After spending the entire weekend and the better part of this week participating in the ARMS Global Testpunch and working my way through the game’s single-player Grand Prix mode, I can safely announce that this game has taken its rightful place next to Just Dance on my shelf of ‘workout Switch games.’ There are only two games on that shelf, mind you, but ARMS is on the fast track to dethroning Just Dance as my go-to daily exercise game.
My experience with the controls so far have been pleasant, for the most part. For those wondering, yes, you can play through the entire game with the Pro controller without touching the motion controls at all. However, I did find that using the motion controls allowed me to curve my punches with a bit more precision, and it just provides more enjoyment to the experience overall.
The Joy-Con motion controls are pretty responsive, and my punches land exactly where I want them to, 95% of the time. There have been instances where my character ended up trying to initiate a grab when my intention was to throw out a distraction punch before following up with a second punch to catch my opponent and stop them from escaping. A grab is initiated when you thrust both Joy-Cons out in front of you, and in cases where I tried to throw out quick one-two punches, the Joy-Cons couldn’t quite keep up with my inputs, and I ended up getting punished for that. I’ve also found that the motion controls tend to feel stickier when trying to move around the arena quickly. The tilt technology in the Joy-Cons has some difficulty keeping track of fast movements, so I did end up having to make my arm gestures a little slower and deliberate to make sure everything could be read.
There are drawbacks to both motion and standard controls, and it really comes down to which you’d be more comfortable with. I will say that the motion controls felt a lot more natural and intuitive to me, but again, this falls to personal preference.
What really worries me about ARMS is the game’s longevity and ability to subsist in a competitive scene. From my experience with the Global Testpunch, the current meta is to simply use a lightweight character like Ribbon Girl, Min Min, or Ninjara, and perform stylish air dodges before hitting your opponent with side punches or air grabs. Ninjara players, in particular, have a tendency to land grabs immediately after an air dodge. Ninjara’s special ability allows him to disappear briefly after performing an air dodge, making it difficult for opponents to get a read on his position before they can strafe quickly out of the way to dodge the inevitable grab. Ribbon Girl and Min Min are extremely fast characters who can run circles around less mobile fighters like Master Mummy and Mechanica, and they play a pretty good distance game to keep those heavy hitters out of range.
These three characters are dominating the meta right now, and it’s easy to see why. Aside from dashing, dodging, and throwing out side punches, there’s not a whole lot else you can really pull off in a typical ARMS match. Straight punches and grabs are too easily countered by other players, and it takes a lot of skill and hand-eye coordination to successfully counter an air dodging Ninjara player.
It’s not all doom and gloom for ARMS, though. As you play through the game, you can earn coins to unlock new Arms for your fighters. I haven’t unlocked all of them just yet, but they do provide a nice variety of options for you to shake up your play style, at least in the single-player modes. I haven’t had the chance to test out my new weapons in the online arena just yet.
For instance, Min Min starts off with the Megaton (a very heavy glove), Chakram (great for flanking opponents), and the Dragon (a glove that shoots out lasers in a straight line). She’s an excellent pick for players who like keeping their opponents at a distance. Out of the three default gloves she starts with, though, the Megaton is pretty much a must-have as it’s the best damage-dealing glove and it acts as a shield for her as well. However, because Min Min is such a fast character, you could probably get a lot more utility with her by unlocking the Slapamander or even the Buff glove. This lets her retain good damage output, while also allowing her to zip around the arena quickly and catching opponents as they strafe left and right. The customization options in ARMS are a delight to experiment with, and unlocking all of the available gloves is my primary goal in the game at the moment.
I’m still working through the single-player Grand Prix mode and trying to beat it with every fighter in the game, but from what I can tell so far, ARMS doesn’t have any sort of ‘story mode’ for fighting game fans who might be interested in that. It’s all about the characters and their unique abilities, and also about dunking your opponents through basketball hoops when the opportunity presents itself. This title is all about the extendable arm fighting gameplay and enjoying it with a friend or two. And if you’re not really into that eccentric style of fighting gameplay Nintendo has introduced here, this might not be the game for you.
ARMS is best experienced with friends, whether through local or online multiplayer, and with motion controls, if you can give it that much allowance. I’ve yet to fully explore all of the game’s multiplayer modes, so I’ll likely have more to say on that in my full review next week. For now, though, I’m definitely having a blast giving my IRL arms a good workout with this game every morning.