Nintendo Switch Sports shows that innovation is necessary for sequels to thrive

Nintendo Switch Sports Bowling Screenshot
Nintendo Switch Sports Bowling Screenshot (Image credit: Nintendo)

Sequels are usually perceived in one of two ways. Either they greatly improve on those who came before them, making their predecessors obselete; or they're the younger siblings of their more popular predecessors, who don't quite capture the same magical feel. One thing is for sure — sequels cannot escape the pressures of comparison.

With every new Zelda, Pokémon, or Animal Crossing game, players look back at the highlights and lowlights of games in the past, spurring a tidal wave of discussions and essays online. Nintendo Switch Sports, the first game in the Wii Sports series to appear on a system that didn't play discs, is no different. But does it hold a candle to the iconic Wii Sports? I thought so initially, but now I'm not so sure.

If it feels good then it must be... right?

Nintendo Switch Sports Hero

Nintendo Switch Sports Hero (Image credit: iMore)

Nintendo Switch Sports feels incredibly fun to play. The HD Rumble incorporated into the Joy-Con makes every contact with a ball feel impactful, and I especially enjoyed Volleyball, one of the new sports. The main modes for each game play well, and my time in the online modes has been without hiccups thus far.

Unfortunately, therein lies the problem — main modes are the only modes. There are no options to play Singles in Tennis or Doubles in Badminton, and no gameplay modes outside of the ones you play online or locally with friends. Wii Sports had training modes for its five available games, allowing players to improve their skills on their own between multiplayer matches. Its sequel, Wii Sports Resort, added enhanced accuracy in its controls with the Wii Motion Plus accessory, and had lots of unlockable single player modes that placed a unique spin on each sport.

Wii Sports Resort All Sports (Image credit: SuperMarioBlitz on YouTube)

I can fondly remember the Showdown mode in Swordplay where I made my way through clusters of Miis, whacking them with my neon plastic sword. The 100 Pin Challenge was also super popular, challenging you with knocking down 100 bowling pins at once. While Nintendo Switch Sports is primarily a multiplayer game, it has nothing for single players or people who want to play but need a change of pace from the regular multiplayer modes.

Nintendo Switch Sports does have unlockable content in the form of cosmetics. However, unlocking them is a huge grind and forces players to subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online if they wish to dress up their character. I wish there were training or single player modes in Nintendo Switch Sports that implemented the progression system for earning cosmetics, as I quickly got bored of grinding in the monotonous online modes for my three favorite sports.

Sports are, by and large, multiplayer efforts, and Nintendo Switch Sports is marketed to families and groups of friends who want to get together in person to play games. Still, when those family and friends go home at the end of a session, the people who own these games may want to do something different. But even in the online single player, it's the exact same experience, but lonelier. While I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the first days of Nintendo Switch Sports, playing Bowling late into the night, I quickly fell off because the pressure to play the same games online over and over again was too much.

She sells sequels by the seashore

Animal Crossing New Horizons Valuable Bugs Fish Shells (Image credit: iMore)

Sequels just can't ever seem to win. What is the function of a sequel? When is adding content too much? When is removing content too jarring? I think sequels serve two purposes: to add enough content to keep things fun and fresh, and to remove content that made its predecessor unenjoyable to play. Not every sequel has to accomplish both things or "reinvent the wheel", so to speak. Splatoon 2 was very similar to its predecessor in terms of mechanics outside of Salmon Run, only adding new weapons and maps. But what did Splatoon 2 fix? It introduced better performance, more balanced weapons, letting chargers hold their charge while swimming and giving rollers a long-range attack, and more.

One game that's seen as an inferior sequel despite all its new additions is Animal Crossing: New Horizons. This game ramped up the customization in ways that no games in the series has done, allowing players to place furniture outside and change their island's landscape through terraforming.

However, it didn't compare to its predecessor, Animal Crossing: New Leaf in a lot of ways, namely the watered-down conversations villagers have to offer, the tons of classic furniture sets that were comletely missing from the game, and how boring and uninvolved holidays were, with the exception of Turkey Day. New Horizons feels unfinished in many ways, and despite offering tons of content and the Happy Home Paradise DLC, I don't feel compelled to go back as often as I did in New Leaf.

