Nintendo Switch Sports hands-on: reviving a surefire formula for fun

It’s hard to believe Sports Wii came out over 15 years ago. But to me, the weirdest thing is that despite being one of the most memorable Wii games of all time, Nintendo never did a proper sequel, that is, until now.

I had the chance to check Nintendo Switch Sports before its official release on April 29, and I’m so glad it’s back. Just like the original, Change sports is a collection of virtual sports games that rely heavily on motion controls. In other words, it’s a game best played standing up, ideally with a group of friends or family members.

Nintendo Switch Sports will feature six sports at launch: Tennis, Bowling, Volleyball, Chambara and Badminton

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Returning from the original, tennis and bowling are just as much fun as ever. And like all sports included, the game supports both online and local play (with up to four players on a single TV). And for the kids who might not have been there when the premiere Sports Wii craze, they’re a great way to introduce motion controls. But for me, the real stars are the four newcomers: football, volleyball, badminton and chambara.

In volleyball, there are different gestures for things like bumping, setting, and blocking, and the ability to play full 2v2 matches locally is a surefire formula for instant enjoyment. The gestures felt surprisingly natural once I figured out the timing, to the point where I had flashbacks to high school gym class. Don’t forget to use your Joy-Con straps, because no one wants to see a controller-shaped crack in their big-screen TV after attempting a spike.

Bowling is one of two games returning from Wii Sports to Nintendo Switch Sports

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Football takes a slightly different approach as, for now, it relies on controller inputs rather than flailing wildly, which means it plays more like rocket league than real football. There’s even a head-jump command that’s hard to land, but extremely satisfying when you do.

That said, in shootout mode, you can attach a Joy-Con to your favorite kicking limb using Nintendo’s leg strap. The strap is included in the $50 physical version of the game, but is also available separately for $10 if you opt for the $40 digital edition. It’s the same strap that comes with Ring shaped adventureso if you already have it, you don’t need to buy another one.

For soccer, you can use Nintendo's leg strap accessory to activate motion controls in shootout mode (and in the main game mode later this summer).

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

I found nailing the timing in shootout mode to be the hardest in any game, but even when I felt bad, it was still a blast. And later this summer, Nintendo will release a free update that will add motion controls to the main soccer mode.

Meanwhile, chambara lets you live out all your swordfighting dreams. It’s frenetic, while rewarding quick defensive reactions. You can hold your Joycon vertically, horizontally, or diagonally to block incoming strikes, and if successful, you can get a free riposte while your opponent is dazed.

Or you can just do what I did and pretend your Taz’s looney tunes and try to overwhelm your opponent with a flurry of swings which, pro tip, doesn’t quite work. The goal is to knock your opponent off the platform into the water below, which can take as little as one or two hits in later rounds. There are even charge and twin sword modes to spice up the action, but I didn’t get to try them, which is probably a good thing since the standard mode is quite hectic.

Badminton in Nintendo Switch Sports is fast and frenetic.

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Finally, there is my favorite of the bunch: badminton. It’s twice as fast as tennis, and even though I only played one match, it might be the most fun workout I’ve had in weeks. The exchanges are frantic, and if you can force your opponent to cheat their timing, you’ll be rewarded with a soft lob (indicated by a wobbly birdie) that you can smash with extra aggression. There’s even a command to do a drop shot, which adds a bit of strategy.

For those who think of becoming Change sports pros, there’s an online competitive mode that allows you to rank up as you develop your skills. Bowling also benefits from a special survival mode that simultaneously pits 16 players against each other. And in the fall, Nintendo will release a second free update that will bring golf back into the mix.

Frankly, Change sports is so engaging that my only question is why something like this wasn’t available when the Switch launched in 2017. Switch 1-2 was fine, but it often felt more like a tech demo than a collection of board games. And it didn’t really have the replayability or the pickup and play appeal. Sports Wii provided. But regardless, a proper sequel will be here soon, and from what I’ve played so far, it’ll be even better than the original.

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