When ARMS was first announced, I was extremely skeptical as to the quality of Nintendo’s newest fighting franchise. I found the art style distasteful, the idea gimmicky, and the lack of information regarding online worrying. Like many Nintendo Switch owners, I had the opportunity to participate in the latest Global Test Punch for ARMS this past Friday, and after an hour of literally punching the air in my living room with two joycons in hand—I’m hooked!
One Joycon In Hand
Let me answer the big question that I am sure is on everyone’s minds, do the motion controls work? I am pleased to say that not only do they work, they are in fact the preferred method to play. During my first few rounds, the controls felt somewhat cumbersome, as they are used for every action except dodging, jumping, and your rush attack. Outside of these three moves, everything else is motion controls; to move left, you tilt left, to punch with your character’s right arm, you jab with your right arm, to block, you turn both controllers inwards, and to curve your attack, you need to curve your punch.
All of these motions work, and only on a few rare occasions did I find myself fighting the controls. What inhibited me the most wasn’t the control scheme, rather, it was fighting my own instincts to flail uncontrollably when a fight got hectic.
To be good at ARMS, you need to give yourself a moment to think. Attacks take the time to land and distance plays a key role in how ARMS approaches matches. You won’t be pulling off combos found in Street Fighter in ARMS, instead, you will be landing (or taking) a few punches before someone is knocked down, followed by a brief moment to breath. If you try to play ARMS frantically, you will lose. Nearly every game I lost was due to me becoming too flustered because an opponent was too close or my health was so low that I started swinging my fists just hoping to land something that would allow me to go on the offense.
It never ended well.
This makes ARMS a very tactful fighting game, less is focused on the moment and more on the strategy while still getting the same exhilaration as traditional fighters due to the motion controls. This was perhaps most personified to me when I was playing as Helix.
In ARMS, each fighter has a unique set of weapons called ARMS that function differently from other characters. Many of these ARMS overlap with another character in terms of how they punch, but always have a different effect associated with them. For example, Ling Ling features a Dragon’s Head for one of her arms that shoots a beam that can burn an opponent. On the other hand, Helix features the same Dragon’s Head but shoots an ice beam that can slow an opponent down. Each handles exactly the same, but require you to plan your strategy differently.
One of Helix’s unique ARMS is a shield that can remain up for a short period and then attack, making it a fantastic defense tool that can still hit an opponent in the right spot. Couple this with the Dragon’s Head ARM that has an ice effect, and you have a setup that is based on control and thought out attacks. Setting up your shield to create a safe area while positioning your character to attack, only to surprise your opponent with an attack from your shield was an extremely satisfying move that perfectly encapsulates the more strategic nature of ARMS’ combat. Even when I played as Spring Man and used a far more offensive setup, I found it far more important to actively think out where and how I was attacking rather than throwing punches when I could.
During the Global Test Punch, there were three modes besides 1v1 available to play:
- Free For All (FFA)
While all these modes were enjoyable, it’s very clear from the start that they are shallow in comparison to 1v1. Volleyball as you might imagine, has you punching a giant beach ball in an effort for it to land on your opponent’s side. Punches keep the ball afloat, while grabs serve as a way to spike the ball…and that’s about it. The mechanics of the main game transfer well enough to make the mode work, but there is a complete lack of depth that keeps enjoyment to a minimum and leaves certain characters as simply bad choices.
Both FFA and 2v2 suffer from targeting issues that the game simply doesn’t seem to be built around. To my knowledge after playing both these modes several times, there is no way to change your target. This leads to one player inevitably being pummeled by two players simultaneously, making the match feel unfair depending on how the game starts (unless you happen to be the lucky one). Adding to that feeling, there is a complete lack of invulnerable frames when performing a throw. Many times while playing both these modes I would grab a player, and when stuck performing the animation, would be grabbed by the third player resulting in me taking all the damage and everyone else nearly unharmed. Much like volleyball, the mode is fun but for a brief moment and serves as a good breakup from 1v1, but is nowhere near as deep as the main mode.
After playing three Test Punches, I enjoyed ARMS far more than I expected. While the other modes besides 1v1 are somewhat shallow, the main game has far more depth than I originally anticipated and surprisingly good motion controls that actually lend themselves to the game. In short, I had fun playing ARMS and plan on picking it up. Will I be picking it up on Day 1 however? That’s doubtful. While ARMS is fun, I can’t help but think that I will tire of it after a few play sessions, and would regret paying full price.
But that’s true of most fighting games for me.