a variety of colors, six faces, six hairstyles, and not much else to make a unique character. This ends up with all of the Sportsmates looking too similar.
There is the option to create a Mii. Any Mii that you’ve created on your console can be pulled into the game. It’s a little funny to load into a match with a fleet of the same character plus whatever the one person with a Mii decided to make. More options are possible to unlock for Sportsmates, but they don’t flesh out the character creation to a satisfactory degree.
To bounce off of character customization, the visuals of Switch Sports are surprisingly poor. I don’t expect the world from graphics in a Nintendo game, but the amount of issues here makes it worth mentioning. The fidelity of in-game objects is very poor. Whenever someone is knocked into the water in Chambara, for example, they become incredibly pixelated until they resurface.
Each building is a showcase for the game lacking anti-aliasing. Angled lines look like stairs because they’re so jagged. Foliage has low polygon counts. Normally, this isn’t an issue, but it’s jarring when they’re placed next to higher polygon count objects like buildings. None of these issues bleed into performance, though; Switch Sports runs well.
To contrast the graphics, the sound design is excellent, with the sound of playing each sport being true to life. I’ve spent a lot of time in bowling alleys, and the sound of pins slamming into each other in Switch Sports’ Bowling is so reminiscent of real life. It’s satisfying to just listen to the sound of a strike during the replay. Similarly satisfying is the smack of a tennis ball against a racket. A lot of effort went into this detail and it pays off.
Nintendo Switch Sports Review — The Bottom Line
- Motion-controlled gameplay is delightful.
- Online is easy to set up and works well.
- Sound design of each sport is realistic.
- Character customization is lacking.
- No other modes of play.
- Spocco Square is just a menu.
- Flawed visually.
Nintendo Switch Sports is in the fortunate position to offer an experience I want. From when it was announced, I knew I was interested in the game. There is no substitute for swinging a controller like a sword and hitting a person in a game with a sword.
It’s sad that Nintendo Switch Sports doesn’t deliver on anything past that experience. There could have been so much more included, but the core package is the whole package. I’m going to play this for a long time, because there’s nowhere else to get this type of gameplay, but it's disappointing to know what could have been.
[Note: The writer was reimbursed for the copy of Nintendo Switch Sports used for this review.]