Nintendo Switch Sports is out in the wild now, and while early reviews were limited to offline play, obviously our coverage requires a game to be online. Interestingly, online play is the very first option, making it feel like Nintendo understands that at this point in time, it may be more common for people to want to play online with others than alone or locally with others, which isn’t something we see a lot from Nintendo.
We talked about how the February beta weekend went well enough, but launch night’s online play went perfectly smooth, as did its first prime-time debut. But online games aren’t just about launching smoothly; they’re about the content available and hook ability. If you enjoyed Wii Sports, there’s some nice new twists, but so far, if you didn’t, there may be issues.
Customization options are fairly limited, at least at first. What’s nice is that Nintendo didn’t cram in gender limitations or even ask for them. You’re given enough options to express yourself, including your gender. While I always want more facial hair options, it was nice that Nintendo allowed at least something from the start, though so far, I’ve just preferred using my grizzled, cranky-looking Mii. Sadly, though, Miis seem to have limited customization when you get items, so it seems that once you have more items, you may want to use the more human avatars.
Your first experience with a sport is usually a tutorial (meaning bot opponents), even if you’ve queued for online play, but you still get points towards gifts. In a similar style as Overwatch, playing games gives points towards a random prize, but it’s more like a punchcard of one-time, random rewards than a lootbox potentially filled with doubles, which feels significantly better at first. The problem is that once you’ve completed your punchcards, you get a random reward from the overall set – like a Cute Bowling Ball or Cute Sword but probably not both at once – there are no further item rewards for that week.
You can play for fun or rank (which we’ll get to later), but it does take some of the fun out of the game. Even at release, we had only two weeks’ worth of content, which I finished just while messing around for this review, only unlocking two ranked modes in the process. As ranks give you access to gifts faster, I’m admittedly worried about how soon it’ll be before the player population moves on.
That being said, there are still no long queue for me even at the end of the first weekend. While your initial queue is for only one sport, eventually you can queue for up to three sports of your choosing. I experienced a few disconnects, but as I feared, there is no reconnect option once you’re able to get online again.
Running the bases
Volleyball feels a bit too similar to tennis, which I had complained feel more like a timing minigame than a tennis sim. The pace is slower and at least gives some idea of how the game is played, but the only time my games in real life are like Switch Sports’ is if someone has played it as a team sport and is specifically trying to set people up for shots. The game does register directionality, far better than tennis, giving you a sense of agency. It’s sad it’s only up to four players (two per side), but it’s fun enough, especially in local multiplayer where you can call things out and not worry about giving yourself away to the opponent.
Even though it was advertised as only being shoot-out mode at launch, soccer is 4v4 right out of the gate, and while the motion controls are nothing like actual soccer play (considering how much you use joysticks or flick your hands to execute kicks), it’s still fun if you like soccer. Like the real deal, it can be just a lot of running up and down the field, often forcing overtime until someone scores, but the match timer helps ensure it doesn’t drag on for too long. This isn’t to say its boring, as I always preferred playing soccer to watching it, but I wouldn’t expect it to do well on Girlfriend Reviews. I’m often happy enough if the game ends 1-0 at the last minute, as higher scores often feel like a result of neither team utilizing a goalie.
Unfortunately for non-soccer fans, the slow pace of play gets worse with the Shoot-out mode. Like the other offline content I’ve tried, this doesn’t seem to offer any rewards for an offline mode. The leg strap is optional, but the few rounds I played were both boring and disappointing, as you’re waiting maybe 30 seconds or so to take a turn, and the leg-strap doesn’t seem to accurately respond to kicks, which is the same problem I’ve experienced in Ring Fit Adventure. Perhaps this is why Nintendo launched the full sports mode at release instead of waiting until summer as originally planned. Maybe it’s because of the kicking, but not having turns simultaneously a la Survival Bowling is a missed opportunity that only highlights how good the game’s bowling is.
Badminton, however, feels more like what tennis should be. There’s still the timing element, but wrist action actually changes the way the shuttlecock moves as you strike it. I received almost no tutorial for this and wondered if my first game was against a real player. In fact, I actually found my mother, who greatly enjoyed Wii Sports, seemed to enjoy this one almost as much as bowling.
