There are a handful of video games that have truly redefined the medium. Pac-Man crossed over from being a touchstone of arcade culture to a part of bona fide pop culture, Super Mario Bros. came to typify both the side-scrolling platformer and the golden age of the home console, and Halo modernized the first-person shooter, paving the way for an online competitive multiplayer environment that still thrives today. But when it comes to motion gaming, surely no title cast as long and distinct a shadow as Wii Sports.
It was that rare video game that we regularly saw played in public, on syndicated talk shows, and at demo kiosks worldwide. It was a title that even the youngest gamers could share with their elderly grandparents. It proved that motion-based gameplay was a viable control option, and now, some 16 years after it blazed onto the scene, Nintendo has again captured lightning in a bottle. At last, Wii Sports has a genuine modern successor in the form of Nintendo Switch Sports.
Like any title that seeks to truly put you in the game, Nintendo Switch Sports relies on your connection to a customizable avatar. Your Sportsmate, Nintendo’s name for the characters at play in Switch Sports‘ Spocco Square, has less in common with the classic Mii than it does with those of more modern fare like Animal Crossing: New Horizons or Splatoon 2. They are lankier (but still distinctly chibi) models with wide, bright eyes and triangular noses.
Initial character creation options are sparse, though more styles and accessories are unlockable through gameplay—specifically by playing online using the random matchmaking feature. For those who prefer a more old-school look, you can overlay the face of a Mii on your Sportsmate, creating a digital chimera that isn’t exactly seamless but definitely works if the vanilla customization options aren’t to your liking.
As for the offerings on display, Nintendo Switch Sports ups the options from Wii Sports, offering six sports to its forerunner’s five. These include soccer, volleyball, bowling, tennis, badminton, and the sword-slinging chambara—each with multiple modes of play.
Soccer, in addition to being one of the more physically taxing sports, is also the most varied. It offers play for one to eight (two local players or more via online matchmaking), with local play rule sets including one-on-one, four-on-four, free practice, and shoot-out—the latter being the title’s only game mode to take advantage of the Leg Strap accessory. With the exception of shoot-out, which just involves kicking the oversized ball at the right time to score goals, the controls are an intuitive blend of traditional and motion gaming. Character movement is controlled via the control stick, while kicks and headers employ the requisite waggling of the Joy-Con.
Volleyball is a pure motion-controlled experience, offering one to four players (local or online) the chance to serve, bump, set, and spike their way to victory. While the range of motion, and motion detection, afforded by the Joy-Con easily eclipses that of the old Wii Remote, this also requires more deliberate movement on the part of the player. Nowhere is this more apparent than while playing volleyball, where the ultra-important jump-up-and-then-spike maneuver can prove quite fickle.
Bowling, the crown jewel of Wii Sports, is also an easy standout in Nintendo Switch Sports, with one to an astounding sixteen players available depending on playstyle. Local play is capped at four, with options for both the still wonderfully satisfying standard play and a totally ridiculous special mode. Both modes control by mimicking the traditional movement of bowling using the Joy-Con—just remember not to release the z-trigger at the conclusion of your upward swing—with the big difference being a rotating suite of dips, elevations, barriers (both static and moving), and other obstacles wreaking havoc on your unassuming lane in the special game type.
Tennis is another returning favorite, but it is also one of the most constrained. It only supports one to four players regardless of whether you are online or off, and even single-player matches are two-on-two affairs (with you controlling two different versions of your Sportsmate—one playing backcourt and the other at the net). Still, serve and volley movements are easily understood, and you can even use the same wrist-twist perfected in bowling to add topspin and backspin.
On the surface, badminton seems like a more dumbed-down version of tennis, even down to its paltry two-player maximum. However, this sport proved to have a charm all its own. Serve-and-smash volleys come fast and furious, and timing is everything. Best of all, you can even sneak in the odd drop shot using the z-trigger. Much like the aforementioned bowling, badminton largely succeeds by aping the real-life sport just enough, then combining it with arcade-style control and movement to keep things accessible.
Chambara, the game’s last offering (and my kids’ favorite), mixes things up nicely by placing foam swordplay on an elevated platform surrounded by water. Two players alternately guard (using the z-trigger) and attack by swinging their Joy-Con, seeking the land hits and push their opponent off the edge of the platform. The key to success is reading your foe’s movements, as vertical blocks stop horizontal strikes (and vice versa), which leaves the attacker briefly stunned and vulnerable. Add to this options for charge swords (which build up energy for a special strike) and twin swords (for those who like a Joy-Con in each hand), and this otherwise straightforward exercise gets much more interesting.
In my household—and, I’ll wager, in many of yours—Wii Sports is still talked about in hushed and reverent tones. The Nintendo Wii was the family console both my kids grew up on, and the ease of access of a game like Wii Sports meant that they could start gaming practically as soon as they could walk. Plus, with its easy-to-design (and even easier to love) Mii avatars and a soundtrack chockfull of straight-up bangers, you begin to understand why this was truly a game for the ages. Suffice it to say, those are some big shoes to fill.
Even after a week with the title, I’m still not sure that Nintendo Switch Sports sings the same sweet song as its predecessor—and given Wii Sports‘ station in the pantheon of console gaming, that in itself is a really big ask—but what it does do is acknowledge the same notes and, with rare exception, add a nice bit of contemporary harmony. As fun to watch as it is to play and as easy to pick up as any of Nintendo’s battery of motion-enabled games, Nintendo Switch Sports is a title more than worthy of all the Wii Sports-related hype and well worth the price of admission.
Speaking of which, you’ll likely notice that this game lists at two different price points. The retail release comes in at $49.99 and includes both the physical game cartridge and the Leg Strap accessory. The digital version, on the other hand, is available for $39.99. If you already have a Leg Strap from the truly spectacular Ring Fit Adventure, the eShop version is likely the smarter buy, and even those without it will only be missing out on a single mode of soccer in the short term.
Going forward, though, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if more sports and play modes made their way into Nintendo Switch Sports—some potentially even requiring the Leg Strap. (Though, to clarify, I have no insider knowledge of this, just a love for the game and a vague inkling regarding its potentially long tail.)
Still, regardless of what version you purchase, I highly recommend that you add Nintendo Switch Sports to your collection. Its various sports, modes, and difficulties, coupled with its intuitive controls, can’t help but make this title another enduring addition to Nintendo’s beloved sports and fitness franchise.
Review materials provided by Nintendo of America. This post contains affiliate links. My daughter’s skills at obstacle bowling are nothing short of preternatural; sadly, there don’t seem to be a lot of college scholarship options for that at this time.