Nintendo Switch Sports is a great take on a family friendly classic | CNN Underscored

Nintendo Switch Sports is a great take on a family friendly classic | CNN Underscored

Nintendo Switch Sports is the first title in years that both the gamers and non-gamers in my life are equally excited about, and for good reason. Wii Sports became an immediate hit in 2007 thanks to its simple, refined motion controls that allowed anyone to pick up a golf club, baseball bat or bowling ball, and after a handful of sequels, that beloved formula has finally come to the Switch.

Switch Sports largely succeeds at bringing Wii Sports’ family friendly fun to a new generation, delivering a mix of returning games like bowling and tennis and new sports like badminton and soccer — along with the ability to play them online. But is it good enough to earn a spot amongst the best Nintendo Switch games? Here are my thoughts after a week of wildly swinging Joy-Cons around in the name of global competition.

Family-friendly sporting fun

Nintendo Switch Sports is a great buy for those looking for a fun, family-friendly sports experience they can enjoy both online and off. However, gamers looking for a more robust single-player experience should look elsewhere.

What we liked

Most sports are a blast to play

Nintendo

While I liked some games more than others, Switch Sports’ six main experiences — bowling, tennis, badminton, chambara, volleyball and tennis — were all enjoyable and easy to get the hang of. Each title requires little more than swinging the Joy-Con controller in different directions, though there is a bit of nuance involved in each game for those trying to get a competitive edge.

Soccer, one of several new sports introduced for the Switch, quickly became a favorite of mine. Smartly combining traditional gamepad controls for movement with motion-based swings for kicking and headbutting, Switch Sports’ take on soccer feels more like a physically active version of standard sports games like Rocket League. It’s not much of a workout compared to some of Switch Sports’ other games — and swinging your arms to “kick” can feel a bit awkward — but it’s still great fun, especially in raucous 4-on-4 online matches.

Chambara, a swordfighting game that challenges you to knock your opponent off a platform, is another major highlight. Attacking and guarding in the proper direction is key here, and there’s a real sense of satisfaction that comes with reading your enemy and making a smart swing that sends them flying into the water. It’s one of the most intense and skill-based games of the bunch, and I found myself full of adrenaline after a big online win — and furiously racing for a rematch whenever I lost. I also got the best workout from Chambara, with my arm quickly getting sore after a handful of intense duels.

Bowling has long been my favorite Wii Sports game, and it’s as fun and accessible as ever on the Switch. Lining up shots and swinging the Joy-Con to toss the ball remains simple and intuitive, and more advanced players can still flick their wrist for trickier curved shots. This Nintendo staple takes on a whole new life online, with the addition of 16-player elimination matches where only a handful of players advance after every few frames. This certainly humbled me in my early matches (I thought I was a good Switch bowler until I played online), but it also made advancing feel all the more exhilarating.

Online play can be a great time

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Nintendo Switch Sports finally brings online play to the mix, and for the most part, it’s a lot of fun. There’s a Play Globally mode that lets you and up to one other person in your household easily jump into matches with folks all over the world, and finding one of these games in any of the six sports generally only took me a few seconds. Play Globally lets you search for matches in up to three sports at a time or hit the random button if you want the game to pick a sport for you, which are nice options to have when you want some variety. Whether I was engaging in 16-player bowling showdowns or going one-on-one in the Badminton court, my matches were free of noticeable lag or untimely disconnects.

There’s also the option to set up private online sessions with up to seven other friends, which is similarly straightforward. Getting into a few games of tennis with a buddy of mine was dead simple, and if you’ve played any recent Nintendo game online, you’ll be very familiar with the whole setup. I wish this mode let you earn points towards unlockable items, but I still appreciated having an easy option for getting a quick game going with pals — especially since I don’t often have people nearby for local multiplayer.

Great presentation and fun customization options

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Switch Sports isn’t a visually groundbreaking game, but it’s still a delight to look at. The various locales of Spocco Square (the new area where all of the game’s sports take place) are colorful and lively, with tons of background characters and environmental details that make each fictional playground look bustling and lived-in. The game’s avatars are adorable, with a decent amount of customization options at the start (and even more to unlock) to make your virtual athlete truly your own. Oh, and don’t worry, Wii Sports purists — you can still use your Miis if you’re feeling old-school.

I also appreciate some of the smaller presentation details here, such as titles that you can mix and match to give yourself fun custom nicknames (I went right for “Dog Dad”) as well as emoji-like stamps that you can use mid-game to express your delight or dismay. As with equipment, you’ll unlock more titles and stamps as you play online, giving you plenty of options for expressing yourself in the arena.