The innate ease of picking it up and virtually playing badminton, when compared to the arbitrary simulation of soccer and tennis, feels so accessible that it’s actually disappointing that other sports weren’t able to be translated this easily. I really don’t feel like I need tennis for the most part, though badminton is limited to 1v1, so if you need to play a racket-based game with four people, I suppose tennis is still useful.
I raved about it before, but Chambara really steals the show. It has that competitive feel that boxing had in Wii Sports, but it’s more measured. Even when someone is attacking fast, you have time to watch for patterns and react. The timing and angle of attacks can often still feel very off, though; when I make a horizontal slash in real life, the game forces an overhead vertical one that hits my enemy’s defense and costs me the game.
Admittedly, the virtual sport may not be forgiving, but somehow I am. Yes, it feels competitive in that you wanna beat the other guy, but maybe also because the controls are wonky, I don’t feel too bad about a loss. I’m sure younger, more impatient players, or super-competitive-types will grossly disagree with me, and bad controls are often my pet peeve. Perhaps it’s the low-stakes feel, as Chambara matches are over super fast, win or lose, and wins don’t even give that many points.
This is where things may get more interesting for our multiplayer readers. For the most part, the more multiplayer a game is, the better the payout, with the 16-player Bowling being quite generous. If you’re really good, you can potentially win a gift every match. That being said, the competition can be fierce. I had a hot streak and got a few strikes and was still eliminated in the first round. Because of those strikes, my next round also had particularly fierce competition, but after that loss, the opponents I was matched with felt closer to my level.
One disappointing feature is that the local, online multiplayer is fairly limited. Because Chambara and Badminton are single-player games, the game randomly selects which of the two local players will challenge the online opponent. It’s also disappointing in that all players must set up their own account on the system to make progress and enhance their appearance. Guests can save their characters, but they earn no points and can’t even borrow from the main account’s customization options to change those characters.
As Nintendo doesn’t have a login option, playing with friends who have the game is most enjoyable if all players have their own Switch, own a copy of the game, and can get online to play together. That naturally sells more consoles and games, so I understand why Nintendo may not want to do it, but it does make it feel like as Nintendo moves more online, local multiplayer may suffer more.
Warming the bench
While the game is fun, I actually thought there’d be a bit more to the game. Just from the layout of the sports, I expected some overall lobby at least similar to the Splatoon series: an immersive if unnecessary plaza with various stores and physical locations one could use to access the various sports instead of the quick menu options for those of us who enjoy immersion. I figured even though it’s single-player, it would be populated by NPC versions of people you know and/or played with, again as in the Splatoon games. The constant descriptions of the game’s setting, even during beta, only helped to reinforce that idea, and it’s disappointing to not have a small virtual space to check out people’s avatars, even if we might not be able to actually hang out with simple keyboard limits Animal Crossing-style.
Speaking of goods, I had expected more options via a shopping center, especially with what appeared to be animal costumes in the promo-materials. Nope, no shops. Everything is earned by the punchcards. Even climbing up to “A” rank in a sport nets you nothing new.
The starting options are just too young and trendy for millennial or older players; the hairstyles and clothes on offer just aren’t for me. Fun costumes or even just basketball pants and t-shirts as options would be nice at the start. It’s a minor complaint, but it’s also why, at least at the start, using a Mii seems to make my character stand out more. Maybe as we gain more customization options this will change, but the sportsmates feel flat and generic right now. (For people who don’t know how to make Miis, Kotaku has a nice reminder.)
Overall, Nintendo Switch Sports has promise. Bowling is where the game shines best, Chambara is fun-bad, and the other non-tennis sports are all right. The main issue is that it feels like an online party game with little motivation to plumb its depths. Again, part of this may be the imperfect motion controls or poor adaptation from real sports, but when there’s motivation to get into it, it’s sad knowing rewards could be earned in theory but you’ve already gotten them.
We’ll see how things turn out in a few weeks or so as Nintendo rolls out more punchcards and maybe still some leg-strap soccer options. Offline it certainly works as the new Wii Sports, but compared to Ring Fit Adventure, which seems to constantly reward you in-game and IRL with reasonable exercise motivation, Switch Sports has a ways to go before feeling like a good and rewarding simulation. Online, the thrills exceed the old series, but it’s disappointing to be hungry for more and forced to wait a week for easy-to-gobble-up content.