The original Wii Sports game came out in 2006, and it was an instant hit. In fact, it’s still considered a classic among Wii fans to this very day! It’s rather strange, then, that Nintendo has taken so long to release a follow-up on their highly successful Switch system. Unfortunately, the product we wound up with ultimately feels more like a half-baked pack-in than a $40 USD retail game. Most of the content Nintendo Switch Sports offers is fine on its own — but it’s outperformed by Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort, which released over 10 years ago.
10 Years Later, and Much Less Content
At the time of writing, Nintendo Switch Sports includes just six different activities: Bowling, Tennis, Soccer, Badminton, Volleyball, and Chambara. A future update including Golf is currently in the works, but we haven’t received word on the exact release date. This means that – for the asking price of $40 USD – you get six sports, which is six less than Wii Sports Resort. That’s already a big issue, but adding insult to injury is the fact that many of these sports lack the unique modes and settings seen in past titles in the series. And also, Badminton and Tennis are pretty much the same.
The good news, however, is that each of the sports plays as well as you’d expect. Everything works, though the motion controls can be a tad spotty depending on the age of your Joy-Con controllers. There were more than a few times – particularly in Badminton – when I swung the controller, only for the motion to fail to register. This becomes frustrating after a while, especially if you decide to play ranked matches online against strangers. Losing rank points due to faulty motion controls is not fun. That being said, Bowling and Chambara were my favorites! Of all the sports available, those were the two I found myself going back to most often.
One thing you’ll notice right out the gate is a newly-nonexistent emphasis on Miis. They’ve been relegated to a menu option, and players are clearly pushed towards sticking with Sportsmates — the game’s new avatar system. Compared to Miis, they’re awfully generic and suffer from a dire lack of customization options. I chose not to use a Mii; in this game, they look tacky and out of place (whereas they fit perfectly in Wii Sports). Miis themselves have a lot of charm, though, and it’s sad to see them dialed back here for no clear reason.
To recap: so far, Nintendo Switch Sports’ individual games play well, and are fun to mess around with especially if you’ve got friends or family around. Its simple controls and wide appeal will encourage people who don’t normally play video games to join in on the fun. Customization is light, but the aforementioned non-gamers likely won’t have much of an issue with that. Though non-gamers are probably the target audience here in the first place.
Even Sports Games Have FOMO
Nintendo Switch Sports actually does offer players a way to customize their Sportsmate… but items are only offered for a limited time. That’s right — this game leans into FOMO (fear of missing out) to get you to play online as often as possible. Each week, a new set of items becomes available. These include things like clothes, face paint, custom bowling balls and Chambara swords, and reactions to use online (kind of like emoji). After two weeks, that set of items expires. If you haven’t earned the items you want by then, you can’t earn them in the future. At the time of writing, we don’t know if Nintendo will make these items available again after they expire. This presents more than a few issues.
If you’d like to get some customization items for yourself, the way to do that is to play the game online against strangers. After each round of a sport ends, you’ll receive points based on your performance. Once you get 100 points, you’re rewarded with a random item from the “set” of items you choose. You can’t receive items more than once, but you also can’t choose the one you want. This means if you have your sights set on one specific reward, you might have to play for several hours before you eventually receive it by chance. Generally speaking, each game rewards at least 30 points — but Bowling rewards at least 40 (because it takes longer). This means you’ll be doing a lot of grinding if you want to obtain every item. And if you’re reading this review and haven’t played the game yet, you’ve already missed out on several items that you’ll simply never be able to obtain.
It gets worse, though — you need a Nintendo Switch Online subscription to obtain any of these items, because you only obtain them from online matches with strangers. Any matches played locally or online only with friends do not earn you any points towards the week’s item collection. This means you need a subscription to have any customization options for your character beyond two or three basic hairstyles and eyes. Things like basic eye and hair colors are exclusive to the online rewards, which is absolutely baffling. Let’s say you want to play locally with your family, who are in the same room as you. For each family member who wants to play, you need to add a new user to your Switch system: and they can’t use any of the customization options you unlocked on your profile. They must unlock them themselves, and non-Switch Online subscribers can only unlock a couple of items per week (if that).
Online Play Can’t Save the Game
During my time playing online on Nintendo Switch Sports, I experienced little in terms of connection problems. There’s a very occasional lag spike or stutter, but they last less than a second and are far and few between. One issue I noticed is that strangers can simply turn off their console in the middle of an online match, which ends the game for everyone involved. This is most prevalent in Volleyball — if one player disconnects, the other three players get the boot and don’t earn reward points. Frustrating, especially if a losing player decides to disconnect just before the game ends to preserve their online ranking.
Beyond online play and those annoying point rewards, Nintendo Switch Sports really has very little staying power. There are no other unlockables to speak of, which means there’s not much of an incentive to keep playing after you’ve unlocked all the online rewards in a given week. Don’t get me wrong, this game is fun — but only in specific situations. It’s certainly nice to play with friends and family every once in a blue moon, but beyond that, Nintendo Switch Sports is a shallow experience with much less content than a game released over ten years ago (Wii Sports Resort).
It’s kind of sad, really. Almost every first-party sports release from Nintendo has been half-baked, lacking in content, or both, and Nintendo Switch Sports is just another one to add to the list. As mentioned earlier, this game is $40 USD — but it isn’t quite worth that price tag in its current state. The game feels more like a $15 digital download than a budget-price retail release. If you’re somehow able to find it at a discount, go for it. But as it stands, this game probably won’t keep you occupied for more than a couple of hours.
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