Ever wanted to wallop your best friend in the face? Course you have – don’t lie. Although if you’re a decent person and actually want to maintain the friendship, you’ve hopefully refrained from doing so.
But that’s the great thing about fighting games. You get to relieve your pent-up frustration by pummelling your buddy in the face without consequence. The only issue? Smashing buttons hardly replaces the delight of swinging fists.
Nintendo has clearly had the same thought process with their next major title. A twist on the typical fighting game, Arms allows you to fire spring-loaded punches via the Switch’s motion controls.
Sure, the concept of arms being made of long-reaching springs destroys any sense of realism for a boxing game, but that doesn’t take away the joy of landing a jaw-crushing blow on your mate. That’ll teach them for taking the last slice of pizza.
I had the pleasure of trying Arms this week to see whether it packs as much of a punch as Nintendo boldly claims.
Going through the motions
The motion controls in Arms don’t just offer more realism in the boxing ring; they’re the integral reason why the game feels so fresh amongst the multitude of samey fighting games.
It was only a few weeks ago that I bemoaned Tekken 7 for being one of many culprits failing to bring anything new to the genre. Arms is one of the few – if not the only – current fighting game that takes a springing-step forwards in the name of innovation.
As you’d expect, you hold the two Joy-Cons in either hand. Pushing your clenched fist forwards while holding the controller will make your character fire out a punch with the corresponding arm. Twisting the two controllers towards each other will trigger a blocking move. Or if you prefer to dodge attacks, simply tilt the controllers in the direction you want to move and prod the dash button.
The motion controls are tough to master and it's incredibly easy to panic and resort to the ‘button mashing’ equivalent of ‘crazy flailing’. But controls are accurate enough to prevent you from blaming the game when you fail to land that knockout hit. Becoming the Mike Tyson of Arms just takes a lot of practice, especially since this control setup is unlike that in any game that precedes it.
Spring into action
Arms sounds similar to Wii Sports’ boxing so far, right? Truth is, there are so many extra moves in Arms that the Wii fighter looks like a shallow mini game in comparison.
For example, twisting your fist after punching will cause your boxing glove to curve around the arena, avoiding any obstacles directly in front of you. Meanwhile, by pushing both hands forwards simultaneously, your character will attempt to grab the opponent. If successful, you’ll pull them in close, give them a few smacks and then send them flying.
Don’t think that you can grab your enemy at any moment though. Arms uses a simple, yet ingenious rock-paper-scissors system: blocks deflect punches, punches disable grabs and grabs infiltrate blocks. Reacting to your opponent's’ moves is vital for success, but whether your reflexes are quick enough for countering is another matter.
You can also charge up your punches by holding down the dash or jump button. These strikes inflict extra damage while also triggering elemental damage if you're equipped with certain gloves.
An exercise in power
That’s right. Even your gloves can be chopped and changed, with each of the 10 characters (revealed so far) having access to three of their own default mitts, each with varying abilities.
Mechanica, for example, has a hammer glove that deals devastating damage, but isn’t too difficult to avoid. Ninjara has a spinning boomerang swing that attacks your opponent from behind, which isn’t too easy to dodge. And then you have Min Min’s dragon-shaped mitt that fires lasers – hardly fair to bring to a fist fist, but neither was Street Fighter’s Hadouken power, and few complained about that.
Even the normal-looking gloves have hidden powers that deal elemental damage: some that freeze the enemy to slow them down, others that electrocute the target to disable their arms temporarily and finally the flame-powered gloves that knock the opponent to the ground.
Too many cool weaponised fist protectors to choose from, right? Fortunately, you’re not restricted to one pair of matching gloves per fight. In fact, you’re encouraged to experiment with different combinations. So you could don a heavy-hitting glove on your left hand for when you have the enemy cornered, but keep a glove on your right that can be used for ranged attacks so you can strike from a “safe” distance.
Such a variation of attacks give you an endless number of possibilities, giving the game a healthy dose of replayability. There’ll be a combination to suit everyone’s playstyle, no matter how odd your choice of attack.
A tough choice
Currently fussing over which character you want to use once the game launches? Well we’re going to make it even tougher for you to decide. Because it’s not just the gloves you have to consider, with each character having their own special ability too.
