The first previews for Nintendo Switch Sports are in, and they're pretty positive.
Nintendo Switch Sports is one of many titles that we learned about in the February Nintendo Direct livestream. Even among cult fare such as Live a Live and Earthbound Beginnings, it’s safe to say that Switch Sport was probably one of the more unexpected games to be announced. The latest entry in the Wii Sports series will continue to do what the series does best, letting gamers pick up and play a handful of casual sports titles with motion controls.
The question, is of course, whether a game like Nintendo Switch Sports is necessary in 2022. Sixteen years after the groundbreaking Wii Sports, and eight years after the shrugworthy Wii Sports Club, Nintendo Switch Sports wants to recapture the novelty of that brief window when motion controls seemed like it would be the next big thing in gaming. Time has passed, though, and it seems pretty clear that traditional control schemes aren’t going anywhere. If Switch Sports doesn’t have to sell systems, what purpose will it serve?
Think back to 2006 for a moment. Unlike the Nintendo GameCube, which was a direct competitor to the PS2 and the original Xbox, the Wii was something different. It didn’t pack as much processing power as either the PS3 or Xbox 360, opting instead for a unique selling point: a motion controller called the Wii Remote. By waving this remote around, you could simulate anything from swinging a sword to throwing a ball. And, to demonstrate just how well the technology worked, the Wii came with a pack-in game: Wii Sports.
It's impossible to disconnect the breakout success of the Wii and the breakout success of Wii Sports. With completely intuitive controls for baseball, bowling, boxing, golf and tennis, Wii Sports demonstrated that motion controls could work precisely as advertised, and that the Wii was well worth watching, even if it was never going to look as pretty as its competitors.
In fact, the Wii is arguably the console that started the “Nintendo does its own thing” trend in the console space. Neither the Wii, nor the Wii U, nor the Switch has competed directly with their contemporaneous Xbox and PlayStation consoles, opting instead for less power and some kind of unique gimmick. For the Wii, it was motion controls; for the Switch, it’s portability. (The Wii U tried to split the difference, which didn’t really work, but you can at least see what the company was going for.)
In other words, Wii Sports was a proof-of-concept on three fronts. First, it proved that motion controls could enhance video games. Second, it proved that Nintendo could court a whole new audience with casual titles. And finally, it proved that Nintendo didn’t have to compete directly with Sony and Microsoft to sell consoles.
The question is, of course, whether Wii Sports was ever an incredible game in its own right. While there’s no denying its cultural impact, it’s fair to say that the games themselves were a bit shallow. Looking back, it feels more like a tech demo than a fully fleshed out experience, particularly since some of the games (bowling) worked much better than others (boxing).
Wil Sports Club on the Wii U is instructive in this regard. This Wii Sports remake featured the same lineup of games, but with better graphics and support for the superior Wii Motion Plus controller. However, the game didn’t resonate with gamers, if review scores are anything to by. It also didn’t sell nearly as many copies as its predecessor, perhaps because the Wii U itself sold relatively few systems.
In other words, Wii Sports was very much a product of its time. Nintendo Switch Sports, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to highlight what makes the Switch so special. The Switch has motion controls, yes, but they aren’t the primary selling point of the console. Furthermore, other Switch games already offer much more robust motion-controlled experiences, from golfing (Mario Golf Super Rush) to sword-fighting (The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD).
There’s probably an audience for Switch Sports, especially among players who might want an easy pick-up-and-play title for gamers and non-gamers alike. But the cultural moment for Wii Sports — and, by extension, Switch Sports — seems to have come and gone. While we can’t say what Nintendo’s next breakout hit will be, it will have to be something that shows off the Switch’s full potential, rather than reminding us of past successes.