I've been playing Nintendo Switch Sports online a lot recently. I have some complaints about it, but they all feel like over analysing an activity which has probably been the most fun I've had playing video games all year. Nintendo Switch Sports will undoubtedly be in my Game of the Year list. Right now, it's sitting in the medal positions. Yet I only gave it a 3.5/5 at review, a score I still stand by. Today, I want to dive into why the best part of Nintendo Switch Sports is also the worst part – online play.
During the review period, online play was completely disabled. A shame for me personally, having previously proved I was the smartest games journalist in the industry by becoming world number one at Big Brain Academy during the journalist-only review period. But it also meant the game felt quite hollow. There were no challenges or minigames in offline mode, no way to unlock customisation, no progression systems, high scores, or league tables. There is no way to push yourself, measure your improvements, or engage with the game on any level deeper than simply playing it for a laugh.
I weighed up holding the review back, but decided against it for two reasons. One, I think it's abysmal that a family-oriented game like this has no way to experience the funky costumes or the chance to make it your own without online play, and taking away the minigames and gym from Wii Sports feels like an own goal, a double fault, a gutter ball, whatever-mistakes-are-called-in-chambara. Secondly, it was Nintendo who decided the embargo and Nintendo who kept the online functionality disabled. I am less precious about my reviews than a lot of other writers and if Nintendo wanted the score by embargo, they get the score at embargo. We journalists have been sent enough codes late with impossibly tight deadlines and no sympathy on the publisher's behalf, and I have always hit those deadlines. I decided not to change my working process simply because it was convenient.
Online is very good. It might have bumped the score up to a 4, but I think that would have been undeserved in the grand scheme given how needlessly barren offline play is and likely always will be. Even then, I have some small online gripes. For example, there is a league progression system, but it takes a while to actually begin this system, making you feel like you're treading water at the start. The rewards for progression are also arbitrarily awarded in chunks of 100, and you get 30 points a game with a few miniscule multipliers for things like long rallies or taking a game to extra time, rather than any specific challenges for scoring points with drop shots or bowling turkeys. I also don't like that they are given out randomly after you choose between two sets, but I can live with it. There is one major issue though which helps soothe any guilt I may feel about not properly evaluating online play in my review: timed rewards.
There are currently two packs in Switch Sports, each made up of 12 items and then a bonus outfit set for unlocking all 12. These will soon disappear in a few days and be replaced by new ones. Why there isn't just a shop we can peruse at our leisure, I have no idea. This is not a live-service game which is suited to the time pressure of needing to rack up enough points in time, and with the rewards randomised within the 12 (and the full costume unavailable as separate parts), it's likely a lot of more casual players – the core audience – will be left wanting.
Playing online is excellent, with solid connections, the ability to wait in multiple lobbies at once, and reliable progression once you're on the ladder. But the game is empty without online play and the rewards system needs some serious attention. I stand by my argument that the game isn't worth the money if you don't want to play online, but if you do, it's so frustratingly close to being perfect.
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