Once upon a time, recreational sports games with motion controls were all the rage. A decade ago, when the Wii was at the height of its mainstream popularity, there was a glut of forgettable and downright terrible games that somehow turned using a Wii Remote from a fun social experience into an exercise in unresponsive torture. Sports Party was one such abysmal box tick, so can its similarly-named reboot on Nintendo Switch make good using the far more accurate gyros contained within the Switch Joy-Con?
Once again, Sports Party (the 2018 edition) whisks you off to a sunny resort where you can participate in all manner of sporting events. Fancy a game of Beach Tennis or Frisbee on hot sands? How about a race around the cove on some Jet Skis? Perhaps a downhill competition on your Skateboard as you slalom through some cartoonish streets? With a much-improved set of disciplines to choose from – six in total, to be exact – Ubisoft’s own take on the Wii Sports formula already has one up on its decade-old ancestor.
Much like its predecessor, Sports Party is very much a local multiplayer experience, with no support for online play. However, there is the option to play the whole thing on your own with some AI participants should you find yourself at a loss when it comes to friends. You can access all six disciplines – Golf, Beach Tennis, Basketball, Skateboarding, Frisbee and Jet Ski – right from the off with a series of customisable avatars to choose from. You can personalise each one to your heart’s content, with new shoes, clothes and accessories periodically unlocked as you level up (this is a Ubisoft game, of course there are XP bars) and by completing simple in-game milestones, such as winning a race or hitting a certain number of targets in a single game.
You can play almost all of the game’s modes in handheld mode, but the real selling point here is how Sports Party makes the most of Switch Joy-Con gyro controls. In fact, some of these games – Beach Tennis, in particular – are automated to such an extent that using the analog sticks and the face buttons alone renders them barely playable. Instead, you and your friends can split some Joy-Con and use your HD Rumbling controller to perform in-game actions. So you can swing your arm to serve and return shots in Beach Tennis, or tilt a single Joy-Con to turn corners while riding your Jet Ski.
Skateboarding works really well when played in this way, as does target practice in Frisbee, and both are likely to be popular choices should this title make its way into your couch-play rotation. Annoyingly, you can’t play a traditional 2v2 game of Basketball using motion controls, but you can play a 3-Point Contest should you need to swish the net take you. It’s not going to challenge the likes of NBA 2K19 (or NBA 2K Playgrounds 2, for that matter), but it’s fun and competent recreation of on-court action.
Considering the lack of golfing simulators on Nintendo Switch, it’s great to have a way to take to the fairway on Ninty’s current generation of hardware, even if it’s a very shallow offering. You can play in three, six and nine-hole variants and there are nice little touches to help less experienced players – such as being able to test your swing prior to striking the ball – but there’s too little variety when it comes to courses, and the different clubs feel largely the same.
Of course, this isn’t a proper simulator of any the sports on offer, and it isn’t trying to be – but it typifies the issue that robs Sports Party of any real long-term investment. Yes, there are some new courses to unlock and plenty of extra items for personalising your avatar, but it doesn’t take long to discover just how shallow each one is. They’re fun for a while, and each one does a decent job of turning its given sporting discipline into an arcade-style outing, but unless these simplistic iterations really grab you and your friends, there’s nothing here to keep you playing in the long-term.
While it’s great to see Ubisoft finally giving Nintendo Switch a platform exclusive, it’s frustrating that it has to come in the form of a competent yet throwaway party game. Having said that, superior hardware and far more accurate motion controls make this the best Sports Party instalment yet, so if you’re looking for a new addition to your local multiplayer setup this Joy-Con-happy collection of simplified sports should tickle your fancy, in-between rounds of Super Mario Party, of course. However, there’s an almost crippling lack of depth to each discipline that anyone hoping for more than a casual party experience will be sadly disappointed.