Let's go for a stroll down memory lane, shall Wii?
The launch of the Wii was one of the biggest moments in Nintendo’s history, and I say that without hyperbole. Nintendo was coming off a somewhat tepid response to the GameCube, and they were hoping to regain some market share with their next platform. While Nintendo had always innovated with hardware and software, the Wii was the first moment we saw Nintendo really break with console tradition as far as horsepower was concerned. Nintendo instead opted for modest specs in the console itself, and a revolutionary approach to controls. Many deemed this move pure insanity in 2006, but now we look back and easily recognize the decision to be equal parts forward-thinking and ingenious.
Nintendo single-handedly created, or at least fostered a whole new segment of the gaming market; the expanded audience. Yes, the motion controls of the Wii were mindblowing on their own, but as with any good console, it’s software that moves the hardware. Nintendo needed the perfect game to show people what the Wii was capable of, while also giving them an experience that was instantly understandable. This led to the creation of Wii Sports, a game that propelled the Wii to astronomical heights thanks to the beauty in its simplicity. Everyone from a first-time gamer to grandma knows how golf, tennis, bowling and so on work. Just plop the Wii Remote into anyone’s hands, and the rest comes naturally.
Nowadays, both the expanded gamer audience and motion controls are commonplace. All of the big players in the game industry have dabbled with motion controls to varying degrees of success, and they’ve created content in the hopes of attracting what’s usually referred to as the ‘casual’ gamer. There have been some interesting attempts and unique ideas over the years, but it’s hard to argue that any game did it better than Wii Sports. That game will forever be synonymous with an entire gaming movement, and cemented yet another huge chunk of Nintendo’s legacy. There’s power in the ‘Sports’ brand from Nintendo, and no one knows that more than the Big N.
Of course, the question is, how do you build on the success of Wii Sports? The Wii already saw a sequel in Wii Sports Resort, and even the maligned Wii U got Wii Sports Club. Where do you take the franchise next? Well, sometimes you don’t need a huge idea or innovation to make a game fun or successful. It just takes the right amount of time.
Nintendo Switch Sports just launched on the Switch a few days ago. It doesn’t make great changes to the Wii Sports formula, nor does it pile on extra features and content. For this installment, Bowling and Tennis have made a return, joined by newcomers Soccer, Volleyball, Badminton, and Chambara. Compared to most games in today’s day and age, it’s a very modest offering. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, though, as Nintendo Switch Sports has a much bigger element going for it; the power of nostalgia.
I have to admit, firing up Nintendo Switch Sports for the first time made me a little emotional. No, I didn’t cry my eyes out or shed a tear, but I was hit with a rush of great memories. I, like most Wii owners, spent a wealth of time with Wii Sports. So many hours Bowling with friends, so many family parties with Tennis tournaments. My memories of Wii Sports are pretty magical, as they’re filled with smiles and laughs. Not many games can facilitate those feelings, especially with such a wide range of ages and skill sets. Wii Sports did that, and so can Nintendo Switch Sports.
Those feelings of happiness and joy came flooding back as Nintendo Switch Sports booted up, and they stayed with me the whole time I played. So many titles in today’s gaming landscape tout the amount of content they pack in. Hundreds of side-quests, thousands of in-game miles to explore, galaxies full of adventures, and so on. That’s all well and good, but I think there’s something to be said for a simple, concise experience that can pack in the fun and replay value. Just as with Wii Sports before it, Nintendo Switch Sports absolutely nails the idea of ridiculously simple gameplay that somehow never gets old.
When it comes to Wii Sports, Bowling, Tennis, and Golf were my go-to games. It didn’t matter how many times I played them, they never got old for me. Whether I was going solo or working with/competing against real life players, there was always a good time to be found. While it’s still extremely early on in Nintendo Switch Sports’ life, I can feel that exact same pull from the versions of Bowling and Tennis here (with Golf coming later this year). Not much has changed by any means, but it didn’t have to. What worked in 2006 still works now, and just the right amount of time has passed for me to fall in love all over again.
