Review: Switch Sports is transformed by its online modes
Last week we published a ‘review in progress’ of Nintendo Switch Sports, saying it was impossible to give a definitive verdict on it at that point.
At the time of writing that review, Nintendo had still yet to turn on the online servers for Switch Sports, meaning our time with the game was offline-only.
Our concern was that because the offline component of Switch Sports is probably the least feature-packed of any game in the series, the online really needed to deliver longevity in order to make it a worthwhile purchase, especially for those who don’t have people to play nearby.
Thankfully, now we’ve spent some extensive time with the game’s online multiplayer, we can happily state that Switch Sports does indeed offer an entertaining package.
Nintendo Switch Sports review in progress | VGC
Before we look at the offline mode, however, let’s break down the six sports on offer.
The first is volleyball, which can be played by 1-4 players and is a strictly doubles affair. The aim here is to get the timing right when performing the pass, set and spike moves, all of which are done by flicking the Joy-Con. If you can time two or three of them well, it’ll increase the power of the spike.
Of the three net-based sports in the game, this is the only one where you have some degree of control over your character. If you’re defending at the net you can move left and right before jumping up to try and block a spike.
Volleyball is one of the weaker sports in the game. Once you get the timing down right there isn’t really much more to it, and you don’t really feel like you have much control over your spike.
Badminton fares better, if only because there’s a more obvious feeling that you have a degree of control over your strokes. You have no control over your player in these 1v1 matches, and the only moves you really have available to you are lobs to the back of the court, drop shots to the front and smashes.
Playing this one well involves mixing up lobs and drop shots in an attempt to make your opponent stumble (which happens if you swing too early or late). This opens them up for an easy smash.
Although badminton’s controls are generally satisfying, there are occasions where you may need to quickly swing and the game doesn’t pick it up well, meaning you just don’t swing at all and lose the point. It can be a frustrating affair, especially against the AI on the hardest difficulty.
Like every sport in the compilation, though, things are obviously improved when you’re playing against another human, and when playing online badminton was one of the sports we found ourselves returning to on a regular basis.
The third sport, bowling, bucks the trend in that it’s perfectly enjoyable as a solo affair too. It plays much the same as it did back in the Wii days, except now you don’t let go of the trigger button to throw the ball (presumably to avoid reports of accidentally thrown Joy-Cons).
As well as the option to play a standard 10-frame game, there’s also a mode called Special, which has three difficulty levels and places various hazards on the lane. Sometimes you’ll have to deal with bollards rising and falling, sometimes there will be spinning barriers on the lane, and sometimes the whole lane will have a large dip in it.
This is a great mode, and makes for some entertaining local multiplayer games where a badly-timed throw can see even a skilled player’s ball hitting off an obstacle and landing in the gutter.
“Things are obviously improved when you’re playing against another human, and when playing online badminton was one of the sports we found ourselves returning to on a regular basis.”
Next up is tennis, which is one of the main sports that kicked off the Wii Sports craze in the first place. Nintendo has adopted an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” policy with this one so, as was the case 16 years ago, matches are doubles-only and players can’t control movement, only their swings.
It feels like it plays a little slower than the Wii Sports version, but other than that it’s pretty much business as usual and anyone who got a kick out of the original back in the day will feel right at home with this new version.
Chambara is the fifth sport, and is similar to the Swordplay event in Wii Sports Resort (specifically the Duel mode in that). Players can choose to use a single sword, try out a special chargeable sword or dual-wield two at once, with the aim being to knock the opponent off a large platform.
In theory the idea is that swipes can be blocked by holding the sword perpendicular to the attack. If your opponent tries a downward swipe, then, you can block it by holding the sword horizontally. In practice, though, this is Switch Sports’ equivalent of the boxing game in Wii Sports in that strategy goes out the window right away, with both players flailing around like maniacs until someone wins.
The package is rounded off with football, which is easily the biggest surprise and most entertaining sport, at least for experienced video game players. The shootout mode which uses the Ring Fit Adventure leg strap is fairly throwaway – the main event here is the fantastic 4v4 mode, which locally can only be played by 1-2 players with AI bots making up the rest of the numbers.
In our previous hands-on preview, we said our initial reaction to football was that it’s basically Rocket League on foot, and having spent much longer with it, we can confirm that’s absolutely the case. It’s a giant floaty ball in an arena with walls and a huge exploding goal, where massive mid-air strikes are the order of the day. It’s Rocket League.
