Nintendo Switch Sports golf is my new favorite online game
After a grueling seven-month wait, golf has finally come to Nintendo Switch Sports. Better late than never, right? Like the rest of the games included in Switch Sports, the version of golf included here is fairly straightforward.
Players swing the joy-con to hit their golf ball, being careful not to overswing. There's a little technique with curving, but it's mostly a standard game loop of reading the wind, lining up a shot, and letting it rip. Nothing here is fundamentally different from the version of golf that was included in Wii Sports a decade and a half ago.
And yet, after playing for just a few hours, I'm already obsessed with it. As light an affair as it may be, the version of golf included in Nintendo Switch Sports builds upon one of my favorite online experiences of the year.
Drive to survive
When Nintendo Switch Sports launched earlier this year, it landed with a bit of a thud. Critics enjoyed the core idea of it well enough but largely felt the package was too thin for its price point.
That was my feeling at the time too, but I quickly found myself sinking an exorbitant amount of time into it for one reason: Survival Bowling. For the uninitiated, Switch Sports turns bowling into an elimination mode when played online. Rounds start with a lineup of bowlers who slowly get knocked out throughout a match.
It's a very simple premise, but one that worked incredibly well alongside the elegance of motion-controlled bowling. Rounds felt high-stakes, especially as the final few players battled for the final three spots, but still relaxed thanks to the small moments of downtime between rolls. I wound up spending dozens of hours bowling online, usually doing it as I listened to music or podcasts in the background.
I was immediately ecstatic when I discovered that golf uses that same premise for its online mode. In this version, eight players are matched together in a battle to win five holes. All players golf simultaneously, so no one has to sit through everyone else's opening drive.
Points are awarded based on how many strokes a player took to complete a hole, with a par netting seven. After two holes, three players are eliminated. Another two are cut after hole four, leaving a final three to duke it out on the fifth hole.
On my first go, I immediately discovered that I'd need a lot of practice to climb the online ranking system.
The controls can be tricky at first, with putting especially requiring very light, disciplined wrist flicks. The 21 holes, largely pulled from previous Wii Sports games, put those swinging skills to the test in a varied enough way to keep me interested so far. That's all compounded by unpredictable wind speeds, which provide some true challenges.
Once I started putting everything together and getting a feel for the flow of a game, I couldn't put it down. Motion-controlled golfing remains a simple pleasure that has not lost its charm on me since I first tried it on the Wii. The joy-cons react responsively enough and the simplified UI allows me to focus more on hitting a clean shot.
Like bowling, it's a classic case of "if it ain't broke." Though there is a part of golf games that could use fixing: The sport can present a large time commitment, as even getting through nine holes can take a good half hour. That's where survival golf has won me over.
The quick-paced nature of it means that even the longest rounds only last around 15 minutes, which is the perfect length for a match. It's enough to give it some mounting drama but fast enough to keep me itching for one more round. Pair that with Nintendo Switch Sports' excellent reward system -- quietly its secret weapon -- and you've got a recipe for an addictive competitive experience.
There's still quite a lot I could criticize here. The reliance on decade-old courses feels low effort, some key golf staples are missing, and underwhelming sound design can make rounds feel a little dead if you don't put something on in the background. I'd have a hard time convincing anyone that it's a reason to buy Nintendo Switch Sports on paper.
I truly believe playing is believing, though, which has always been the case with the modest release. It all sounds disappointingly simple until you're actually holding that joy-con and remembering why Wii Sports was so captivating in 2006. The magic hasn't worn off for me and survival golf is just a lovely enough twist that I'm happy to relive those Wii glory days once again.
See you on the green.
Nintendo Switch Sports is now available on Nintendo Switch.
Its golf update is free to download to all players.