That’s not to say Nintendo Switch Sports’ Bowling and Tennis are exactly as they were in Wii Sports. There’s no denying the tech inside the Joy-Con is more sophisticated than that of the Wii Remote in many ways, and the Bowling and Tennis action in Nintendo Switch Sports is better for it. I feel like I have much more control in where I’m hitting a Tennis ball, and my Bowling approach seems to mimic my real-life swing with near perfection. Wii Sports’ Bowling and Tennis were fantastic for what they were, but there were little hiccups and tech issues that made things seem ever so slightly off. Nintendo Switch Sports elevates these experiences that much more, and there’s little doubt the Joy-Con tech, coupled with Nintendo’s now-extensive knowledge of motion controlled games, has led to a more refined presentation.
Also like Wii Sports, there’s some games in the batch that surprised me with the fun I found in them, and others I don’t see myself playing. For me, Wii Sports’ Boxing was far and away my least-played game, as I just didn’t find it to be that enjoyable. Following closely behind that was Baseball, which I did pop in on from time to time, but it definitely lagged behind the remaining three sports. Nintendo Switch Sports also has some sports that I can’t see myself spending too much time with, but I will say I enjoy them all more than I did Boxing!
Starting off on the positive end of the spectrum is Soccer. I was honestly shocked with how enjoyable I found this sport to be. While it certainly has the most complex controls of any of the Nintendo Switch Sports sports, it’s not complicated by any means. Once you learn how to kick and run, you’re pretty much set. Yes, you can throw in some fancy stuff like headbutts (which are a LOT of fun), but as long as you can move and kick with some accuracy, you should have a great time. I know I did, and I found myself digging into this mode way more than I anticipated. I’m certain the arcade-style approach helped me here, as I love chasing after the giant ball, and having a massive goal to work with. It keeps the game light and playful, which is exactly how I like my sports titles. Even the Shoot-Out mode, which uses the included Leg Strap accessory, was a blast to play. Sure, it’s just like the other mode minus the player control, but the anticipation of the ball flying your way coupled with actually using your leg to make the kick just works. Throw in some real-life competition for this one and you can easily get into some pretty fantastic and equally heated exchanges.
I got roughly the same amount of surprise from Volleyball. While Volleyball handles character movement for you, it’s still extremely satisfying to set, pass, and spike the ball. Of course, the more you get into it in real life, the more fun you’ll have. I honestly couldn’t help myself from jumping early in real life to get in on a spike. Just the anticipation of the volleyball dropping in was too much! I wanted to get up there and spike that sucker into the other team’s face! It feels so damn good when you connect on a hit like that, just as it does when you manage a perfect block. Much like Tennis, Volleyball is a back-and-forth affair that keeps you on your toes.
I had some fun with Badminton, but it didn’t match the enthusiasm I had for the other newcomers, Soccer and Volleyball. I’m actually a big fan of Badminton in real life, so I was truly looking forward to this one. While the Nintendo Switch Sports version of Badminton is definitely enjoyable, there’s something about it that doesn’t measure up to the other net sports, Tennis and Volleyball. It might have something to do with the floaty nature of the shuttlecock, or perhaps the sound effects that go with it. It’s hard to make a shuttlecock sound satisfying when you connect with it, whereas you really feel it when you spike a volleyball or smash a Tennis ball. Whatever it is, Badminton literally doesn’t click for me on the same level the other sports did. Again, I think it’s vastly superior to Wii Sports Boxing, but it’s not going to be my most-played sport.
Finally, at the bottom of the barrel is Chambara. There’s nothing wrong with this game, but it just feels boring to me. It’s funny that a game with fake swords comes off as the least action-packed of the bunch, but for my tastes, Chambara just falls flat. You can put some spins on the game with charged swords or dual wielding, but the end result is the same. You just watch how the opponent holds their sword and then swing appropriately to knock them back. The controls work perfectly and the mechanics are there, but the game itself doesn’t keep me entertained. Perhaps if I were facing some sophisticated opponents I could get into an engaging back-and-forth, but by and large, Chambara will likely be the Boxing of Nintendo Switch Sports for me.
