ARMS Hands-On Preview – You’ll Catch These Hands…
I think it was difficult for everyone watching Nintendo’s Switch Presentation to see a game, focusing heavily on motion controls, and imagining it being good. I thought exactly the same – seeing a Japanese schoolgirl and a business man of some sort stare each other down before effortlessly stretching their arms until they’re the length of a stadium doesn’t exactly make me think of good gameplay, and the CGI fighters briefly swinging their fists about didn’t exactly convince me either. “Another silly motion control game…” I mumbled, as I slowly started giving up on the Switch being the hardcore console I thought it’d be.
Then I played it.
To be fair, the trailer shows flourishes of potential – a robust movement system, complete with dashes, dodges, even aerial dashes, grabs, even curved punches that can catch dodging enemies if you make the right read, and counter jabs which render the momentum behind your opponents’ blows useless. There was something there, something that resembled real competition, but it was being drowned out by the loud, deafening sound of motion controls.
Getting to grips with ARMS is a surprisingly simple experience – the two JoyCons rest in each hand, with the controller flat against your palm and your thumbs resting on the shoulders buttons, almost like a cartoony detonator. Tilting both JoyCons in any direction will make your character start moving, while the shoulder buttons will allow you to jump and dash in those directions. Throwing one arm forward throws a punch, same with the other – throwing both simultaneously will reach for a long-range grab, while tilting the tops of the JoyCons inwards will summon your block.
It’s simple rock-paper-scissors style fighting mechanics, with punches doing damage and countering other punches, grabs counter blocks, curved punches countering dashes… And it all comes together amazingly well. In my time with it, I won a few games, lost a few others, but throughout the kinetic feel of movement and combat felt very tangible. A well-aimed punch is impossibly satisfying, and countering an attempted grab with your special move (activated with a trigger button) will leave a big smile on your face, even if the pal you’re playing with isn’t smiling so much.
What’s most important to take away from this, is that the motion controls just worked. For years Nintendo developed motion control games for the Wii, and with the fairly inaccurate Wii remote, rendering public opinion on any motion controls in games… well, less than favorable. With the Wii Motion Plus they fixed many of these issues, but when the peripheral only has about three games to show off what it can do, it inevitably fails. In comes the JoyCons, small, accurate, and more than capable of making a game with the control scheme of ARMS actually work.
And what’s more, there’s real competitive potential here. In the demo shown off at the Nintendo Switch Presentation we saw two ARMS developers throw down, and what we saw was a metagame that had developed internally, one which focuses on movement and offense, and punishes players which leave themselves vulnerable at the wrong time. All of the hallmarks of a proper fighting game are right here, and the potential was clear to be seen, but the only roadblock in the way were those darn motion controls.
And that’s when they confirmed that motion controls were an optional control scheme.
ARMS just could be the next big competitive title for Nintendo, showing the kind of potential that Splatoon has in spades, let’s just hope Nintendo’s online services hold up to the scrutiny of fighting game fans that demand low-latency, because that will make or break Nintendo’s new boxing IP.