As I desperately tried to pull off smash after smash against the cheeky virtual boomer in front of me during a badminton session of Nintendo Switch Sports, a nostalgic burning sensation started to surge through my upper right arm.
Sixteen years ago, Wii Sports created a gaming sensation that got casual and longtime gamers alike gesturing desperately in front of the television screens — perhaps even occasionally sending their Wiimotes flying through the air like blocky rectangular comets that have triumphantly escaped the Oort cloud.
Fast forward to today and we have the direct successor on the Big N’s hybrid home and portable console, Nintendo Switch Sports.
Graphics: Switch Sports vs. Wii Sports
Wii Sports veterans will be immediately hit with a bout of nostalgia as its familiar opening jingle rings through the air the moment you load the game. Immediately, I remembered all those fun gaming sessions with family members and their laughably accurate Mii lookalikes in my living room. Good times.
It doesn’t take long to realize, however, that Switch Sports ain’t exactly your parents’ Wii Sports (or yours if you were a Wii Sports savant back in the day).
For starters, the graphics are fancier than the original Wii Sports. Stages, for example, feature more vivid colors as well as more details. This is especially noticeable in locations like the game’s bowling alley, which not only features kicked-up visuals but also has a bigger footprint for accommodating 16-player matches, the scale of which is further played up by the game’s panning camera during intermissions.
Wii Sports’ simple, almost Matryoshka doll-like Mii avatars are also replaced by more detailed characters that “sport” a more modern design, pun so totally intended. Gone are the floating circle hands that moved around the Mii’s tubular cores like moons around a planet. Instead, they’re replaced by actual appendages that connect to the characters’ bodies. The good news for purists is that you can still plug in your Mii avatar’s head onto the new bodies if you want a more old-school vibe. Personally, I ended up sticking with the new avatar faces, primarily because one of the two default hairstyles the make characters start with was exactly like my current haircut. Otherwise, I would’ve gone with my Mii, which had my old spiky hairstyle. And yes, these are the weird little things that my weird little mind thinks about when playing these types of games.
Admittedly, the new and improved graphics are a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it makes Nintendo Switch Sports feel like a new game on a new system. On the other hand, it can look too new to the point that players who enjoyed the older games might feel that this is no longer Wii Sports, especially when using the new avatars.
This is not as much of an issue for gamers new to the series. For longtime players, though, nostalgia is a powerful tool for providing an emotional connection to a game like Nintendo Switch Sports and losing that might make this spiritual successor feel less special.
Gameplay: Switch Sports vs. Wii Sports
Although the philosophy behind the game’s visuals might be a bit of a mixed bag, the gameplay for Nintendo Switch Sports is what really makes the game feel like the new torchbearer for the Wii Sports franchise.
As soon as I started using motion controls for classic games such as tennis and bowling, that’s when my mind went, “Yup, this feels like Wii Sports, alright.”
While Wii Sports launched with five games, Switch Sports ups the ante a bit by offering six games. In addition to stalwarts such as tennis and bowling, Nintendo Switch Sports also adds badminton, soccer, volleyball and “chambara” or sword fighting.
Calibrating is pretty easy and usually requires you to point you Joycon at your screen at the right position and click a button. The motion controls work well overall, minus some of the accuracy niggles that anyone who has used motion controls over the years is familiar with at this point (anybody remember the term “waggle?”).
Bowling probably feels the most natural as it replicates your motion the best out of all the sports. Tennis and badminton are also pretty solid overall, although there will be times when I’d do a backhand and it would still register as forehand, which has caused me to miss some shots.
Chambara is pretty fun and gives you the option for three types of sword weapons: a single sword, dual swords and a charge blade. Followers of the church of YOLO will likely love the twin sword setup, which allows you to strike and even twirl two blades like a wannabe Kirito from Sword Art Online. Personally, I found the charge blade especially engaging since I’m more of a defensive player, which the weapon rewards by allowing you to charge your sword with successful blocks. The fact that enemy strikes must be parried by using the correct angle makes chambara especially engaging.
My favorite new mode, though, is volleyball. It just provides an experience that feels different from past games and I especially like the variety in gestures you have to use from digs, tosses and spikes as well as the need to use proper timing to increase the power or effectiveness of your moves.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is soccer — or football for the rest of the world — which is my least favorite. This mode adds a Rocket League twist to the game by having players kick an oversized ball around. You get different types kicks including overheads, straight kicks, side kicks and even headers, which is my preferred move of choice for scoring, especially if an enemy is slightly ahead of me in front of their goal. While the controls are great when you’re pushing forward toward the enemy goal, however, things change when you’re on defense due to the unintuitive camera. Getting the correct angle to kick back a ball toward your enemy after chasing it back on your side of the field is also a bit of a pain. There’s also a shoot-out mode but it require a the Ring Fit strap accessory for your legs, which will lock out folks who don’t have that particular item.
Also, while the selection of games is higher than the original Wii Sports, you also lose some classic options like baseball, golf and boxing. Switch Sports’ selection also pales in comparison to Wii Sports Resort, which has 12 activities.
To improve replayability, Switch Sports adds unlockable items such as cosmetics for jazzing up your avatar. These include time-limited item sets, which push you to play the game regularly. Unlocking these items, however, require you to play online mode. On one hand, the game will automatically match you with bots if there are no players available so you can farm unlockables even if the online community isn’t popping. On the other hand, if you’re somewhere without an Internet connection for some reason, then it hampers your ability to unlock stuff.
For folks who like to play on the go, note that multiplayer is only possible when the Switch is docked, which means no multiplayer co-op or vs. in tabletop mode.
Should you get Nintendo Switch Sports?
Nintendo Switch Sports is a modern take on one of Nintendo’s beloved classics from the Wii era, complete with the motion controls and burning muscle soreness that veterans of the series know very well. The game boasts improved visuals compared to its predecessors and playing with or against other people remains a hoot. Limiting multiplayer to docked mode is a bit of a bummer, though, especially since playing solo feels like a more lonely and less fulfilling experience. It’s a game best enjoyed with others for sure.
Jason Hidalgo covers business and technology for the Reno Gazette Journal, and also reviews the latest video games. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhidalgo. Like this content? Support local journalism with an RGJ digital subscription.