One of the most defining images from Nintendo’s motion control era is a Wii Remote crashing into a high-definition television, its hapless owner staring in shock. It would eventually become lodged in the collective memory to such an extent that the hard drive would eventually commemorate it with the title “A Neglected Wii Controller Pounces on a Flat Screen TV”, along with a cracked image of Wii Sports Tennis.
It captures a special moment in the zeitgeist of gaming, when Nintendo ushered in a new era for motion controls by launching the Wii and rocking the world. It’s a moment that Nintendo Switch Sports is looking to recapture, and as I discovered when my shoe flew off my foot and bounced off the TV screen (thankfully) undamaged, it’s largely success.
Nintendo Switch Sports is a collection of six sports – some of which will be familiar to longtime Nintendo fans, some of which are brand new. Tennis and bowling are functionally very similar to their Wii counterparts, while badminton and sword fighting’s more complex motion controls are reminiscent of Wii Sports Resort. It’s worth mentioning that Nintendo Switch Sports has about half the number of minigames available in Wii Sports Resort, although it will add Golf as a free download later this year to bring the total to seven.
What it offers instead is online multiplayer, adding expanded functionality for some of the games, like eight-player bowling multiplayer. Feedback from a recent online test was good, and all indications are that Nintendo Switch Sports’ online multiplayer will be a force when the final version is released later this month.
Fulfilling Wii Dreams
But local multiplayer is central to Nintendo Switch Sports’ appeal, and that’s how I spent most of my time in my recent hands-on preview. After choosing my personalized “Sportsmate” – Nintendo’s Mii replacement – I tried all six mini-games, starting with a 13-round football shootout and ending with a sword fight. By the end, I’d even managed to break a sweat, which took me back to when I thought of Wii Sports as real batting practice rather than a series of half-hearted wrist swipes.
My favorite of the minigames was the sword fight. Called chambara – a nod to the Japanese samurai film genre – it pits two sword-wielding fighters against each other as they attempt to push each other off a platform and into the water below. Rounds consist of a breathless flurry of blocks and ripostes that at first resemble the motion-controlled version of the button-crush, but quickly reveal a deep and entertaining level of strategy that belies its deceptively simple mechanics.
It reminded me of the early days of the Wii, when everyone was obsessed with the idea of a lightsaber game using the Wii Remote. The demand laid bare the limitations of the original Wii Remote, prompting Nintendo to release the enhanced Wii MotionPlus peripheral alongside Wii Sports Resort. We’ve had many sword games since, but as I overwhelmed Nintendo’s PR rep with a flurry of diagonal slashes, I thought of my once fervent wish for a lightsaber game controlled by the movement.
Tennis, on the other hand, completely defeated me. Having made the jump to Switch more or less unchanged, it still relies more on timing than actual finesse, or so it seems to me. Of course, I’m pretty miserable at tennis in real life too, so maybe this is just a more realistic example of Nintendo Switch Sports than I think. I had better luck with badminton, which was similar to tennis, but featured more precise motion controls on top of a deeper strategy layer thanks to its spike mechanism.
The best moment, however, was when I accidentally pieced together one of the famous memes from the mid-2000s…with my shoe. Nintendo Switch Sports is supporting Ring Fit’s leg strap, which is used for its new soccer mini-game. I was trying his shootout mode, which involved swinging my leg awkwardly at the right time, and my shoe went off. This goes to show that the more things change with Nintendo Switch Sports, the more they stay the same.
Motion controls came of age in the years following the Wii. They are now much more sophisticated and can be found in everything from Doom platforms to VR platforms. They haven’t quite been the fundamental paradigm shift that some imagined they might be when the Wii came out, but they certainly found their niche.
Anyway, I had fun revisiting the early days of motion controls for an afternoon. Like the original Wii Sports, most minigames rely more on novelty than substance, which makes me wonder if they’ll eventually have some degree of staying power. But I don’t think anyone expected to still be talking about Wii Sports more than 15 years after its original release. Some games are simply timeless.
Nintendo Switch Sports will be released on April 29 on Nintendo Switch.
Kat Bailey is senior news writer at IGN as well as co-host of Nintendo Voice Chat. Do you have any advice? DM him at @the_katbot.