Nintendo Switch Sports review: Everything I wanted from Wii Sports 2
Ed. Remark: Nintendo Switch Sports‘Basic online mode was not available before the review embargo, but should be available to players on launch day. We’ll post a more traditional review, as well as consideration for Polygon Recommends, once the full game is live. In the meantime, here are our impressions of Nintendo Switch Sports after playing its local modes.
Alchemy doesn’t exist, but Nintendo does.
At any time, Shuntaro Furukawa may authorize a new Metroid or Animal Crossing or Zelda or 2D Mario or 3D Mario or Mario Kart or Mario teaches typing, and in a few years, that decision will have produced the closest thing the entertainment industry has come to a guaranteed profit. Nintendo’s treasure box is so deep that it will go years, if not decades, without creating a sequel for many of its successful franchises. I’m looking at you, F-Zero and Golden Sun and Wave Race and Earthbound.
This scant attention to franchises — franchises that other game publishers would make a deal with the devil to annualize — has more to do with practicality than greed. Nintendo only has a limited number of internal studios and trusted partners, and a limited number of spaces in a year to release games without competing with each other. And yet, I was stunned for almost 15 years by Nintendo’s decision to put one of its greatest hits of all time on the back burner. Surely, if any franchise deserved to be prioritized, it was this one.
Nintendo has shipped nearly 83 million copies of Sports Wii. For context, the recent Ring of Elden sold 12 million copies and Animal Crossing: New Horizonsthe game that consumed the early days of the pandemic lockdown, sold 37 million. Sports Wii have benefited from being bundled with nearly every Nintendo Wii, but the pair have risen to the rarefied air of pop culture phenomena. People bought the Wii for Sports Wiimaking it, for some, a $250 game.
In the mid-2000s, Sports Wii been the mainstream video game. Rainy day recreation meant Sports Wii tennis in class. Medical journals have studied the potential benefits of Sports Wii bowling in nursing homes. Another studied whether or not the weather with Sports Wii improve it skills of doctors performing laparoscopic surgery. Been Sports Wii to literally make the world more engaged, healthier and smarter? Probably not! But this enthusiasm, which spans generations and professions, explains how this game has touched almost every corner of American pop culture.
Ten years ago, “more Sports Wii” seemed like a no-brainer. Nintendo cleverly released Wii Sports Complex in 2009, alongside the Wii Motion Plus dongle which added further precision to the Wii’s motion controls. But from then on, Sports Wii has become little more than a benchmark in Super Smash Bros.
After more than a decade since that touchstone of pop culture, I finally had the opportunity to play a new entry: the aptly titled Nintendo Switch Sports. It debuts on the Nintendo Switch months after the hardware overtook the Wii in total hardware sales, with a whopping 103.55 million switches sold – and that amid a global shortage of semiconductors. In theory, there’s no better time for Nintendo to work its money-making magic.
So with all of that in mind – and I know, it’s a lot – why has Nintendo been so quiet? In the era of multiple Nintendo Directs dedicated to Animal Crossing or Xenoblade, the company has given Change sports a brief announcement and a five-minute explainer video, then sent it to reviewers without the option to enter the main mode. Bold choices!
But after diving into its six minigames for a week, I think I’ve figured out the “classic Nintendo logic” of it all. Nintendo, unsurprisingly, knows alchemy, certainly better than I do – and it has once again spun gold.
Nintendo Switch Sports is not so much a sequel to Sports Wii as it’s the franchise’s belated evolution from a tech demo to an actual video game. the original Sports Wii, for all its historical significance, felt like a new but thin test of Wii hardware. Its gameplay lacked depth and options; half of the sports mini-games were failed; and the art style was a rudimentary 3D set with Miis instead of original characters. And in 2009, Wii Sports Complex felt like Sports Wii… only After.
Nintendo Switch Sports, on the other hand, seems complete, which I admit is a silly thing to say given that the damn online mode isn’t available yet. But I speak comparatively. Unlike the barebones predecessor, Nintendo has put all of its typical polish into each of the understated minigames. I expect all six to have their dedicated fans who declare theirs to be the best of the bunch.
- Volleyball: 1 to 4 players
- Badminton: 1-2 players
- Bowling: 1 to 4 players
- Soccer: 1-2 players
- Chambara (sword fight): 1-2 players
- Tennis: 1 to 4 players
- A golf update will be available this summer.
