Nintendo Switch sports review: Everything old is new

Fall 2006: I remember playing Wii Sports with my friends, my family. This wild new Wii controller, the fun of bowling and tennis competitions. Wii Sports defined the Nintendo Wii. Somehow, it took until 2022 for Nintendo to relaunch the franchise on the Switch.

I told my kids about those good times with Wii Sports (and its 2009 sequel, Wii Sports Complex) as we started playing the new Change sports. They had no idea what Wii Sports was. Children don’t care about our stupid nostalgia.

It’s the problem of 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 virtual reality. I played Wii-Sports-like virtual reality games in the Quest 2 for years, and it’s become my favorite movement game system. For veteran gamers like me, Switch Sports feels like a warm embrace from Nintendo’s not-so-distant past. For everyone else, motion-controlled sports games are a common VR gadget, and not as unique as they once were.


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The sword fights are the best part of Switch Sports


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I’d love to say Switch Sports is a worthy return to form, but I expected more. It’s always fun, and its included games are fast and user-friendly. It’s just not the must-have Switch game I was hoping for.

Nintendo already has plenty of family board games to like clubhouse games, and Mario Party. There is also an exercise game, Ring shaped adventure. Switch Sports falls in the middle and may not be enough either. Clubhouse Games, with its library of 51 games, looks like a bargain compared to Switch Sports’ six games, especially since 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 the six games here are quite fun in a competition in the same room, although some sports can feel repetitive and too similar to each other.

teenager playing switch sports tennis

Gaming on vacation: Remember, you’ll probably want to connect with a docking station and a TV.

Scott Stein/CNET

Tennis is Wii Sports Tennis again, with racquet strokes from the Joy-Cons being translated into strokes, while on-screen avatars automatically move on their own.

Bowling is perhaps the most successful game, and the least changed: swinging the Joy-Con to aim for the pins ends up being the perfect blend of precision and randomness, and it’s laid back enough that guests more old can play.

The concept of badminton is a lot like tennis, but the mechanics seem more goal-oriented: the positioning of the Joy-Con can reward quick hits.

Volleyball has a few specific moves for the spike, serve, and volley, but it’s also a game with automatic moves and timed hand responses.

nintendo switch sport soccer screenshot.

Football was fun, even though it reminded me of Rocket League.

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Football is like a Wii Sports version of Rocket League, where two players run and kick a giant soccer ball towards the goal. Here you can actually move your player, with simple arm swings to control the kicks. A different mode also uses Ring Fit Adventure’s leg strap for a weirdly addictive kicking contest, but the Velcro strap doesn’t fit my leg well.

Chambara is the “newest” game, and the one my kids liked the most – it’s the sword fight, which ends up looking like a lightsaber battle with Joy-Cons, or like Zelda: Skyward Sword’s movement-sword swinging. You can wield one or two swords, depending on how many Joy-Cons you have.

Child playing switch sports chambara

I learned to stay away from my children playing Chambara.

Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

The games all have online or local multiplayer, but online mode wasn’t enabled for my first review, so we all played on a single Switch at home and on vacation. Things got competitive and the kids kicked my ass. My 9-year-old celebrated his tennis win by saying, “On your face. On your bearded face.” At this point, I knew the game had won us over.

But that’s not weird enough for me. Nintendo once tried to make a Wii Sports for the Switch. It was a game called Switch 1-2, and its innovative mix of motion control games worked for me, though it didn’t feel as cohesive as Wii Sports. Still, I would have liked some of that bizarre fantasy (cow milking! Invisible ping pong! Magic wand duels!) in Switch Sports.

I love quick little arm crush games, and so do my kids. For $40 that seems a little thin, although a seventh game (golf) is coming in the fall. The $50 boxed version comes with this leg strap (which comes with Ring Fit Adventure, a great fitness/exercise game), or will be sold for $10 separately. You only need it for this soccer shootout mini-game at the moment, although an update in the next few months will unlock the use of the leg strap for the entire soccer game, which seems funny and somewhat violent.

But a word of advice: use these bracelets. The Joy-Cons fly fast, and they’ll eventually shoot across the room like darts if you haven’t squeezed them. And keep your distance in small lounges – I was standing too close to my kid and we punched each other on a few serves. If you have any memories of Wii remotes flying across TV screens in the 2000s, you’ll heed my warning.

While Switch Sports isn’t as precise or as visceral as sports games in VR, there is still something missing from VR: a way to play with my family in the same room together. These moments, as silly and random as they are, are worth it.

About Richard Chandler

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