I've been looking forward to Nintendo Switch Sports for quite some time. Wii Sports Resort was ages ago, and I miss the glory days in my sporting career when I'd be able to prance around the living room, jabbing my friends with Wii Remotes and trying to swordfight with them without resorting to swinging my arms wildly and helplessly.
Since the Switch came out, its lack of a Wii Sports equivalent has been conspicuous. Thankfully, the wait is over. I've already shared my excitement for Nintendo Switch Sports in my preview, stating its potential to take over living rooms, spiralling into a lengthy competition with families and relationships fractured over it.
Now I've had more time with it, Nintendo Switch Sports has solidified itself as the thing I'll stick on the telly when I'm with a couple of people and we fancy a bit of a low-stakes contest. That's not to say it has no flaws, though. It's important to keep in mind that as of yet, reviewers have not been able to play online, so this is a review of the offline/local experience only. I'll be sure to update you if the online play is anything to write home about - and I really hope it is.
As mentioned in my preview, Switch Sports has a solid selection of sports to start off with. Golf will arrive at some point in the future, but for now, we have six to play: volleyball, badminton, bowling, football, chambara, and tennis. Having had more time to play each of the sports, there are definitely some I'll be returning to much more than others.
Bowling remains a classic, and the 'special' mode offers an extra challenge with obstacles and inclines along the lane. It still feels slightly unfinished though. The game is much more simple than the versions we're used to from Wii Sports - there's no longer the option to release the ball at a different point to get a different trajectory. You used to be able to chuck the ball miles up in the air or roll it nicely along the ground, but now the main things you have control over are limited to the spin you put on the ball and the initial path you aim down. I also wish there was the option to jump into a 100-pin game and watch them all fall like dominos. Alas, some things cannot be.
This is something of a theme with a few sports - I feel they could include a bit more depth in gameplay, and there’s not a huge amount to them once you've mastered the few basic manoeuvres. Volleyball is a super-simple timing challenge, while tennis feels weirdly unresponsive, harking back to the days of flicking the controller when the ball reaches you. Sure, there are a few bits of nuance to be seen here, but a few sports just don't have enough about them. Given there are currently only six to choose from, each one that falls short is a big blow.
Of course, there are highlights - and big ones. Once you're used to chambara and the ability to recentre your sword when it gets out of whack (it happens somewhat often, but that's the struggle when there's no sensor bar to point at), it's a classic delight to play with friends and fight for glory on top of a giant podium in a swimming pool in a library.
The real surprise highlights were badminton and football, though. Badminton is the game tennis wanted to be in Switch Sports. You can mix up your shots to force your opponent to dart around the court, with the goal being to force them into an awkward position and make them chuck you an easy shot to smash home. Each match is a best of five, and it gets super intense when you and a rival are getting pumped and going head-to-head.
Football is a bit of a Rocket League-esque game, albeit significantly simplified. The ball is massive, and you're required to swing the right joy-con to kick the ball. You can run around the pitch, jump about, and kick the ball in any direction, including high and low kicks depending on your motion. It's easy and reliable to get to grips with, but a 4v4 scenario requires a bit of strategic thinking and precise aiming. Do you hang around in the box waiting to steal your teammates' glory and jump on the end of a cross? Maybe. Do you play a box-to-box role, hassling your opponents while simultaneously managing your stamina? A tough one, but perhaps. Or are you a real team player, staying back and defending against the opposing counter-attacks? I sure won't, but go ahead if you fancy. You can also knee slide when you score. A nice touch.
It has a lot to it, and I was pleasantly surprised with the mode. You need two joy-cons each, but if you have them, football is a delight. With a leg strap, there's even a penalty shootout mode, which requires you to kick your actual foot with the right timing to score a goal. It's a niche novelty, but fun in small doses.
The Offline Experience
Given that this review could only focus on the offline experience, it's worth exploring in more depth just what you're getting into if you don't play online. Unfortunately, it isn't a whole lot.
In previous Wii Sports titles, you were able to rank up your Mii offline, with the game adjusting your opponent depending on your skill level. When you finally faced Matt at boxing, you knew you'd worked for it. It's why he's an icon to fans of the series - he terrorised us all with his flying fists of fury (although we did get our own back when he picked up a tennis racquet).
Here, there are three difficulty options and no real ability to progress aside from high scores in bowling and more consistently beating CPU characters of a higher level. You also can't unlock new cosmetic options without playing online, meaning I haven't been able to deck out my character with the freshest gear on the court or add the most ludicrous hairstyles.
There'll be ranking systems and the like when playing online, along with the ability to unlock sweet gear and customise your character, but the offline experience leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps a more satisfying single-player experience will be added in the future, but for now, you'll have the best offline experience with a few friends in the living room and a homemade tournament bracket scrawled on a scrap of paper with the winner getting a pint from each of the losers.
The magic of Wii Sports isn't quite here, but I'm definitely excited for the future of Switch Sports. It's one I'll keep downloaded, ready for unsuspecting foes to have a drink and challenge me to a game of chambara or badminton. There isn't a lot of longevity to the experience without online play, but die-hards will be keen to grind the leaderboards online.
We know golf will be added to Nintendo Switch Sports, but I'm hoping this isn't the last new addition we receive. Maybe we could learn more about Spocco Square, the Wuhu Island equivalent locale where all the sports events are hosted, with an aeroplane game like in Wii Sports Resort. Perhaps we could calm things down and go fishing at the Spocco Square city coastline, or head into the bouldering gym for a spot of rock climbing.
Even with the existing games, it feels like there's potential for more. More challenges, more modes, more ways to play the games so they don't get samey. 100-pin bowling, a single-player sword-fighting showdown mode, maybe even a way to integrate the leg strap penalty shoot-out mode into a more active football situation. The world is at Nintendo Switch Sports' feet, and the bones are there for the perfect party game.
Verdict - 7/10
At the moment, though, Nintendo Switch Sports is not the perfect party game. It's a damn good one though, and when the games hit, they're a real treat when you have others around you. Without enough about the single-player modes to get you hooked, though, you'll be fully reliant on getting a big group of pals over and putting your game faces on or trying your luck online.
Perhaps in the future, we'll see Nintendo Switch Sports reach its potential, but from what I've played, it's some distance off it yet.