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‘Arms’: Our first take

'Arms' is a modern-day 'Punch-Out!' that shows the limits of Nintendo's Joy-Con controllers

With Arms, Nintendo’s upcoming motion-control boxing game, Nintendo returns to its Wii-era focus on playing games by acting them out. Falling somewhere between Punch-Out! and Wii Boxing, both in terms of complexity and tone, Arms pits players in one-on-one brawls between cartoony characters, all of whom use extendable robot arms to punch each other from across long distances.

In addition to throwing punches by swinging the Switch’s detached Joy-Con mini controllers, you can alter the course of those punches after they’ve been thrown by twisting and moving your Joy-Con while your arm is extended. While you can play Arms with the Switch Pro Controller, or with the Joy-Cons slotted into the Joy-Con Grip, the concept is clearly made for motion controls. Twisting your arms to reach your enemies, or physically moving to avoid their blows, feels fast and frantic, but also strategic.

With the exception of virtual reality, the era of motion controllers seems over, but clever games like Arms may help the Switch pull it back from the brink of extinction.

Extend yourself…

Arms, as you might expect, revolves around the mechanical extensions that the characters wear in place of their…arms. While every character throws a bunch in a similar way, post-punch maneuverability can vary quite a bit. Generally speaking, quicker characters do less damage, but can control their punches more.

Arms is a game unlike anything else you can get on a console this year.

It’s a neat idea in theory, but in practice we ran into some issues. We tried a slow, but strong character named Master Mummy, whose ability to direct his fists was so limited we questioned the game’s mechanics. The issues didn’t completely drain the fun out of the match, but we definitely found the faster, more malleable characters enjoyable.

That said, a character like Master Mummy might make sense with a different set of arms. You can equip arms, as well as armor, and what you choose seems to not only affect your stats, but how you fight. A quick fighter named Ninjara used an arm that would swipe back and across, opening the door for feints and wild swings. We don’t know whether custom equipment will be restricted to specific characters, but these items could make for a wildly varied spectrum of character loadouts.

…But not too far

While the game feels tailor-made for motion controls at times, we can’t help but wonder if players will ultimately revert to using a gamepad.

Aside from the basic punch-and-swing mechanics, the Joy-Con controllers seem like they may be an impediment to truly competitive play. Players can move around the screen by tilting the Joy-Cons in the direction they want to move, but even quick characters feel unwieldy. Players block by pushing your arms together, and reach for a powerful throw move by punching with both arms at once. In the frantic fighting, we frequently used one or both of these moves by mistake. It’s easy to  accidentally expose yourself to attack.

There are also a lot of questions remaining that will affect whether Arms can maintain its appeal beyond the Switch’s honeymoon months. While Arms was fun to play against an AI, the meta-game that Arms’ encourages will only be fun when fighting other humans. Meanwhile, it isn’t entirely clear if the game supports online multiplayer. (We’ve reached out to Nintendo to clarify this). Assuming it does, we don’t know how playing online might affect the game. Fighting game fans are notorious for scrutinizing games’ connectivity, because when games move quickly, every frame of animation matters.

Arms seems like a fun trifle, and a game unlike anything else you can get on a console this year. Whether it has the depth and attention to detail necessary to attract an audience beyond Nintendo fanatics and Switch early adopters, however, remains a mystery. We’ll look forward to playing the full version of Arms when it launches on the Switch this Spring.

Highs

  • Frantic, fun combat
  • Good use of motion controls
  • Wide range of characters

Lows

  • Slow characters weren’t much fun
  • Motion control lacks precision