The effortless joy of Nintendo Switch Sports

Hello! We’ve had Nintendo Switch Sports for about a week, but we haven’t had access to the online modes yet. Because of this we’re holding off on our actual review. But now the embargo’s lifted we wanted to tell you a bit about how the game feels offline at least. This isn’t a review, then, but good news – we think the game’s brilliant.

Nintendo Switch Sports launches with six sports. Tennis, chambara and bowling will be familiar to fans of the series, although there are a few tweaks throughout. Football, badminton and volleyball are new. (Golf is coming as a free update in the autumn.) Today I’ll focus on the new games to keep things brisk, but I’ll cover the complete package of games in the final review.

Badminton is the most familiar of the new games. It’s also the one which I’ve played the least so far. It’s great: inevitably it feels like a lighter, faster tennis, which makes sense. There’s a lovely feel to the shuttlecock as it zips back and forth, and while aiming is important, most of the games I’ve played have relied on the use of drop shots and the more powerful smashes.

Nintendo Switch Sports announcement trailer.

What I already love about badminton, which is played with a single Joy-Con held as a racket, is the rallies, which have a thrilling pace to them. Playing with my daughter, she much preferred badminton to the weightier tennis – and I think a lot of that came down to the simple joy of knocking the shuttlecock back and forth for absolutely ages. Movement of your character is taken care of and it seems like the timing is pretty generous, but the Joy-Con feels very responsive when it comes to direction and power. Badminton’s great as both a single and two-player game.

Volleyball is really interesting. I love playing it, but I also love what it reveals about the way Nintendo’s designers see a sport and break it down to its most engaging and essential components.

Volleyball as seen through this lens is all about timing. Playing with a single Joy-Con you swipe up to serve, bump, set, and spike the ball. Player movement is handled for you, which is actually lovely: it’s a pleasure to see your characters zipping into position. More importantly it turns volleyball into a game that’s concerned with getting the timing just so. There’s something properly beautiful about pitching the ball to a team-mate who then hammers it across the net.

Bowling returns of course.

This is quite an aggressive sport – my sister once broke a schoolfriend’s nose playing volleyball. An accident, but still. For all its cheeriness, Nintendo Switch Sports captures this aspect of the game. Not the nose-breaking, but the way that volleyball gets your blood pumping. There’s a real pleasure to the way a perfectly aimed and perfectly timed ball shoots across the net and bounces off the floor. Smack! Played with four people it’s an intricate delight as the ball bounces back and forth, hopefully ending up where it’s meant to be.

Football is the final new sport and it’s probably my favourite. It takes cues from Rocket League: you play with a huge football on a pitch with barriers that keep the ball in play. It’s great fun with just two players, swinging a Joy-Con to kick the ball, trying to dribble, and swinging both Joy-Cons for a surprisingly hilarious diving header move, which sees you throwing yourself forward like a penguin erupting from icy water. It’s going to be absolutely brilliant online with two teams of four, when passing and tackling really come into play.

In reality, though, there’s just something about the physics that make it a wonderful toy as well as a sport. The ball has such a dreamy kind of heft to it, if such a combination is possible, and it’s brilliant to see a lucky shot sailing towards the goal.

It’s pleasantly technical if you want it to be – playing with both Joy-Cons, you move about the pitch with one thumbstick and control the camera with another, and a big part of victory comes down to management of your dash meter – but it’s also the Switch Sports game most likely to have my daughter and I sobbing with laughter as the ball wipes one of us out. (There’s an entertaining shooting mode, incidentally, which uses the Joy-Con placed in the Switch leg strap too.)

If you buy the physical version you get a leg strap for the Football shooting mode.

Six sports may not sound like much on paper. (Seven if you count golf, which is on the way.) But actually, even without the online stuff, which promises wild ideas like 16-player simultaneous bowling, Nintendo Switch Sports is a delightful thing and has kept me busy all week. The setting is wonderful – a dreamy sports campus caught in an eternal spring morning – and the new Sportsmates avatars are surprisingly charming. (You can bring in Miis, which look a bit weird to be honest, and it’s going to be interesting to see what the unlockable customization items that you earn online are like, since the offline starter options are pretty threadbare.)

What strikes me more than anything is how effortless Nintendo makes it all feel: complex sports stripped back to their bright essences, single-player and multiplayer fun folded together with no muddling. And motion controls delivered in a way in which I have to admit I’ve barely thought about them yet. Why? Because it just all feels entirely natural.

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