Let’s not mince words. Wii Sports is one of the best and most important games of all time. Sure, over time it became a poster-child for ‘waggle’, a breed of motion control where it often feels like your movements don’t really matter as long as you’re giving the controller a shake – but for a few years there, back in the mid-2000s, this was the little game that could.
Moreover, it ruled. There was a reason people were over-excitedly flinging their controllers through their expensive new 720p flat-screen TVs with such frequency that Nintendo had to invent dumb little flak jackets for the Wii Remote – it was engaging. People were getting so into it that they’d move their body way more than they needed to, and then a slight loosening of grip, and… whoops!
A fatigue quickly built up, though. There was a real cavalcade of rubbish that aimed to scoop that massive Wii Sports audience; so we got guff like Wii Play and Wii Party, 2K’s Carnival games, and loads else besides. Then the actual follow-up, Wii Sports Resort, pulled a classic Nintendo move and required a stupid, expensive accessory to play. That killed that game for me; Wii Sports was best multiplayer, and there was no way I was buying four of those things. A detour on the Wii U is forgotten, as the Wii U itself is.
But time has passed. These missteps feel far in the rear-view mirror, and I now feel a great deal of nostalgia for Wii Sports. I recognize how good it was. I’ve been hungering for another for a while. It feels like exactly the right amount of time has passed for a sequel. And so here we are – with Nintendo Switch Sports.
That nostalgia also means that the pressure is on, naturally. The Switch is a very different sort of system to the Wii, but it has what it takes. The Joy-Cons are just as good at the motion control thing as the Wii Remote was – it’s just easy to forget, given you spend most of the time using them as more traditional controllers. That’s important, as control was always the most important thing about what made Wii Sports feel good, and fun. That’s the headline here: it works. I love it.
It’s brilliant. It’s not revelatory, but it’ll probably be one of my favorite games of the year regardless.
In some ways, Switch Sports feels as though it might’ve been designed by robots. There’s an almost algorithmic quality to its choice of sports, for instance – a little old, a little new, and a little modified; a carefully-selected spread of sports to appeal to Wii veterans and those for whom the Switch is their first console alike. It feels very safe – which some might criticize – but I feel like it’s exactly what this sequel needed to be. It stays in its lane.
Two sports return from the original Wii Sports (tennis and bowling), one returns from Wii Sports Resort (sword fighting, presented here as Chambara, which is a Japanese word usually used to describe samurai movies), and three all-new sports. While more sports will be added via DLC, I’d say the core launch package has everything you’d want, really.
The content works, primarily because the control method is still as satisfying now as it was then. The Joy-Cons are as good as the Wii Remote was, though for the sports with more fine motor control like sword fighting it does feel like they need calibrating a little more often than a ‘MotionPlus’ remote. That’s a mild pain, but calibration can happen even mid-match without pausing, so it’s quite easy to forgive. What’s most important is that the illusion of these games is intact.
Games are always smoke-and-mirrors, but execution of the illusion is what made Wii Sports truly great, and what set it apart from many of its later imitators. Basically, even though the motions you’re doing are only basic approximations of the real thing, they feel legitimate and natural. Some sports have more finesse than others – bowling for instance, where spin is surprisingly realistically applied (and I’d know, as a former league bowler) – but ultimately, it always feels right, which makes playing exciting and believable for kids and adults alike.
To some degree, the games split into categories greater than their actual sports. Bowling is about fairly fine movements in your motions, but Tennis is more about speed and timing. Badminton and Volleyball appear to lean more heavily on rhythm, while Sword fighting is about reading your opponent and making movements to match in a system that’s basically like a casual-friendly take on Zelda Skyward Sword’s combat. Football is the most abstract of the group – more omn that in a moment.
Anyway, all of this is to say that the magic is still intact. That magic is why people were totalling their TVs and putting holes in walls because of the game; you’d get so into tennis that you’d stumble to stretch to reach the ball for a desperate lob shot – even though you don’t need to move your feet. In bowling, you might perform the full-blown motions of a throw in order to put the desired spin on the ball. All of that is still present here, including in the all-new sports.
Football is probably going to be the most talked-about sport, however, and is likely to form a properly competitive community online. And here’s why: it’s basically Rocket League. I hadn’t really made this connection from just looking at footage of it, but the 2-on-2 format inside a walled-in arena that makes bounces as important as shots on target feels hugely reminiscent of that game. It’s Rocket League… without the cars! It sounds lame when you put it that way, but it’s anything but. It’s ridiculous fun – and actually quite fast-paced and thrilling, like Rocket League.
It’s also the most traditionally-controlling of the bunch where player movement is handled with the analogue stick. Kicks and ludicrous all-in headers are done with motions. I can see this being hugely popular and competitive online. On top of all this, you can use the leg strap from Ring Fit Adventure to allow for actual kicks – which is fun, but admittedly a bit of a gimmick. Kids will love it, though, and physical versions of the game come bundled with a leg strap.
Last but not least is Volleyball, which is probably the game of the new trio with the most of that exaggerated, jump-inducing energy. It’s made up of a handful of movements; tipping the ball up for your teammate, jumping and spiking the ball to score, and jumping up to block. You don’t actually have to jump – you could play this sitting down if you wanted, simply making the desired hand motions – but you’ll inevitably get into it and find your feet leaving the floor. Due to the nature of how you can tip to your teammate in this sport, I think it’ll be the new four-player king – way more engaging and teamwork-focused than tennis doubles.
That feeling that’s exemplified in Volleyball is what carries these games. I hate to keep harping on this, but it’s that X-Factor – that magic. It’s the sort of thing Nintendo is exceptional at. The design of each of these sports inspires a subtly larger-than-life suspension of disbelief – and that’s what kicks the door down to feeling competitive over these silly, basic little mini games. Other changes are perfectly smart, like getting rid of Miis for equally caricatured buy far better-looking avatar characters (you can still import a Mii, which will get converted) – but what drives this game, what seals the deal, is that nebulous feeling. Nintendo has nailed that again.
When I previewed Nintendo Switch Sports, I said that the biggest compliment I could pay the game was that I immediately understood how it’d fit into my life. After experiencing the final game in both local multiplayer and online, that impression has solidified. This is a rare game my partner will ask to play a round or two of with me just ‘cos. It’ll be a staple of multiplayer when we have guests. We’ve got a summer cottage holiday booked with friends – and this will inevitably be played a lot, joining ARMS and Smash Bros in that rotation. That’s powerful company to keep.
When Nintendo gets these sort of lifestyle ‘event’ games right, they’re always a slam dunk. Sometimes, the accuracy of MotionPlus is missed. One can see how Nintendo could’ve done more new, and included more all-new stuff. And yet… Nintendo Switch Sports is pretty much exactly what I wanted. I can see how it’d be one of my absolute favourite games of the year. That’s Nintendo’s magic power.