Recently, I got the chance to go hands—and arms—on with Nintendo’s latest original IP, Arms, at an event in downtown San Francisco. Outside of the Super Smash Bros. series, Arms is the only fighting game Nintendo’s made in recent memory, and I was very curious to see how it would play.
Unlike most fighting games, which rely on precise, frame-perfect button presses and combos, Arms makes full use of the motion controls on the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Con controllers to punch and grab your opponent. It’s a bit gimmicky at first, and even asks players to hold the controllers a completely different way. You don’t use your thumb to press the face buttons; instead, you turn each controller ninety degrees so that the buttons on each Joy-Con face each other, lay your thumbs along the thin edge of the controllers, and use the shoulder buttons and motion controls to punch.
Like sports games on the Wii of old, the punching motions of Arms mean that you’re very likely to send a Joy-Con flying towards your TV (unless you wear the wrist straps that come with the Joy-Cons). Between the unusual way of holding the controller and the punching motions, I half-threw, half-dropped a controller a couple of times, and another player with larger hands near me had some issues with accidentally hitting the home button by accident. Unlike the Wii, though, the punching in Arms is more than random flailing, and even with the gimmick, it’s surprisingly fun. You can’t just flap your arms at the screen if you want to win; instead, you’ll have to carefully time and guide each punch as it travels, moving your arms—and in-game Arms—for the best angle of attack.
There are also a few more standard controls: a block, achieved by tilting both controllers towards each other, a dash and jump on the left and right shoulder buttons, and trigger to activate an ultimate, devastating series of punches once you’ve built up enough charge. There’s definitely a strategic side to the game, too, with bombs that appear and can be punched towards your opponent, obstacles to navigate, and item drops that refill your health or build your special charge.
Choosing your Arms, also, takes strategy, as does choosing your character. There are ten characters, and they’re crazy, colorful, and a lot of fun. Only one, Twintelle, has actual flesh-and-blood arms (choosing to fight with the ringlets of her hair), while the others fight with ribbons, pasta, springs, and even snakes. Each has a unique passive ability, such as a minor bullet time slowdown when dashing out of the way of attacks or a higher jump. Each stage is themed around one of these characters, and each provides unique obstacles: cars that provide cover, destructible tanks, jump pads, and hover discs with which to zoom around the stage.
The weapons of each character, too, can be customized and must be selected anew at the start of each match. You can equip two, one on each arm, and they’ll set the tone of how you play for that round: slow, heavy hammer swings, laser beams, blobs that block your opponent’s view, and more. Each feels as if it has a unique weight and requires a slightly different aim, so again the motion controls come heavily into play when steering your punches towards your opponent.
With all these options, I’m curious to see what sort of competitive scene could evolve out of Nintendo’s newest IP. Like the Super Smash Bros. series, it’s easy to pick up and play with friends, but with all of the available options and strategies, there’s potential for a decent skill ceiling. The motion controls, though, may be too random to attract the traditional fighting game audience. (Though Arms can be played motion-less with a Pro Controller, I wasn’t able to test this mode to comment on it, and Nintendo seems to advocate the Joy-Cons as the standard way to play.)
The part of the game I’m looking forward to most, though, is its local multiplalyer. Though there’s single-player, the game is of the type that’s just much more fun with a friend along, and Nintendo’s built it specifically with modes geared around couch co-op, silliness, and generally having fun with other friends who are physically there in the room. Arms might not take itself as seriously as most fighting games, but that same attitude makes it a lot more approachable for families and friends looking to play together.
Arms releases on June 16th, exclusively for the Nintendo Switch and check out our video below showcasing three of the game’s modes.