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

After more than 15 years, Wii Sports is finally getting a proper sequel.

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

I got a chance to check out Nintendo Switch Sports ahead of its official release on April 29th, and I’m so glad it’s back. Just like the original, Switch Sports is a collection of virtual sports games that rely largely on motion controls. In other words, it's a game best played standing up, ideally with a bunch 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 are tennis and bowling, which are as fun as ever. And like all of the included sports, the game supports both online and local play (with up to four players on a single TV). And for kids who might not have been around during the first Wii Sports craze, they're a great way to introduce motion controls. But for me, the real stars are the four new additions: soccer, 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 fun. The gestures felt surprisingly natural once I got a hang of the timing, to the point where I was having flashbacks about gym class in high school. Just don’t forget to use your Joy-Con’s wrist straps, because no one wants to see a controller-shaped crack on their big screen TV after going for a spike.

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

Soccer takes a slightly different approach because, for now, it relies on controller inputs rather than wildly flailing around, which means it plays more like Rocket League than actual soccer. There’s even a jumping headbutt command that’s tricky to land, but is extremely satisfying when you do.

That said, in the shootout mode, you can attach a Joy-Con to your preferred kicking limb using Nintendo’s leg strap. The strap comes 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 Fit Adventure, so if you already have that you don’t need to buy another.

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

I found nailing the timing in shoot-out mode to be the hardest out of all the games, but even when I whiffed badly, it was still a blast. And sometime later this summer, Nintendo is going to release a free update that will add motion-kicking controls to the main soccer mode.

Meanwhile, chambara lets you live out all your sword-fighting dreams. It’s frantic, while still rewarding fast reactions on defense. You can hold your Joycon vertically, horizontally, or diagonally to block incoming strikes, and if you’re successful, you can get in a free riposte while your opponent is dazed.

Or you can just do what I did and pretend your Taz from Looney Tunes and try to overwhelm your opponent with a flurry of swings which, pro tip, doesn’t really 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 those out, which is probably a good thing because the standard mode is hectic enough.

Badminton in Nintendo Switch Sports is fast and frenetic.

Finally, there’s my absolute favorite of the bunch: badminton. It feels twice as fast as tennis, and even though I only played one match, it might have been the most fun workout I’ve had in weeks. Rallies are frenetic, and if you can make your opponent flub their timing, you’ll be rewarded with a soft lob (denoted by a wobbly birdie) that you can smash back with extra aggression. There’s even a command for doing a drop shot, which adds a nice bit of strategy.

For those thinking about becoming Switch Sports pros, there’s an online competitive mode that lets you rank up as you develop your skills. Bowling also gets a special survival mode that pits 16 players against each other simultaneously. And in the fall, Nintendo is going to push out a second free update that brings golf back to the mix.

Honestly, Switch Sports is so engaging my only question is why something like this wasn’t available at the Switch's launch in 2017. 1-2 Switch was fine, but it often felt more like a tech demo than a collection of party games. And it didn’t really have the replayability or the pickup-and-play appeal Wii Sports provided. But no matter, a proper sequel is gonna be here soon, and from what I’ve played so far, it’s going to be even better than the original.