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Nintendo Switch Sports review: Wii would like something better than this

Welcome back to the world of <em>Wii S</em>—er, ahem, I mean, <em>Nintendo Switch Sports</em>.
Enlarge / Welcome back to the world of Wii S—er, ahem, I mean, Nintendo Switch Sports.


Wii Sports is dead; long live Nintendo Switch Sports.
This many years into the Switch’s life span, Nintendo has finally decided that its casual, cartoony take on sports should live on, even if its original home on the Wii is no longer supported. But what’s in a name? Are the words “Nintendo” and “Sports” enough to imply a continuation of the series’ style, mechanics, and fun?

This week, we’ve learned that, on the surface level, things look and feel quite familiar. But while Nintendo Switch Sports sometimes feels cozy and accessible, there’s no getting around an unfortunate “Switch” in the series’ direction.

Disc-appointed by the sports selection

Watch other online <em>NSS</em> players after you finish your bowling turn, as the mode defaults to a best-of-16 battle royale.
Enlarge / Watch other online NSS players after you finish your bowling turn, as the mode defaults to a best-of-16 battle royale.

In some ways, NSS follows the trail blazed by 2006’s Wii Sports. If you’re one of roughly 82 million people who’ve played the original, you know the drill: motion controls reign in six dumbed-down, easy-to-play sports games, and players select a cartoony avatar to represent their wrist-waggling selves on their TV. If you don’t like NSS‘s touched-up avatars, you can select an old Wii-era Mii (learn how to create one on your Switch here) and transport back to 2006.

The divergence between the series begins with a measlier sports selection than 2009’s Wii Sports Resort. Only three sports return from that jam-packed game: tennis, bowling, and “chambara” sword fighting. (A new version of the series’ golf is slated to land as a free downloadable update later this year.) NSS‘s badminton replaces WSR‘s table tennis, while soccer and volleyball emerge as new sports to the series.

Gone, then, are the frantic air-punching of Wii Sports boxing and the breezy home run derbies of Wii Sports baseball. Those may be tough pills for Wii Sports faithful to swallow, and I’m not sure why Nintendo didn’t bother to bring them back, even as bare-bones ports.

Meanwhile, I’m less surprised to see Wii Sports Resort get minimal representation. That game revolved around the “Wuhu Island” concept, emphasizing solo larks like biplane flights and wakeboarding, while NSS focuses on competitive sports, whether online or offline. But Resort had over a dozen sports minigames, and it would have been nice to see more of its content fill out the thin NSS selection. (Disc golf, at the very least, would have been a slam dunk to bring back, Nintendo.)

Lack of progress in progression

Pick up to three sports when entering online matchmaking, and <em>NSS</em> will smartly find the fastest online foe(s) available.
Enlarge / Pick up to three sports when entering online matchmaking, and NSS will smartly find the fastest online foe(s) available.

To its credit, NSS includes a heartier online multiplayer mode than Wii U’s Wii Sports Club. So far, it has been operating worldwide without a hitch (so long as owners are subscribed to the $20/year Nintendo Switch Online service). NSS dumps players into an online-connected lobby by default, and matchmaking has been quick and consistent. Pick up to three preferred sports, and NSS will matchmake them until it finds a lobby.

Friends-only online lobby options.
Enlarge / Friends-only online lobby options.

If you’d rather directly connect to online friends, host a local NSS party of up to four people or play against offline CPU drones; all of those are easy to boot up and organize thanks to a generally slick menu system. But here’s where the first huge, red flag emerges.

NSS has a progression system used to unlock outfits, in-game emotes, and other cosmetics. But this system only works for people who connect to the Internet and play against matchmade opponents. You can opt to bring a friend into online matchmaking, but that friend has to be in your home. You can’t create an online party with friends and then play against each other or cooperate against the world and expect any XP progression. Anyone who doesn’t pay for Nintendo Switch Online is entirely shut out of progression; that’s not the same as charging for DLC, but it kind of feels that way.

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