This past weekend gave Switch owners a chance at Nintendo’s network testpunch (get it?) for their new fighting game, ARMS. A silly-looking brawler where the central gimmick is every fighter has long spring-like appendages which they use to launch attacks at their opponent. Every single preview event for the game played up the gimmick that it would utilize motion controls built into the Switch’s Joycon controllers. So naturally, a large contingency of players, myself included, wrote the whole game off as something dopey and simple.
Well after getting out of the first day of the testpunch I confess that ARMS might just be on its way to being something special.
First off, the motion controls were surprisingly responsive. Nintendo has been refining this kind of control scheme ever since the Wii, for better and for worse, and it seems they have reached something resembling one to one response time with the controls in this game. You hold the joycons like two control sticks (which gave me a huge nostalgic flashback to Sega’s Virtua-On arcade game) and move, dodge and jump by tilting them and hitting the shoulder buttons, and of course punch by throwing your arms out.
And with this control scheme there are a lot of basic fighting game fundamentals on display. Every fight starts with you choosing a fighter with their own special ability, like Ninjara’s ability to teleport or Helix’s ability to stretch or turn into a puddle. Additionally, a special type of fist for each of your arms, like a laser blast or a deployable shield, prevent each fight from turning into a lot of crazy flailing and make the fighters feel unique. Punches can be redirected slightly when thrown, so something seemingly going wide can turn into a devastating hook at a moment’s notice and there are plenty of mobility options to duck and weave from an opponent’s assault. There’s even a solid hierarchy of move effectiveness: punches can be blocked, throws can get through blocks, punches can cancel out throws.
It must also be said that the online lobby and modes on display set the tone for the game quite well. In addition to one-on-one versus matches, there was also a Volleyball mode where players had to punch, hook and spike a beach ball containing a bomb into the enemy’s side. There was also a two-on-two mode that was almost completely unplayable chaos. This is no thanks to you being tethered to your partner so anything as complex as flanking or spreading out was out of the question. But in essence, this is where ARMS seems to have planted its flag: it isn’t trying to be the next Street Fighter, it is simply having fun with its own conceit. How else can I explain how intense and exciting it was to basically play Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Volleyball?
But all of this content did beg the question: would ARMS still work if you took the motion controls out? Would it just be another instance of Nintendo trying to justify motion controls in their new console that would burn out fast? It would seem so since every single preview event for the game has been pushing motion controls over conventional input, which is never a good sign for a system whose gimmick is portability. I enjoy motion control games, but not enough to fake-box while hunched over a screen during a plane ride.
But I breathed a sigh of relief when I discovered the testpunch did include conventional controls for the Grip Controller. One button punches with the left hand, another button for the right, you aim and direct the attack with the right stick. Simple enough and functional. Then I went online to see if this control scheme gave me an advantage over the competition. After a small sample size of two matches where I was smacked around like a pinata, I can say it didn’t.
ARMS is definitely on the right track to being a good time. While the motion controls and the regular controls are comparable to each other, the real test will be how it gets supported and embraced by the community at launch. Personally, this online test has made me hopeful for what this game has up its sleeve.