Nintendo Switch Sports Review: Everything Old Is New Again
The groundbreaking Wii game gets a modern revival. Depending on how old you are, it's either new-to-you or more of the same.
Scott SteinEditor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
ExpertiseVR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tabletsCredentials
Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Fall 2006: I remember playing Wii Sports with my friends, my family. That wild new Wii controller, the fun of competitive bowling and tennis. Wii Sports defined the Nintendo Wii. Somehow, it's taken until 2022 for Nintendo to revive the franchise on the Switch.
I told my kids all about those fond times with Wii Sports (and its 2009 sequel, Wii Sports Resort) as we started playing the new Switch Sports. They had no idea what Wii Sports was. Kids don't care about our dumb nostalgia.
That's the thing about time: Switch Sports is here right now, and for most kids it's a new game. But also a familiar one. Not because of Wii Sports, but because of VR. I've been playing Wii-Sports-like VR games in the Quest 2 for years, and that's become my go-to motion gaming system. For old players like myself, Switch Sports feels like a warm embrace of Nintendo's not-so-distant past. For everyone else, motion-controlled sports games are a common VR gimmick, and not as unique as they once were.
Watch this: Sword Battles Are the Best Part of Switch Sports
I'd love to say Switch Sports is a worthy return to form, but I expected more. It's still fun, and its included games are twitch-quick and party-friendly. It's just not the must-have Switch game I was hoping for.
Nintendo already has plenty of family party games like Clubhouse Games, and Mario Party. There's also an exercise game, Ring Fit Adventure. Switch Sports falls in the middle, and maybe isn't enough of either. Clubhouse Games, with its 51-game library, feels like a relative bargain compared to the six games in Switch Sports, even more so because it has a few motion-control games that use the Joy-Cons (Bowling, Darts) and a couple of casual sports games like tennis and baseball.
Switch Sports is more kinetic than Clubhouse Games, and all six of the games here are pretty fun in same-room competition, although some of the sports can seem repetitive and too similar to each other.
Tennis is Wii Sports Tennis all over again, with racket swings of the Joy-Cons being translated into hits, while the on-screen avatars move by themselves automatically.
Bowling might be the most successful game, and the least-changed: Swinging the Joy-Con to aim at pins ends up being the perfect mix of accuracy and randomness, and it's casual enough for older guests to play.
Badminton is a lot like Tennis in concept, but the mechanics feel more aim-focused: the positioning of the Joy-Con can reward quick flip-hits.
Volleyball has a few specific moves for spiking, serving and volleying, but it's also a game with automatic movements and timed hand responses.
Soccer feels like a Wii Sports version of Rocket League, where two players run around and kick a giant soccer ball toward the goal. Here you can actually move your player, with simple arm swings to control kicks. A different mode also uses the leg strap from Ring Fit Adventure for a goal-kicking contest that's weirdly addictive, but the Velcro strap doesn't fit my leg well.
Chambara is the most "new" game, and the one my kids loved the most -- it's sword-fighting, which ends up feeling like a lightsaber battle with Joy-Cons, or like Zelda: Skyward Sword's motion-sword swinging. You can wield one or two swords, depending on how many Joy-Cons you have.
The games all have online or local multiplayer, but online mode wasn't activated for my early review, so we all played on a single Switch at home and while on vacation. Things got competitive, and the kids kicked my butt. My 9-year-old celebrated his Tennis win by saying, "In your face. In your beardy face." At this point, I knew the game had won us over.
But it's not quite weird enough for me. Nintendo already tried to make a Wii Sports for the Switch. It was a game called 1-2 Switch, and its novelty mix of motion-control gaming worked for me, even though it didn't feel as cohesive as Wii Sports. Still, I'd have loved some of that bizarre whimsy (Cow milking! Invisible ping-pong! Wizard wand duels!) in Switch Sports.
I do like the quick little arm-swatting games, and my kids do too. For $40, it feels a little thin, although a seventh game (golf) is coming in the fall. The $50 boxed version comes with that leg strap (which comes with Ring Fit Adventure, a pretty great fitness/exercise game), or will be sold for $10 separately. You don't need it for anything but that soccer shoot-out mini game at the moment, although an update in the next few months will unlock using the leg strap for the whole soccer game, which sounds fun and somewhat violent.
But one word of advice: Use those wrist straps. Joy-Cons fling fast, and they'll end up shooting across the room like darts if you don't have them on tight. And keep your distance in small living rooms -- I stood too close to my kid and we punched each other on a few serves. If you have any memories of Wii remotes flying through TV screens back in the 2000s, you'll heed my warning.
While Switch Sports isn't nearly as accurate or as visceral as sports games in VR, it has something VR still lacks: A way to play with my family in the same room together. Those moments, as silly and random as they are, are worth the effort.