ARMS Hands-On Gameplay Preview: Make Sure You Stretch First
Nintendo Arms

If you’re planning on playing Nintendo’s upcoming first-party title, ARMS, for the Nintendo Switch, be sure that you stretch first before you dive into the game modes using the motion controls.

Those of you familiar playing some of the motion-based Wii games from two generations ago probably feel as if you’re ready to step back into the action again from whence you left off with games like Super Punch-Out and Wii Sports. However, for those of you who have never really had a good motion-controlled experience, you’re in for a rude physical awakening.

The first of a handful of global tests went live for Nintendo’s upcoming ARMS, and gamers were able to get in just over an hour’s worth of play-time with the game against other live opponents from around the world in 1-vs-1 matches, 2-vs-2 matches, three-way fights and volleyball bouts. The test allowed Nintendo to tinker with matchmaking, lobbies, latency and connection rates. For the most part, it worked a lot better than I was anticipating.

The real challenge came from actually playing the game, however. There’s an option to use five different control schemes for ARMS, the pro controller, where it plays like a standard over-the-shoulder fighting game, a single Joy-Con flipped horizontal, the Joy-Con’s attached to the Nintendo Switch in portable mode, in the Joy-Con dock mode, and finally via motion control.

While you can fire off punches quickly and maneuver the character left or right with a bit more precision with the standard layout, you lose a heck of a lot of punching precision, timing, accuracy and fun when you forgo the motion controlled route.

Simply put, using the motion controller to step into the shoes of the springy-armed pugilists is one of the more entertaining aspects of ARMS that gives it a lot of possible longevity and a serious alternative to physically staying in shape.

Only seven of the fighters are available during the global testpunch. The rest will be unlockable when the game launches on June 16th, exclusively for the Nintendo Switch.

Each fighter has three different arm attachments you can cycle through to take into battle. Before the start of each match you’ll have a few seconds to choose the left and right arm attachments for the fighter.

Each attachment makes a huge difference in how you play and what the specials are like. For instance, some arms are more precise when you throw a punch than others, while other arms provide you with powerful special attacks after you charge up your meter and unleash the special move holding down both the left and right bumpers.

My one biggest complaint about the controls here – especially when using the boxing-style motion control layout – is that the jump and dash are attached to the left and right upper bumper of the Joy-Con controllers. So why is that an issue? Because they’re slightly harder to press and in a slightly less comfortable position compared to the ZL and ZR buttons, which are designed like triggers and feel a lot better for pulling off moves. Hopefully in the full game players will be able to to use the Z buttons instead of the standard L and R buttons for the dash and jump. It’s not a super serious issue, but making the controls as comfortable as possible makes it a heck of a lot easier to get well adjusted and into the groove of pulling off moves. And oh boy will you be pulling off moves.

As a standard fighter there isn’t much to write home about if you’re just using the standard layout, but when using the motion controls the characters react almost as fast as you do. I say “almost” because I was able to throw more punches than what the character did within the span of throwing a single punch, so it was a bit of a bummer you couldn’t rapid fire fight according to your actual punching speed. If you could then it would have been super awesome.

Even still, after losing a few matches while trying to get a basic understanding of how the controls worked and get acclimated to the motion sensitivity of throwing punches and dodging incoming attacks, it actually felt easier and more fun using the twin Joy-Cons to lay out beatdowns on opponents than using the typical controller. Instead of relying on input latency or buttons not responding, the character’s counter-punching timing was completely reliant on how quickly my actual body could respond to the situation at hand. This is the ultimate hand-eye coordination simulator and hopefully an indicator of what’s to come in the mixed-reality segment of gaming.

It was also pretty cool because unlike games like Tekken or Street Fighter, when you’re relying on button prompts and sequence combinations, here you’re relying on what your next physical movement will be as you layout combination punches, counters and throws. It’s a pretty neat dynamic that could be a heck of a lot of fun thanks to simple yet fun gameplay loops and the promise of a lot of unlockable content.

Of course, the one thing you absolutely need to keep in mind is that the longer you play the more physically exhausted you will become using the motion control setup. Guarding requires holding the two Joy-Cons inward (it’s not the most responsive at times and hopefully this is tweaked a bit more so the actual position is clarified a bit better to limit fumbling with the correct positioning in order to guard), so quite naturally it means you’ll have to keep your arms up. The highlight of guarding in real-time using the Joy-Cons is that it’s only as quick to respond as you are. Sometimes it would misread the data, though, and your character would jitter or wobble before going into an actual guard. Again, hopefully they fix this so the guard has a systematically accurate position for the Joy-Cons to prevent fumbling during matches.

Of course, keeping your arms up to guard means they’ll eventually get heavy and so you can’t guard spam an entire match… not that there’s enough time to guard spam. Most matches run through pretty quickly and they’re over with before you know it, but trying to guard spam and pick your shots using the motion controls could quickly get exhausting. Guard spam isn’t really possible with the analog setup because the guard button is attached to depressing the left analog, so you either guard or you throw directional punches, but you can’t do both in as quickly a succession as you can with the motion controls.

Overall, I thought ARMS was pretty fun for what little time was available during the global testpunch. It has a lot of promise and potential. Reaction times aren’t entirely 1:1 but they’re close enough. Guarding still needs a bit of tweaking, and they’ll obviously need to ensure that matchmaking is right proper because otherwise there’s nothing more annoying than cornering an opponent only to see your punches go through them as they lag and teleport out the way. Of course, this is assuming you stretched beforehand so you don’t get a cramp while trying to Holly Holms someone into submission with your vicious hook strikes.


Billy has been rustling Jimmies for years covering video games, technology and digital trends within the electronics entertainment space. The GJP cried and their tears became his milkshake. Need to get in touch? Try the Contact Page.

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