Pokemon Sword and Shield starters

Pokemon Sword and Shield starters (Image credit: iMore)

Pokémon Sword and Shield ended up creating more problems than it solved as well. There were some quality of life changes, such as players no longer being reliant on the Fly HM move to fast travel, traded Pokémon are not beholden to their nicknames, breeding shiny Pokémon is easier than ever, and camping helps heal your Pokémon in a pinch when a Pokémon Center is nowhere in sight. However, the removal of hundreds of Pokémon in the base game, alongside the lack of exploration outside of the Wild Area made the game underwhelming for many.

It was the removal of Pokémon in particular that made tons of longtime fans irate, not only because it meant their favorite Pokémon were in danger of being excluded, but Game Freak insinuated that including more Pokémon was impossible. That is, until the majority of them were sold back to us in the form of the paid Sword and Shield DLC called the Expansion Pass.

Of course, you could technically move your old Pokémon that were previously incompatible with the game to Sword and Shield through Pokémon HOME, but if you wanted to transfer more than 30 Pokémon at a time, you'd have to pay the subscription fee for Pokémon HOME. Turning something that could have been included for free for everyone into a feature locked behind a paywall is what Nintendo Switch Sports has done as well, which is not a trend I'd like to see continue.

Strive to be a shockingly stunning successor

Pokemon Legends Arceus Alpha Pokemon Sticky Globs (Image credit: iMore)

Good sequels keep the things that work and do away with the things that don't. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild added new mechanics like the physics-based environmental interactions while keeping the stamina meter from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. While the recent Pokémon Legends: Arceus was not a direct mainline sequel in the world of Pokémon games, it kept the basic turn-based mechanics while introducing the new Strong and Agile Styles of combat, alongside the new focus on progressing through catching more Pokémon.

I just want something to do besides grind for clothes in Nintendo Switch Sports.

Nintendo Switch Sports could have been a much better sequel. And while Nintendo has promised more content in the future, I think it's still important to judge games based on their state upon release. I think more sports at launch, even 10 of them, would have given players more time before the game began to feel samey. There are also things that could improve both the online and the local play experiences — introducing leaderboards with friends, for example, could introduce a competitive aspect and encourage friends to play with each other online and bond over the various blunders made in games. Tournaments similar to the ones in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe could also bring communities of people together instead of forcing people to play with randoms online, which makes the experience more alienating for me.

To improve the single player experience or even just that of playing locally with friends and family, allowing people to unlock alternate costumes and sports gear through offline play at a reasonable pace would get rid of the forced online subscription preventing players from expressing themselves fully. And just... we need more alternate modes for games — 100 pin challenges and curve training in bowling, return challenges for tennis and badminton, a story mode for chambara — just something for me to do besides grind for clothes.

Lastly, I'd love to see more of the world. Let us explore Spocco Square! We could play minigames at the little food places in this mall-like complex, learn about the new setting, or even spectate without having to play ourselves. Wuhu Island became an iconic Nintendo location, and Spocco Square deserves just as much love.

An underwhelming follow-up

When a game is excellent, we often want more of it — but at what cost? With gamers demanding new games in their favorite franchises more and more often, waiting for sequels can be anxiety-inducing. Will it be an incredible experience the likes of which we've never seen, or only feel half-baked? There is a crucial balance between taking away unpopular features and adding risky, yet innovative ones, and it seems to be a hit-or-miss trend in some of the latest Nintendo Switch games. Nintendo Switch Sports is still young, with more content on the way, so all I can do is hope that it reaches, at minimum, the level of greatness its predecessors are at.

Nadine Dornieden

Nadine is a freelance writer for iMore with a specialty in all things Nintendo, often working on news, guides, reviews, and editorials. She's been a huge Nintendo fan ever since she got to pet her very own Nintendog, and enjoys looking at Nintendo's place in the video game industry. Writing is her passion, but she mostly does it so that she can pay off her ever-growing debt to Tom Nook. Her favorite genres are simulation games, rhythm games, visual novels, and platformers. You can find her at @stopthenadness on Twitter, where she'll more than likely be reposting cute Animal Crossing content.