Spring Man’s punches will automatically charge once his health is depleted enough, Ribbon Girl puts Mario’s double jump to shame by being able to jump four times in the air and Helix can shrink and stretch as if you’ve given Flubber a set of boxing gloves.
Playing around with the 10 characters’ abilities is great fun. There’s such a variety in abilities and attacks that each fight feels unique, yet maintains that crazy fun action which is so typically Nintendo.
When returning to Tekken, I’m sure that I’ll be disappointed by the fact I can only alter the gloves' cosmetic appeal. Arms truly has shaken up the genre.
A whole new ball game
1v1 fighting is is the main way to play Arms, and is where the inevitable competitive community will thrive, but there are actually many other play modes that ease my concerns about the game’s breadth of content.
There’s also a 2v2 battle. You probably think that this is just like the 1v1, but with two added characters. Well, we’re going to wipe that cocksure grin from your face by revealing that Nintendo has spiced up the mode by tethering you to your ally.
This results in hilarious scenarios such as accidentally getting in the way of your friend’s power-up punches, or getting dragged in the direction they’re running if their character is significantly weightier than yours. It's the most action-packed mode, but also the hardest to be victorious in.
The B-Ball mode, which is essentially a game of volleyball, sounds naff on paper, but it’s surprisingly fun too. It features the same rules as the sport, but you can hit the ball from range thanks to your elastic arms. Grabbing the ball will suspend it in the air, and it will then fly at extreme speeds once punched. It sounds chaotic, but you can actually apply tactics which make a big difference. In my time playing Arms it was also the mode that had the most exciting climaxes, as the scores were quite often close by the end.
Other modes include 1v100, where you fight through hordes of enemies on your lonesome; Hoops, which is basically basketball where you dunk your enemy (instead of a ball) into the hoop by grabbing and hurling them; and then there’s Skill Shots, where you compete against a player to hit the most targets – perhaps the most boring mode of all, but handy for practising your curved punches.
For the button mashers
Put off because you hate motion controls? You needn’t worry. Arms is playable with the traditional button setup too, whether you’re playing with Joy-Cons, the Pro Controller or in handheld mode.
But you do get the sense that using buttons to play Arms was a secondary thought for Nintendo. While using the shoulder buttons for punching works perfectly fine, pushing in the analogue stick for blocking feels awkward. Not to mention that it’s substantially more difficult to curve your shots with the analogue stick than it is with motion controls.
The Nintendo magic is definitely at its most potent in Arms when punching in reality, but equally, you’ll still have fun playing it in handheld mode. This is especially important since it's unlikely you and your friends will find many opportunities where you’re all be standing around a docked Switch connected to the TV with enough Joy-Cons to go around.
And even then, you'll need to make sure you have enough room without someone destroying that priceless vase on the windowsill. So be sure to wear your wrist strap when playing – Arms is the kind of game where Joy-Cons could easily repeat Wii history and become lodged in TV screens.
Arms Initial Verdict
While Tekken 7 felt like comfort food – a satisfying burger which you’ve eaten frequently before but which still hits the spot – Arms feel likes a whole new, never-before-experienced cuisine. The taste will blow you away, but you’re going to need to learn how to use a whole new set of utensils to really enjoy it.
And adopting this skillset takes time. In my six hours of play, I still felt that I was only just beginning to get to grips with the basic motion controls. Arms requires you to be precise with your movement, but that’s frustratingly hard when excitement takes over in the midst of a crazy battle.
Whether anyone will be patient enough to learn these skills will be the biggest hurdle for Nintendo’s next game to overcome. But with such variety and depth built into it, there’s plenty on offer here both for people just looking to have fun with friends, and for those with a competitive streak.
The biggest compliment of all, though, is that Nintendo has been willing to push the boundaries of a genre that has become complacent. And for that reason alone, I can’t help but hope that Arms is a big hit. Hopefully the added content that I have yet to see stacks up to its lofty ambitions.
Arms hits stores on 16 June. Can't wait unil then? Lucky for you you'll be able to have a go on it early during the Global Test Punch. The demo can be downloaded right now from the Switch's Nintendo eShop, but you'll only be able to play during the last weekend of May (26-28) and the first weekend of June (2-4). Still, it'll be a great warm-up before the official launch.