Nintendo Switch Sports is the continuation of Wii Sports’ legacy—for better and for worse. Seemingly antithetical to its handheld-console hybrid home, it’s designed for one place, and one place only: the living room, its predecessor’s court. With another incredible soundtrack, surprisingly accurate motion controls, well-crafted minigames, and a little charm for good measure, it’s largely the Wii Sports you remember—or it would be if it had more to offer.
The magic of Switch Sports is what you put in. You’re not going to enjoy listlessly sitting on the couch with a beer in one hand and a Joycon in the other any more than if you swapped that controller for your phone and digital tennis with doomscrolling. Unlike in a setting like VR or a theme park, you’re not forced into immersion; you’ll have to meet this game somewhere in the middle. In Switch Sports’ case, that middle literally lies between your TV and your couch. That’s not to say you need to flail your arms until you put a hole in your TV, but part of what makes Switch Sports fun is the fact that it leans into being gimmicky. Sure, each returning sport gets a new mechanic or adds new systems to shake up what we’ve known since 2006, but it never shies away from wanting you to get up on your feet and get into it.
I stood up, planted my feet, and the next thing I knew, it was Christmas morning 2008 again, the day I opened my first ever videogame console. If you were around at the time and had ever even touched a videogame, you’ll never forget the first time you and your comically simple avatar moved in unison. It didn’t just feel like your run-of-the-mill videogame magic; you might as well have been pulled through the TV onto the tennis court course for that first serve. If you were a kid, chances are you’ve never recovered (or stopped talking about it).
Looking beyond the purview of my rose-tinted goggles for a second, though, it’s pretty clear why the game was ultimately dismissed by many as a gimmicky tech demo that led to one of the worst bygone trends in the videogame industry. None of Wii Sports’ offerings were particularly deep or worth playing for more than half an hour at a time, and what longevity it had was diminished by other games Nintendo put out that let you play as your Miis and use motion controls in more interesting ways.
tries to address that. It’s not super noticeable at first, but as you get your digital sea legs, you’re sure to notice that everything feels a bit more precise. With the right timing, you might find yourself putting spin on a tennis ball, for example. Precision isn’t always necessary (or existent) in all of Nintendo Switch Sports’ six games, but it represents enough of a shot in the arm, especially for its most mechanically simple outings, that you’ll find yourself playing for just a little longer than you might’ve with Wii Sports after a few months of playing it.
Nothing hammers home that extra oomph like some of the new additions to the roster of sports. Soccer and volleyball are each noticeably more complex than games like tennis or bowling. Soccer’s control scheme is still pretty simple, but giving players complete control over their character makes it feel more involved and largely more fun as a result. It has a similar feel to Rocket League, in some respects, though slower and less chaotic. Volleyball, on the other hand, has a fairly involved control scheme, but feeds players into the roles they’re supposed to play. It stays fresh by making players alternate roles with each volley.
Every sport also has more gamified elements. Chambara (formerly swordplay from Wii Sports Resort) adds charged attacks and new types of weapons, tennis adds perfect serves, soccer will randomly throw in a ball worth double points when you score a goal, and volleyball and badminton let you spike the ball. Bowling’s new simultaneous mode, which feels like a battle royale-inspired take on the classic game, is easily the standout addition. In online play, low-scoring players get knocked out after every few frames. It’s snappy compared to the occasionally dragging multiplayer Wii bowling of old and adds an extra layer of competition and tension to the sport, taking the competition from up to three other players to up to nine other players.
Bowling’s new mode makes the strongest case for Switch Sports’ online multiplayer, but every unlockable cosmetic is locked behind online play, so like it or not, you need to venture into online unless you don’t want fancy accessories for your Sportsmate, this game’s replacement for the Mii. Every Nintendo game of late has some sort of monkey’s paw and this is one of Switch Sports’. The progression system, which is linked to performance and participation, has almost no reason to be locked to online play. Even though it’s not handled well, it adds a meaningful sense of progression that the original game didn’t exactly have.
Switch Sports’ biggest failure is the lack of side content or modes. Both Wii Sports and Resort launched with multiple side modes for each sport. In Switch Sports, bowling is easily the most content-rich sport in the base game with one mode that houses three separate difficulties, each adding increasingly challenging obstacles to the lane after each frame. Players looking for side content beyond bowling are in for a disappointment, though. Soccer has an additional shootout mode, which requires players to wear the leg strap accessory, which is available for a $10 upcharge. While some might already have the leg strap since it shipped with Ring Fit Adventure, the fact that such a small amount of content is gated behind a $10 additional fee says everything you need to know about this game as a whole.
For context: Wii Sports, a game that was either packed in with the Wii or sold separately for $20, had that alongside two other modes. In fact, every sport in Wii Sports had three minigames associated with it. Wii Sports Resort was even more content rich, with more than double the amount of games and modes in Wii Sports or Switch Sports. Small adjustments to depth or quality aside, it makes Switch Sports feel less like a full sequel and more like a hollow cash grab.
Nintendo anticipated this criticism months before the game even came out when Switch Sports got announced in a Nintendo Direct. In February, they announced that golf and some extra functionality for soccer would be added to the game later on as free DLC, but with new content months out, the potential for anything beyond the new sport and mode is questionable at best. Even if either upcoming update shadow drops with new minigames and modes at a Direct or during E3, it’ll feel like sticking on a band aid too late.
Nintendo Switch Sports lives in the shadows of giants. Since the mid-aughts, very few games—hell, very few pieces of media in general—have held the same cultural significance and caché of Wii Sports. Nearly every facet holds some kind of relevance in meme culture, not to mention the fact that some people still play it every day for its Wii Fit mode. It had one of the largest player bases of any game ever made, and became a mainstream phenomenon in a way almost no other videogame ever has.
Switch Sports could never live up to that legacy. Its motion controls and accuracy are impressive and the Joycons’ HD rumble delivers an impressive facsimile of hitting a tennis ball with a racket, but there just isn’t enough here. The Wii games felt so revolutionary because they did something deeply innovative with the medium. Switch Sports effectively does the opposite. It’s still incredibly fun, especially if you’re feeling nostalgic for the halcyon days of motion controls, but in trading content out for accuracy and immersion, it feels empty—even compared to games from 16 years ago.
Nintendo Switch Sports was developed and published by Nintendo. It is available for the Switch.
Charlie Wacholz is a freelance writer and college student. When he’s not playing the latest and greatest indie games, competing in Smash tournaments or working on a new cocktail recipe, you can find him on Twitter at @chas_mke.