Nintendo’s long-quiet Sports franchise is back and better than ever. The company released Nintendo Switch Sports with little fanfare, announcing the game only a few months before its release. The cute sports-based minigame collection looks unassuming, but it quickly impressed players and critics alike.
Most critics have been struck by just how pretty Switch Sports is. Unlike its predecessor, this HD follow-up knows that form and function go hand in hand. The awkward Mii characters are gone, replaced with anime-inspired avatars that boast more realistic movement and more dynamic poses.
The game currently boasts only six minigames: three are brand-new, and three are returning favorites from the original Wii Sports. While that might not sound like a lot, the game has quickly earned a reputation as a must-have Switch title and one of the year’s biggest breakout hits. Before we get into the newest Nintendo sports title, let’s look back at how we got here.
In 2006, Nintendo released one of the best-selling consoles of all time. The Nintendo Wii revolutionized home console gaming by including a motion-sensor controller called the Wiimote. It also utilized a unique marketing strategy, positioning the Wii as something between a game console and a piece of exercise equipment.
This was greatly bolstered by the Wii’s pack-in launch game, Wii Sports. To this day, Wii Sports is one of the best-selling games of all time, mainly because it sold exactly as well as the Wii did. You couldn’t buy a Wii without buying Wii Sports. But that’s only part of the story: many people bought a Wii specifically to play the charming sports title that came included.
You can still find dusty old Wii systems in middle school AV rooms and nursing homes. The Wii enjoyed an incredible amount of mainstream success among non-gamers due largely to the addictive, multiplayer fun of Wii Sports. The game got people out of their seats, playing tennis and bowling in their living rooms. To say the game was an absolute sensation is putting it lightly. It’s not an exaggeration to say the Wii, and by extension Wii Sports, helped usher in an era in which video games could become mainstream.
Series Goes Dormant
The Wii Sports franchise got a sequel, Wii Sports Resort, in 2009. It didn’t sell quite as well as the original, but many fans still enjoyed the game’s charming aesthetics and straightforward minigame action. The series also received an enhanced remaster on the Wii’s ill-fated follow-up console, the awkward Wii U system.
Wii Sports Club included a novel golf minigame that had players place the GamePad on the floor to simulate teeing up their golf ball. Using the Wiimote to swing your “golf club” while watching the ball on the floor and the course on the TV was one of the most novel uses of the GamePad’s technology across the Wii U’s short lifespan.
Following Sports Club, the franchise went dormant for nearly a decade. This is a classic Nintendo move: the Japanese developer released one of the most beloved and successful video games of all time, a game that still holds a record as the fourth-best selling game ever made. Then, rather than make sequels and spin-offs until everyone on the planet was completely sick of the franchise, Nintendo just let it go dormant.
The Nintendo Formula
Nintendo has the back catalog that every game publisher in the world wishes it could have. Franchises like Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Animal Crossing reliably break a million units sold whenever Nintendo dusts them off. The company’s backlog of beloved franchises is so deep that it keeps some of them dormant for decades, like the fan-favorite F-Zero or cult-classic Mother series.
It’s easy for fans to grow antsy with this extremely patient (or plodding, some would say) release schedule. However, it’s easy to see why the company does things this way: when Nintendo breaks out a classic series, it almost always impresses players. The 2D Metroid franchise went untouched for twenty years before Nintendo brought Dread to the Switch, and fans of the series went ballistic.
It’s this extremely patient attitude that allowed Nintendo to take the fourth best-selling video game in history and quietly set it on the back burner for ten years. Now, with Nintendo Switch Sports in the wild, fans finally have a chance to get back to the controller-waggling fun the Wii introduced to the world 16 years ago.
Is Nintendo Switch Sports a Worthy Follow-Up?
Like Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros Ultimate before it, Nintendo Switch Sports is an exemplary party game. The collection of minigames can all be played via local multiplayer, against other players online, or even against computer-controlled opponents if you just want to practice.
Each of the six minigames offers a robust, impressively-deep level of nuance that will keep players engaged for hours. While Switch Sport’s version of soccer won’t replace, say, the FIFA series, it’s significantly deeper than the term “minigame” would suggest. It’s more Rocket League than Premier League, featuring a comically-oversized soccer ball and physics that would be at home in a dream.
Despite these oddities, this is certainly not a compromise with the great sport of soccer. Instead, it’s a way to make the chaotic action on-screen easier to read when you’re playing with two full teams of four players. Nintendo Switch Sports might make the most compelling case for the Nintendo Switch Online subscription since Mario Kart, as its chaotic and competitive games come to life when played with other people.
Speaking of Mario Kart, the latest Sports title shares more than a little in common with the world’s premier racing game. Like Kart, Sports is suffused with a palpable sense of place. The six minigames take place on an idealized campus, something you might see in a Silicon Valley startup or on the nicest university in the world. If you look on the margins of the minigames, you can make out coffee shops, thoroughfares, and numerous other charming touches that make the game feel like it takes place in a delightful dreamworld you want to stay in.
Mario Kart 8 shares this impressive attention to detail. In that game, players who take a moment to slow down (certainly losing the race in the process) will be rewarded with glimpses of in-universe advertisements for tongue-in-cheek brand names and fun nods to Mario’s storied video game past. These cute touches might sound minor, but they help establish that trademark level of Nintendo polish that sets the company apart from competitors like Electronic Arts and Ubisoft.
The game’s menus are similarly clean, easy to navigate, and pleasing to the eye. Flipping through settings and getting to the gameplay is a breeze. Even the most casual gamers will find no difficulty getting into a multiplayer game and trading volleyball spikes with strangers thousands of miles away.
The New Minigames
Nintendo Switch Sports includes three brand-new minigames. Soccer, volleyball, and badminton make up the exciting suite of newcomers. Three fan-favorite sports from the first title–bowling, tennis, and chambara–also return.
Each minigame offers its own suite of strategies and unique wrinkles. We’ve already touched on soccer, but these fun oddities extend to each sport in the collection. Volleyball is a timing-based, skill-testing exercise that rewards laser focus. Players who nail the timing and send the ball soaring past their opponents often let out roars of victory, despite the game’s relaxed, Zen-like atmosphere.
Badminton plays like a floatier, singles-only remake of the tennis minigame. It’s more tactical and airier than its sibling game, but it makes a great addition to the lineup. Players who want a quick, breezy series of games should check out badminton.
The Returning Sports
Tennis is perhaps the most fast-paced and immediate of the sports on display, and players can tackle the classic game in singles or doubles matches. Tennis is a blast, especially when four players in the same room take to the court to settle their differences. The precise, timing-based gameplay allows players to feel a sense of mastery as they scoot around the court, trading rallies with adept opponents.
Players eager for a swift contest of reflexes should check out chambara, a sport that resembles fencing and pits two combatants against each other with foam swords. It’s great fun! It’s also a perfect way for young siblings to settle arguments and prove which of them is really the toughest without anyone getting placed in a headlock. Well, hopefully. Kids can be intense.
Of course, the perennial Wii Sports classic, bowling, is also back. Bowling is perhaps the most accurate rendition of its actual sport in the collection, and, true to form, players are still throwing their controllers at their TVs while trying to bowl a perfect game. No, seriously: that’s a real thing that happened in 2006 and is apparently happening all over again in 2022. Everything old is new again.
Nintendo Switch Sports is a worthy successor to the beloved series, and it’s great to see Nintendo embracing its recent past and doubling down on the multiplayer fun that sets them apart from other game developers. If you’re looking for the next party game that can help you settle arguments and school your friends, Nintendo Switch Sports is the game for you.