What we didn’t like

Online play feels incomplete

Mike Andronico/CNN

While Nintendo Switch Sports can be a blast to play over the internet, I found myself frustrated with some of the ways its online portion is structured. For starters, the Play Globally mode — which is the one game that pushes you to play the most — doesn’t have all of the variations of certain sports you’ll find when playing offline or in private matches. That means you’ll miss out on modes like Special Bowling (which fills the lane with tricky obstacles) and the Soccer Shoot-Out (which challenges you to perform penalty kicks with your actual leg) when you’re doing online matchmaking. I can understand why Nintendo would want to streamline the online experience for each of the six sports (finding matches could take a lot longer with more options to choose from), but it’s unfortunate that some of the game’s more interesting modes get buried here.

Play enough matches in a given sport and you’ll be able to unlock its respective Pro League, where you work your way up the ranks and get matched with similarly skilled opponents. I like the Pro League concept, and ranking up after a series of hard-earned wins feels great, but I wish the game offered a clearer path on how to get there. There’s barely any mention of the Pro League when you boot up the game, nor does it tell you how many matches to play in order to unlock it for your sport of choice — it simply showed up for me out of the blue after I put enough time into Bowling and Chambara. That said, I do appreciate the option to pause Pro League play for any sport if you want to play casually and not worry about slipping down the ranks.

Mike Andronico/CNN

You’ll be rewarded with no shortage of unlockable items for playing online, but I don’t love the way the game doles them out. Playing any global match earns you points (you’ll get at least 30 just for playing, and more if you complete certain challenges), and every 100 points, you’ll get to unlock an item from whatever collections are currently available. It’s a simple enough system — and I found myself unlocking things at a pretty rapid clip — but it’s also more  time-sensitive than I’d like it to be.

For instance, each collection has 12 items (with two bonus outfits you’ll unlock for completing each set), and is only available for a limited amount of days. When you earn enough points, you’ll be able to unlock an item at random, which means you might get anything from a new hat or tennis racket to a funny new stamp to use during matches. While it didn’t take long to complete a full set of items, I would have rather spent my points on the stuff I wanted (after all, a beard is more useful to my avatar than, say, a yellow set of eyes). And while the rotating, limited-time collections give you a reason to keep coming back, they also create a sense of FOMO that could make playing the game feel like an obligation.

There isn’t much reward for playing solo or offline

Nintendo

Switch Sports’ unlockable items can only be earned via online matchmaking, meaning there isn’t much incentive to play offline (or in private online matches with friends) other than simply having a good time. That might not be a problem for folks that just want a casual match of bowling or tennis with their friends every now and then, but anyone looking for a single-player experience won’t find that here. This system likely exists to motivate players to hop into global matchmaking, but considering that other Nintendo titles like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe let you unlock items no matter how you play, it’s a bit of a bummer.

Some games are better than others

Nintendo

While I’ve been having a ton of fun with Bowling, Soccer and Chambara, I’m less fond of the three sports that challenge you to volley various balls back and forth: Tennis, Badminton and Volleyball. There’s certainly some satisfaction that comes with nailing a well-timed spike in Volleyball or a game-winning smash in Tennis, but in my experience, these games largely boil down to simply waiting for your turn to swing the Joy-Con. I don’t feel as in-control in these sports as I do in the other three, and swinging my racket or going for a bump never felt as accurate or responsive as I’d like. Your mileage may vary — and this may come down to my personal lack of skill — but I found myself losing interest in these three sports after a few days of play.

There isn’t much use for the Leg Strap — yet

Mike Andronico/CNN

Nintendo Switch Sports supports the Joy-Con Leg Strap accessory, whether you already have one lying around from buying Ring Fit Adventure or got it included in the $49.99 Switch Sports physical edition. The problem is, there’s not a whole lot to do with the accessory right now. The only portion of Switch Sports that currently requires the Leg Strap is the Soccer Shoot-Out mode, which is only playable offline or in private online matches.

There’s some fun novelty to virtually kicking a ball into a goal using your actual leg, but I quickly tossed my Leg Strap to the side after giving the mode a spin. It’s worth noting that you’ll be able to use the Leg Strap in full soccer matches after a free update this summer, which is something I’m eager to try out. But unless you really like the idea of having soccer shoot-outs in your living room, you can skip the Leg Strap bundle and save some cash on the $39.99 digital version of the game instead.

Bottom line

Nintendo

If you’re looking for a modern take on Wii Sports ideal for families and seasoned gamers alike, you’ll love Nintendo Switch Sports. The majority of the six sports are easy to pick up and a whole lot of fun, and the game’s online modes make it a breeze to instantly jump into competition with folks from all over the world. And while I’d recommend Switch Sports for its excellent Bowling, Chambara and Soccer games alone, it helps that Golf is arriving later this year as a free update.

That said, the game’s online functionality is a bit limited, and I wish there were alternate ways to unlock items for folks who’d rather not play with strangers. Those who want a more robust single-player experience for staying active should check out Ring Fit Adventure, or one of Nintendo’s dedicated sports titles like Mario Golf: Super Rush or Mario Tennis Aces. But if all you want is to get a casual bowling competition, tennis match or all-out swordfight going with friends and family — either online or off — Nintendo Switch Sports does a very good job modernizing a formula that’s captivated living rooms around the world since 2007.

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