You should read a full breakdown of how each sport plays in our hands-on impressions from earlier this month. My favorite sport has changed day by day. Yesterday I was convinced that I would spend the rest of the week playing volleyball. Then I woke up this morning, played a game of football, then continued playing football. He’s paused on the TV right now, waiting for me to come in for another round. What I’m about to do now.
Alright, I’m back. Some sports include alternate modes, such as a football shootout mode and dual wielding of the chambara. They can be played solo against the AI, which has three difficulty levels. I swear it’s no humble tacky brag: I’m a fan of the hardest mode, Powerhouse, which felt like playing against another person. It’s difficult, but not unfair. That said, the game is clearly meant to be played with others, and that’s probably where you’ll have the most fun.
The first person I played with was my four year old son. Now, I’ll be frank with you; he only played for half an hour before demanding that we switch to Sonic. And by “playing” I mean he was thrashing around the living room yelling, “I’m bowling!” I play bowling! I play bowling! But any video game that keeps my child away from Sonic the Hedgehog for more than five minutes is a miracle. Thirty minutes is quite a world record.
This game is great with other people, whether they like video games or, like my wife, have no interest. It captures that feeling of the Wii at its best: that you could pretend to be a great tennis player in your living room, and the motion controls would make you feel like you really were. Are the motion controls as precise as the Wii Motion Plus? I do not think so. A handful of times the game failed to register my immaculate bowling move, prompting me to try again. Still, I don’t think 99% of people who play this game will think about that slight loss of accuracy when throwing a volleyball in their friend’s face.
These feelings – send a flywheel over your husband’s head but only inside the line, playing a perfect game against your irate daughter, or pulling a Jar’kai at your grandpa – do Nintendo Switch Sports special. And it’s those moments that will spread the game: guests trying out this silly, deciding video game, Hey, I should buy one for my house. I too would like to humiliate my loved ones in virtual tennis.
All to assuage my own unnecessary concern: The hype surrounding Nintendo’s biggest game of 2022, so far, is fundamentally different from how we get excited for more Fire Emblem or Metroid.
In some ways, gaming culture is totally different today than it was when Sports Wii became a cultural phenomenon in the mid-2000s. I felt that with a huge gap between entries, Nintendo should redesign the series to serve a much more video game literate mainstream audience. It’s stranger now if someone doesn’t cheek fortnite or Among us or Dungeons & Dragons. I figured a game like this would need more meat, more punch, more, well, to be blunt, marketing.
I was wrong. Despite all the changes in the gaming world, throwing an imaginary ball at imaginary pins is and always will be awesome. Sports Wii didn’t need more minigames or the endless to-do list of a “living game” or the depth of an RPG. All it needed was a little more polish, a liberal cut of the weak parts, and a quick boot into the world.
Nintendo Switch Sports feels so delicious in 2022 because the joy of Sports Wii never really went away – nor did the dream of motion controls and games that beckoned even the most cynical non-gamer. You can still find dusty Wii’s and Microsoft Kinects in nursing homes, hospitals, and even some school A/V closets across the country. Throughout the pandemic, my dad pulled out a Kinect for neighborhood meetings in the yard. When I took it to a retro game store this winter, the clerk crushed its spirit by informing it that even original Xbox One games wouldn’t connect to Kinect. Its Kinect classics were also not backward compatible with the latest Xbox hardware. I’m thrilled to be able to push this game into its life, because reader, I promise it’s literally better than every Kinect game… and almost every Wii game too.
Nintendo Switch Sports targets that audience, from retirees to new parents, nostalgic for a type of gaming experience that hasn’t quite been recreated since. These are the latest generations who are unfamiliar with modern video game controllers. And for Nintendo, that audience may be more than enough.
That said, I hope young people will give this game a try. I think they might once the game’s online mode is available, a place where people under 35 are much more likely to play games. Until I can try out these features, however, I’m happy to consider this Nintendo’s love letter to the old and the old-at-heart. The company took over a decade to make the game, but maybe they were waiting for people like me to get old.
Nintendo Switch Sports will be released on April 29 on Nintendo Switch. The game was reviewed on Switch using a pre-release download code provided by Nintendo. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find additional information on Polygon’s ethics policy here.