Motion Controls, it’s two words that put the dread into any Nintendo fan. We all thought we had escaped it but in January this year, Nintendo revealed Arms, a new IP, a new fighter on a new console with motion controls. Luckily for us, the time has progressed and motion controls have evolved, and so have motion control games. Arms manages to make motion fun again, but if you really want to you can avoid it completely. You’re probably going to have to anyway because playing the game for hours will make you sore.
Arms does to fighting games, like what Splatoon did to online. It takes a genre and ‘Nintendo’s it. There are all sorts of different fighting games, the arcade, the complex and the zany – Arms manages to take a bit from each and wrap it up in a fresh new IP with tons of character. Each of the game’s 10 diverse characters have extendable arms, whether they be their natural arms, hair, a robotic suit or even a specifically bred to fight blob of goop. Each character has their own set of ‘Arms’ each with different abilities. The characters themselves all have a special ability too. With a Joy-Con in each hand, your arms are extensions of theirs. This isn’t a simple boxing game. Instead, with the ability to throw long punches and control the curve of each arm independently, it makes for some strategic fighting.
The primary way to play Arms is with the Joy-Cons, one in each and an upright position. You only use the buttons for two things; jumping and using your characters rush attack. Everything else is down to motion. You tilt the left and right Joy-Con to move and, well, push forward to make your character punch. If you curve out a long punch it leaves you open to grabs, you can trick an opponent into dodging a hit one way then come at them from the side with the other. You can grab another player by punching with both arms, but this will leave you wide open and defenceless. You can also guard and block when on the ground by tilting the controller on its side. Each hit you successfully land builds your rush meter allowing you to unleash a volley of attacks upon an opponent. You’ll have to find the right moves for your characters. Some characters dash and jump around better than others and some can just win with overwhelming power.
Arms works better with motion controls than any Wii game ever could, the controllers are responsive and you can’t just win by flailing around. It’s by no means perfect, blocking by tilting the controller often throws a punch instead and trying to play the game for extended periods of time is physically straining. Eventually, there comes a point in the single player where you’ll want to take the traditional controls option. The CPU on higher levels is insanely hard and while you might be playing with motion, it certainly isn’t. Playing with motion controls against another player is much better, as you’re both (hopefully) human and both susceptible to making mistakes and getting tired. The standard controls are a welcome addition, while you might not be able to control each arm independently of each other, you can control each one, but if you fire off the second it’ll stop curving the first. Whatever you choose to play with, the game seems balanced enough to support a mix.
The fighting action in Arms takes place over a number of different modes, both online and offline and with a number of different people. The single-player portion of the game is probably closer to Mario Kart in structure than you might think. Each character can play through a Grand Prix and credits play at the end, but there’s no real story to the game. Your characters get introduced by a sadly, voiceless Biff, but they don’t banter between each other and the game’s bosses don’t seem to have any backstory. For such well-designed characters, it sucks that you can only learn more about them outside of the game. The game is also similarly bad at telling you how it works, with each character’s special abilities only being explained in game’s ‘manual’. Spring Man’s Arms will charge when he’s low on health, Twintelle can slow down people by charging her arms and Helix can shrink and grow depending on whether dash or jump is being held, just as some examples. The game’s tutorial does run through the basics, which is great to learn the new motion control scheme but that’s about it.
There’s more to Arms than the 1v1 battles as well. When two players go 2v2 you’re tethered together on a stretchy rope and it makes for some frustration, but you’ll want to work together with your partner to smash it. Throughout the Grand Prix, in Party Match or to play whenever you like, are a few mini-games to give you a break from the usual fighting action. V-Ball is a deadly game of volleyball, where you hit an exploding beach ball over the net until one of you drops it or explodes. Hoops sees you attempting to throw your opponent through a hoop. Basketball rules apply too, so shoot for three. Skillshot has each player on either side of a court trying to take down targets. It’s probably the worst out of the mini games, but like the others, it’s a nice enough diversion.
Multiplayer is where you’re going to spend most of your time in Arms. The Switch is really building a great library of games to play with friends and Arms does this brilliantly with tons of modes and customization. Versus is your local multiplayer mode for up to four players, and yes like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe you can play 4-player split screen in both docked and portable modes. It does, however, require a significant controller investment. Online is split into a few different methods of finding opponents, each with all the different modes available. Party Match is the most exciting addition to any online Nintendo game in some time. When you join the lobby your selected character will float around until it finds an opponent or opponents to battle against. You’ll be put into different fight types, including against the game’s boss and mini-games.
Ranked Match is a little different and is for those more serious. Because we played the game pre-release there wasn’t anyone online in this mode yet, but the game allows you to head into GP or versus while it searches for a ranked opponent. Ranked is also locked until you beat the Grand Prix on Level 4, which is a lot harder than it sounds. Level 3 is basically a pushover, but you’ll have to prove yourself on Level 4 before the game lets you loose in ranked. Fighting with friends is easy to setup too, whether online or locally the setup is the same. You can adjust how many points you fight until, what modes you want to play, be it just fighting or mini-games and whether items are turned on or not. We tried the game online with another writer and it worked flawlessly and only dropped out one time.
Arms continues the Nintendo tradition of not only looking great but running great as well. The game performs at 60fps for nearly every mode, split-screen aside. The game is not only technically great, but the style and world Nintendo has created for Arms is very fresh. The characters in the game are all unique and detailed, all of them with their own theme – I only wish the game would explore them more. The games audio too is punchy (pun intended) and continues Nintendo’s jazz bender with the terrific Arms theme echoed throughout the entire game. Not all of the stages have memorable music, but the ones that do stand out. The end credits theme is something else as well.
When the Switch was revealed the last thing I wanted to play was another motion controlled game. I thought I had put that all behind me. After playing the game in the Testpunches and now for review, I’ve come to not love it, but at least enjoy it. The Pro Controller will probably still be the go-to choice for me in the future and it’s great that no matter what way you enjoy to play, you can.
Arms is another polished Nintendo title and a welcome addition to the Switch library. The characters that have been created and the world they live in is terrific. It’s just a shame we don’t get to explore it more. Despite having more levels, characters and weapons to unlock and play with, the game seems to feel smaller than Splatoon did at launch, even though I know it’s not. Luckily for Arms the rest of the game is perfectly crafted. The online and local modes are a real blast, easy to setup and the fighting mechanics are easy to pick up yet hard to master. Nintendo has another franchise on its hands and I can’t wait for more to be added to the game. Arms is a real blast.