All in all, I feel the collection of sports in Nintendo Switch Sports is more entertaining than Wii Sports. The games that return from Wii Sports have been tweaked and improved upon, and the bulk of the newcomers are definitely worthy of return visits. That fun will only grow the more you throw others into the mix, which again strengthens the replay value. Where the original Wii Sports only let you get in on multiplayer with real-life opponents, Nintendo Switch Sports adds online for a world of competitive play.
Nintendo not including online play in Nintendo Switch Sports would have been borderline unforgivable. It’s good to see Nintendo recognize this, as sticking with local multiplayer only would have ruffled more than a few feathers, and rightfully so. That said, I’m not someone who’ll get much use out of the online play in Nintendo Switch Sports. I’ve always been more of a local multiplayer fan, and that is definitely how I want to play Nintendo Switch Sports. I like to get together with friends and family, shout at the top of my lungs, jump around with a bunch of people, and just have a great time together as a group. Online isn’t going to do that for me, or even come close quite frankly, but online play 100% needs to be there.
As with most of Nintendo’s online offerings, Nintendo Switch Sports provides a serviceable experience, but it’s far from what most players expect nowadays. Your online sessions will differ in quality vastly depending on who you’re matched up with, as well as your own internet connection. I’m lucky enough to almost always have a good online connection, but I also recognize that many others suffer. However Nintendo handles online play usually lends itself more to lag and connection issues, and many have complained of the Switch having lackluster wifi capabilities (wired certainly helps!). That results in the usual crapshoot of online play, so you can have a slew of great matches in Nintendo Switch Sports one night, and then a real hit-and-miss session the next. It’s far from what Nintendo fans want, but with that said, Nintendo Switch Sports is par for the course.
There’s also a customization element to Nintendo Switch Sports that Wii Sports didn’t include. Now you have all sorts of ways to unlock content for your character and games. Different outfits, new styles, varied equipment types, and so on. All of this stuff is purely cosmetic, but it’s definitely nice to have a way to customize your character and gameplay. Sure, it doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but showing off a bit of your style isn’t bad. It also keeps players coming back, as Nintendo is cycling customizable content on a weekly basis. That ensures longevity for the game and online play, and you can be certain Nintendo will offer some outfits and more down the road that’ll make it near irresistible for Nintendo fans to stay away.
In reality, Nintendo Switch Sports does little more than Wii Sports did before it, but I believe that’s 100% okay. If Nintendo’s ‘Sports’ series came out more frequently, we’d certainly expect to see sweeping changes, big additions, and more with each installment. As it stands, Nintendo’s ‘Sports’ series has only seen 3 installments over the course 16 years, and one of those was a re-release of the original. That means we really haven’t gotten a ‘new’ Sports game from Nintendo since 2009. 13 years is a long time for a franchise to exist without a new installment, so when that series does return, it’s important to remind people what it was all about, while also offering something new. I think Nintendo Switch Sports does that perfectly.
Nintendo Switch Sports exists in a very unique corner of gaming, as it has the potential to woo lapsed and ‘hardcore’ gamers alike. Just like Wii Sports in 2006, Nintendo Switch Sports is something you can enjoy with your non-gaming friends, gamer buddies, family, and everyone else. Everything here is meticulously designed with pinpoint precision, and it’s all in the name of creating fun. So many games today throw in everything and the kitchen sink, and that approach can sometimes dilute the fun. Nintendo Switch Sports isn’t trying to impress you with fancy graphics, bells and whistles, or a plethora of features. You get nothing more than a small collection of sports with simple controls, yet the package delivers big on fun. That’s all we needed back in 2006 with Wii Sports, and it turns out 16 years later the same approach rings true.