The best Nintendo Switch sports game
Anyone who grew up crowded around an “NBA Jam” arcade machine knows the fun of playing sports video games against your friends. Today's involve realistic graphics and player attributes, along with motion controls that take full advantage of the Switch's Joy-Con controllers. Whether you're playing on a classic Nintendo Switch or a Switch Lite, playing alone or with friends, sports games are some of the best video games being made today.
Exactly what qualifies as a sports game is debatable. Some might argue “Crash Team Racing” isn't a sports game because it's too fantastical, while others might say “Just Dance” qualifies because it gets your heart rate going. For our purposes, anything that's a facsimile of an athletic contest or that involves movement intended to mimic an athletic pursuit qualifies; in other words, “Fitness Boxing 2” is in while “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is out.
With that in mind, the top pick is “Mario Tennis Aces” because of its great use of motion controls and multiplayer capabilities while offering a fun twist on the sport. With such a broad category, you're bound to find something that suits your particular tastes, provided you know what to look for.
What to know before you buy a Nintendo Switch sports game
Pick the correct sport for your audience
If buying a game as a gift for someone else, the sport being played definitely matters. Some people think golf is amazing, while others find it to be the most boring thing in the world and won’t want to give it a chance even if the game is really well-made. If your recipient is a fan of hunting, then Hunting Simulator is a great choice, but if this purchase is for a staunch vegan, maybe go with something else. Same goes for games that involve niche racing sports or fishing, which have die-hard fans and plenty of detractors. If you don’t know what sports someone likes, or want to get something the whole family can enjoy, consider a title with multiple sports that lets you pick among a variety of activities and doesn’t require someone to be a superfan.
Realism vs. creativity
There are two distinct types of sports games: realistic ones and unrealistic ones. Realistic games do their best to replicate the actual events being depicted, while unrealistic ones involve cartoonish characters and creative twists. With many athletic pursuits, both types are offered, so you can either go with a game that recreates the sport faithfully or one that involves wacky chaotic fun.
Motion controls and accessories
Some people love the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers, while some can’t stand their drifting issues and won’t play on anything but a Pro Controller. Many of the best sports games incorporate motion controls in fun ways that can get people up and moving. Novices and those who want to break a sweat can add to the fun of motion controls with accessories that transform your Joy-Cons into everything from tennis rackets to guns to golf clubs. While you don’t need a steering wheel accessory in order to race, it can add to the experience, especially for those who don’t just want to sit still and press buttons.
Nintendo Switch sports game features
Well-known athletes and teams
Fans of professional sports love to be able to compete as their favorite players and teams, so officially licensed games offer an advantage over those forced to substitute generic athletes. The top titles not only involve leagues, teams and players but assign stats and attributes based on those players’ skills. Some games even offer consistent updates so you’ll always be playing with the most current information.
Online play and local multiplayer
Part of the fun of sports games is competing against your friends, and the Nintendo Switch offers two distinct types. In local multiplayer, you can play with multiple players on the same console, which is perfect if you want to get the whole family together for a night of fun. Other games offer online play, which allows you to face off against players in another location, best for those who live alone or want to challenge themselves against the best of the best online.
Downloadable content (DLC)
It used to be that you’d purchase a game cartridge, and that was it: the game would never change, and if you wanted updated features, modes or courses, you’d have to buy the next iteration of the game. Nowadays, content doesn’t stop being delivered upon purchase. Many modern games involve downloadable content, or DLC, adding to the game experience and giving you more challenges after you’ve mastered the basic version.
Nintendo Switch sports game cost
The price range of video games varies largely by the producer of the game: mainstream titles from Nintendo or other large companies can cost $50 or more, while smaller indie games can be achieved for $20 or less. The big variables are the sport being played, whether there’s an official licensing deal and the multiplayer options. If there’s an accessory, that might also up the price, but you’ll generally never pay more than $80 for a Nintendo Switch game.
Nintendo Switch sports game FAQ
Is the physical copy of a Nintendo Switch game the same as the one you can download from the Switch eShop?
A. Though there are some collector’s editions that aren’t available online, most of the time, it doesn’t matter whether you purchase a physical game or download it — the content will be the same. The benefits of physical versions are that they won’t take up as much storage space on the console, give collectors something solid to add to their shelves (especially important for games in a series where a player might have every other entry in physical form), and they provide something to open on Christmas morning. However, games like Rocket League and What the Golf? are significantly cheaper when downloaded, so you might be better off getting some eShop credit and saving money.
Is the Nintendo Switch backwards-compatible with older Nintendo consoles?
A. Like its predecessors, the Nintendo Switch is not backwards-compatible, meaning you can’t use it to play games from older Nintendo consoles. There are some remastered versions of popular games, but those not deemed worthy of remakes will require their original consoles. With Nintendo Switch Online, you’ll have access to some games from the original NES and Super NES, so certain classic sports games can be played on the Switch if you have a Nintendo Switch Online subscription.
Which Nintendo Switch sports game should you get?
Best of the best Nintendo Switch sports game
Mario Tennis Aces: available at Amazon
Our take: The latest installment in the popular Mario Tennis series incorporates the Switch’s motion controls and features both local and online multiplayer for intense matches, along with an adventure mode for single-player fun.
What we like: Highlight reels showcase the best moments from a match. Five levels of difficulty make it great for all skill levels. Players can slow downtime and manage their energy meter for effective strategy.
What we dislike: The progression of stats in the story mode isn’t super noticeable, leaving the RPG elements of this game mode a bit lacking.
Best bang for your buck Nintendo Switch sports game
NBA 2K21: available at Amazon
Our take: With several game modes, incredibly realistic graphics, and the ability to play as your favorite NBA stars, this game is a must for basketball fanatics, and with such a low price, it offers incredible value.
What we like: Play one-on-one, three-on-three, or five-on-five in Neighborhood mode. Career mode lets you take a player from high school all the way through the pros. It incorporates the WNBA for fans of the women's game.
What we dislike: The inclusion of microtransactions means those willing to pay can beef up their stats without putting in the time.
Honorable mention Nintendo Switch sports game
Our take: Is this a sports game? If it were played with a standard controller, it might be more of an adventure title, but thanks to the innovative Ring Con and Leg Strap accessories, it can provide a full workout as you run, stretch and do yoga poses to earn experience points, offering more physical activity than just about any game out there.
What we like: Settings can be adjusted for learning the game/workouts and increased as you grow stronger. It includes 12 minigames for multiplayer fun and offers customizable workout routines. Free updates include additional game modes, as well.
What we dislike: Because of the included accessories, it’s more expensive than most Switch games.
Gregg Parker is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.
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