Here’s how I know Nintendo Switch Sports is a good party game: I now hate my friends.
It’s one thing to lose a typical local multiplayer game, a Smash or Soul Calibur or what have you. It’s another entirely to repeatedly get the lights smacked out of you with a foam sword, just because one of your friends “trained in combat sports” so is “pretty good” at this sort of thing. Or to sit there, looking on with simmering stupefaction, as another friend—beer bottle in one hand, Joy-Con in the other—goes on to bowl 13 strikes in a row during their first game ever. Or to try and spike a volleyball and then…trip, fall flat on your face, and lose the point.
Yes, you can trip in Nintendo Switch Sports—or at least I can.
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Nintendo Switch Sports, out today for the console that’s in the name of the game, is for all intents and purposes the follow-up to Wii Sports, which came packed with Nintendo’s 2006 console, becoming a culturally dominating force in the process. Like its predecessor, you use motion controls to partake in mini-games based on IRL competitive sports. Right now, six activities are available: tennis, volleyball, badminton, soccer, bowling, and a sword-fighting competition called chambala.
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Playing these sports requires you to more or less replicate the motions you’d make in the real-world versions of those sports, controller in hand. You arc the Joy-Con to roll a ball down the lane in bowling games. You swing it to smack the ball over the net in tennis (or the whatever-the-projectile-is-called in badminton). For most of the sports, your character seems to automatically move toward the ball, so making contact is all a matter of timing. The learning curve here is practically horizontal.
That’s not to knock Switch Sports. In fact, the low barrier to entry is exactly what makes it click: You don’t have to spend any time explaining the rules or giving entry-level tips to newcomers. You just hand them a Joy-Con, point to the one button in the game (it’s the trigger on the Joy-Con), and let ‘em rip.
The lone enigma here is chambala, which casts you and one other player against each other on a small platform in the center of a pool. Your goal is to smack your opponent to the edge of the platform, pushing them into the water below. Best two out of three wins. But there’s a twist! By holding down the trigger on your Joy-Con, you can block. If an opponent swings at you vertically, and you block horizontally, they’ll get stunned, giving you a few seconds to land hits. But if you block horizontally, they’ll still land a hit. (The opposite logic applies to horizontal swings.) The result is a game that, sure, demands some physical movement, but is just as much a duel of wits. It’s all first-person, too, with local matches playing out in vertical splitscreen. One could easily see chambala succeeding in virtual reality.
But even the more well-known sports can elicit a similar thrill. Volleyball, for instance, seems to be the most edge-of-your-seat, as two teams of two trade serves without the abjectly messed-up rules of tennis. My friends and I orchestrated a small tournament. By the end of the final game, both of our teams had 4 points on the board. The ball hurtled toward my team’s side. I held my Joy-Con at the ready, poised to hit it back.
And then my character face-planted. I have no clue why. But it was funny AF.
Over the next few weeks, observers will no doubt make a lot of hay about whether or not Nintendo Switch Sports is a worthy successor. After all, it has some enormous shoes to fill. Wii Sports wasn’t just a game—it was a system-anchoring phenomenon that permeated the culture. (Fun stat: Wii Sports sold more copies than the population of any individual country in Europe except Germany.) The Switch itself has recently passed the Wii in terms of total sales, and is in the midst of arguably its biggest year yet. Comparisons are bound to abound.
Frankly, I couldn’t care less about any of that stuff. I just wanna have fun with my friends. So far, in that regard, Nintendo Switch Sports is a hole in one. Well, until the golf mode comes out later this year and my friends invariably start scoring legit holes in one. Then they can all go screw themselves.