It does take some getting used to, however, because shots aren’t performed by simply ploughing into the ball, but by swinging the Joy-Con, with the direction of the swing determining where it goes.
It soon becomes clear that this isn’t exactly the most accurate way of doing things, but it does add a bit of anarchy of proceedings when apparent open goals aren’t always a done deal.
Football is a good way to end things too, because it’s the one sport we were particularly keen to try out online, and now that we’ve been able to test network play with eight players it’s definitely our favourite of the bunch.
Nintendo Switch Sports Online Verdict
Locally, Switch Sports is woefully lacking in features. Volleyball and badminton are the first to five points, and that’s it. Tennis is one, three or five games, like it was in Wii Sports.
If you’re playing with friends or family members that may be all you need, of course. Wii Sports wasn’t exactly swimming in options and we don’t need to tell you how popular that turned out to be.
Solo players, however, will find the offline mode sorely lacking. Wii Sports had a progression system in which AI opponents got increasingly more difficult as players got better at each sport. That isn’t available here – you choose one of three difficulties and that’s it.
It doesn’t even have the fun training mini-games that were on the Wii, where you could practice your tennis skills by trying to hit targets, or try to bowl over a massive 91 pins with one throw. There are no medals to earn, no special achievements to unlock, nothing like that. Just six sports, in barebones fashion.
That is, until you connect online, and suddenly there’s a worthwhile reason to continue playing the game.
All six sports can be played online, and given the popularity of the Switch and the apparent strong start to the game’s sales, we were able to easily and quickly find opponents no matter what time of day it was.
While most events play just like they do in the offline mode (with the obvious added bonus that you’re playing against strangers online and therefore their strategies and ability level will be different every time), football and bowling offer something different.
“All six sports can be played online, and given the popularity of the Switch and the apparent strong start to the game’s sales, we were able to easily and quickly find opponents no matter what time of day it was.”
Football is the most obvious. As previously mentioned, whereas the 4v4 mode only allows two players locally, playing online fills each team for a full 8-player match. This completely transforms the experience.
Even though you’re playing against people you’ve likely never met before in your life, everything suddenly has meaning. Pulling off a perfect pass, connecting with a cross with a diving header, or clearing the ball off your goal line feels infinitely more satisfying when you know someone somewhere appreciates it.
Bowling, meanwhile, turns into a sort of survival mode with 16 players taking part at once. Every three frames the scoreboard is split in two and the bottom half is eliminated.
This is a great call for two reasons. If means if you’re doing badly you don’t have to play through a full 10 frames in order to get the experience points waiting for you at the end, and if you’re doing well it adds an extra degree of tension knowing a mistake or two can drop you out.
We are disappointed, however, that the Special mode (with the obstacles on the lane) isn’t available online, but hopefully that gets added as an option or a limited-time event in the future.
We feel that could make games less predictable, because as it currently stands you’ll sometimes end up in a group with someone who gets more strikes than the London Underground, and an obstacle-ridding lane could have them slipping up on occasion.
The most crucial aspect of Switch Sports’ online play, however, is the customisation. The game gives you experience points after playing each game (with more points given for winning or playing particularly well), and these are spent on customisation items.
These range from single pieces of clothing (like glasses, hats or masks) to things like emotes and titles for your username. There are limited time sets, each containing 12 items, and each time you earn enough experience to level up you get one at random. Get all 12 and you’ll unlock a special item.
These sets appear to be available for 2-3 weeks, and we estimate that good players will be able to unlock everything in just a few hours, while bad players will only need to take a little longer (the lion’s share of XP is given for simply participating).
What’s more, there’s a complete lack of monetisation, meaning it’s that rarest of beasts – a game with a (relatively light) live service component, but one that can be comfortably handled and isn’t extortionate.
Of course, let’s not allow the online functionality to distract from the limitations of local play. If you weren’t planning to play Switch Sports online, you may want to slap a three-star rating on this (or even two if you plan on playing solo).
It’s slightly absurd that – offline at least – the game offers even less than the original Wii Sports did (and Wii Sports Resort, the best in the series, blows it out of the water).
As a local game, Switch Sports may keep ‘casual’ players happy in the same way Wii Sports tennis and bowling did, but anyone looking for any degree of variety in terms of game modes, rules or unlockables will find it sorely lacking.
Take it online, however, and suddenly what felt like a disappointingly empty experience becomes a thriving community of players, all waiting to give you a different challenge each time, with those outfits acting as an incentive to keep playing – something that’s absent offline.