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Switch Sports Review – Crashing Out In The Semi-Finals

Switch Sports has some big shoes to fill. Wii Sports doesn't always get the respect it deserves, but it's hard not to see it as the greatest sports game of all time. In a genre that is so loaded with annual releases that offer very little innovation, and arcade titles weighed down by their gimmicks, the smooth streamlined approach of Wii Sports made it the best of the best. Anyone, from the hardcore gamer looking for a challenge to your granny who wants to play some ten-pin bowling could pick up Wii Sports and try their hand at it. 'Be as good as the greatest game in the genre' is a tough legacy to live up to, and that's why it's all the more disappointing that Switch Sports falls so short, and it's all of its own making.

Switch Sports feels a lot like Pep Guardiola in the Champions League. It has all the ingredients for success, but a series of bonkers choices and self-sabotage sees it playing Kevin de Bruyne up-front, Gabriel Jesus as a false 10, or Phil Foden at right back. I'm writing this review on Tuesday afternoon, and a Pep masterclass against Real could make me look a mug, but I will plow on regardless. The point is, Switch Sports could be great, and it’s entirely its own fault that it’s not.

Let's deal with what works first, because there's a damn lot of it. Tennis and Bowling return from Wii Sports, while Chambara returns from Sports Resort (where it was called Sword Fighting). Volleyball, Badminton, and Football all make their debuts. Bowling is as easy to pick up and play as ever, while the split-screen play makes it more involved when playing with a partner. The challenge mode adds a little bit of flavour, and comes in more variety than Wii Sports, but isn't pulled off as well. Wii Sports used to have three modes, with more pins being added and the tracks getting trickier, but Switch Sports only has the fancy tracks. They're a bit more sophisticated than Wii Sports', but the new scorekeeping rather than the lives and challenge of harder shots feels less entertaining.

Tennis, likewise, is just as simple as it ever was. However, it now allows you to apply more spin, making for a more layered game. Once more though the challenges are missing. Tennis used to have a challenge to return as many serves as possible and to hit moving targets, but this is absent here. In fact, on all the sports bar Football, there is nothing to do besides play the sport itself. This is a huge air shot. An own goal. A gutterball. A whatever-a-mistake-is-called-in-chambara. Switch Sports badly misses these extra activities, and they're particularly noticeable in the sports which have come back.

Sports Resort had these activities too, with Sword Fighting even having a short rail shooter (rail slasher?) minigame. Chambara has added twin blades, as well as two varieties of single blades, but I'd rather have the rail slasher. Instead of just whining about what's not there though, in terms of what is there, the sword fighting with two blades might be the most enjoyable game in the whole package, even if blocking with one hand and attacking with the other doesn't always work as desired.

Badminton always seemed like an odd inclusion here, given how outwardly similar it is to Tennis, but in practice it's very different. Shots are played differently and the chance to pull off drop shots makes it a very different beast. In fact, it's most similar to Volleyball, which is the most complex sport here and also the weakest. Volleyball fails its brief of being friendly enough to pick up and play – my partner's immediate response was "I'm not going to get this, let's do Tennis again," – and once you figure it out, too slow and not entertaining enough to justify its complexity.

This brings us to Football, by far the sport I was most looking forward to and a huge success. Despite three sports returning, it feels like it captures the spirit of the original game best, entirely because it offers so many ways to play. This is slightly offset by the fact that, after Volleyball, it's the most complex, but it earns these layers and Tennis and Bowling remain for those with no interest in learning mechanics. Football is one on one or four on four, and sees you use the joystick on the Joy-Con to control your player moving around the pitch, swinging each Joy-Con in a specific direction in order to kick the ball. You can also launch yourself at the ball in a Robin van Persie versus Spain-style diving header. Sport is ultimately about the satisfaction of winning and the heartbreak of defeat, and there is no moment more satisfying in Switch Sports than nipping in before your opponent and scoring a diving header. It brings a special kind of smug joy that had me screaming "this is my fucking house!" a la Aaron Ramsay – a point made all the more true by the fact I was playing in my own living room.

Football also has Shoot-Out mode, which requires the leg strap. If football is too complicated for casual players – and it well might be, especially in four on four – this is the perfect antidote. Just wear the leg strap, slot in the Joy-Con, and swing your leg at the right time to divert crosses into the net. Jessica Alba can play it in her mom jeans, and players of any skill level will be able to have a go too. The other sports are so much weaker for missing out on minigames like this.

The game's presentation is very slick. I don't mind the lack of Miis either. We all loved them, but they were a bit naff, weren't they? They're like those soft microwave pizzas that taste like cardboard – we might have affection for them from our childhoods, but that doesn't stop them being terrible. The problem is the game is built in completely the wrong way. You get zero customisation aside from a handful of generic bodies, and a jacket that can be worn in multiple colours. You then need to play online (unavailable at the time of the review) in order to unlock anything extra. There are no challenges, no scoreboards (aside from in Bowling), no progression, no skill points, no tracker of any sort in offline mode, which feels pointless and even cruel.

Most players aren't going to be hardcore competitors, and asking them to either play online or go without any customisation or providing them with any reason to play the game feels like a needlessly stupid idea. I was going to hold off on this review until the online functionality was available at the end of the week (and after I could appropriately tweak the Pep metaphor), but I decided it was pointless. How good online play is largely immaterial. What matters is how empty the game feels without it.

If you've been missing playing Bowling and Tennis in your living room, and are keen to add Football and Badminton to your repertoire, then Switch Sports is the game for you. If you're hoping for a modernisation of everything Wii Sports had to offer, you won't find it here. Switch Sports is the Gerrard slip made video cartridge – so close to greatness, yet so far.

Score: 3.5/5. A Nintendo Switch code was provided by the publisher.

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