For Nintendo’s first big motion controlled game on the Switch, they still have a lot to prove. Yes, they were the ones to bring motion controls into the mainstream with the Wii, which was met with critical acclaim and financial success, but waggling a controller is so early 2000’s. Other companies have attempted and abandoned motion unless it’s attached to a virtual reality unit or a smart phone (Hello… Just Dance). Nintendo themselves let the motion controls take a backseat on the Wii U, failing to bring any game of note to my attention that worked seamlessly with motion controls. Even the launch title 1, 2, Switch, which I consider more of a tech demo than a game, failed to keep me captivated for more than 20 minutes before I got bored and moved on to another game. As you can probably assess from this brief history, I was cautious about the practicality of a fighting game relying on motion controls. After about 10 hours of playing ARMS, Nintendo’s latest release for the Switch, I was still unconvinced.
ARMS presents itself with a lot of elements that I should enjoy: cute characters, well designed arenas, and the option to play with a friend in person or online. When first receiving my review copy, I was excited to insert the cartridge and get to boxing. However, within the first 30 minutes of playing, I was frustrated.
My ARMS Are Not Quite Fight Ready
I believe the failure of ARMS lies in a combination of loose controls and poor UI. When you pick up the Joy-Cons for the first round, you are presented with a very quick tutorial. You are taught the basics: how to punch, move, jump, dash, block and grab. Afterwards, you are immediately tossed back to the game’s main menu.. I naturally picked the first option., I went through the very first round of Grand Prix with the character Ninjara at level 1 and managed to get through in my first pass. At this point I figured OK, not so bad, but I still wasn’t really understanding the controls. I was noticing little things like every time I went to block, I would grab. I couldn’t seem to punch in the right direction.Why was I curving right when I moved to curve left? I did manage to get through Grand Prix level 1 though so I assume the level was so easy, it didn’t matter how crappy I was. When I decided to move up to level 2, that’s when things got frustrating. After 3 tries, I couldn’t get past the first round and I decided it was time for some training. That’s when the UI got me.
Back to the main menu I went – Training… training… where are you? I went and looked under the help section: basic controls are just the configurations for each control style. Nothing that said ‘Training’ or ‘Practice’ could be found. I went back to the main menu… Grand Prix, Versus, Party Match, Ranked Match, none of these look like they are conducive to training. So I go back into Grand Prix and try and practice by replaying the first level. – Finished that for a second time, went back to level 2… I still sucked. What the hell! I walked away for the day.
Taking A Rest Day
After 2 days of this, I am jumping on here to try for a 3rd and final time before I put this game to bed. I have no time to fight with a game’s controls. My motto is that if it’s not fun, just move on. Life is short. Out of curiosity, today I started going deeper into the menu options. Guess what I found! Training! For some weird reason, Training is buried in the Versus mode. I had assumed that Versus was going to be a more competitive mode, not the spot where Training, ARMS Test and all the fun modes like Hoops and V-Ball would live. Ugh! Not only was I frustrated with the UI but with myself. Why not put this on the top level of the menu?! It’s one of the first thing I look for when starting a new game, especially one with control scheme that is like nothing I have ever played before! Anyways, after my frustration with the UI, I started practicing.
Punching You When You’re Down
You know what sucks? When you cannot get through the damn training! Good lord… I talked about this before in my Star Fox Zero review. If I cannot figure a game out in the first few hours, I am going to drop it like a hot potato. Let’s just say the motion controls are now a mess on the floor that I am going to leave for the dog to eat up. I still cannot figure out why each time I try to block, I grab instead. So bye-bye motion controls, give me the Joy-Con grip for the Switch. I attempted to revisit the training grounds with a more traditional controller, and was quickly disappointed that it prevented me to play through it.. Sigh.
The Highlights Reel
Look, ARMS has some pretty good things going for it. The characters are damn cute; I like their design and animation. The modes that have nothing to do with fighting, like Hoops and Skillshot, are pretty cool. I personally think they are better than the main focus of the game. I am particularly good at Hoops… Probably because I can perform a grab better than any other move in the game LOL. The concept of the interchangeable boxing gloves is really neat as well. Different gloves or ‘ARMS’ as they call them (technically it’s just your hands or gloves changing, not your whole arms) have different attack styles, and can also inflict different status effect. They are fun to try out in different combinations, but there are some balance issues as some are much more powerful than others. They are definitely the driving factor for you to complete more Grand Prix and Versus matches. You’ll be rewarded with coins used to purchase rounds in the mini games. I haven’t tried out too many because as you know, I suck at this game, and have barely earned any coins at all.
Another good feature in ARMS are the arenas. Not only are they visually pleasing, each arena offers a different obstacle that can be used to your advantage or against you. For example, in Ribbon Girls’ arena, Ribbon Ring, the ground can move to make platforms. You can use these as defense by hiding behind them or they could mess up your movements if you don’t see one and it blocks your dodge. Ninja College on the other hand is built on a hill and the incline can mess with your mind when thinking about where to hit your opponent. You will have to get familiar with each of these to take advantage of their pros and avoid their pitfalls.
Another feature in the game that I feel is a little half-baked is the replay mode. Sure, it’s cool to watch back your last kickass match, but wouldn’t it be ten times more awesome if you could share that glorious moment with your friends? The replay 4 cameras so you can always watch from the best angle.There is also rewind and fast-forward along with slow motion. All together, it’s a really well thought out replay feature that is just missing that additional button to share with friends. Imagine how cool it would be to edit highlights of your matches and then post that on social media? An opportunity totally missed that the other consoles already have figured out.
A Different Spin On Fighting Games
One thing I noticed that differentiates ARMS from other fighting games is the patience you must have while playing and planning your moves. Sure, at first glance you want to flail around, punching wildly with your arms, but this can really work against you. All of the character’s arms are technically springs so when you punch out, it can take a while for your arms to retract back so you may punch again or block. As a player, you really want to be methodical, only throwing that punch or grab when you know you are going to hit the other player because the time it takes for your arm to reset opens you up to getting smacked in the kisser by your opponent. For those of us used to going buck wild button mashing in a fighting game, this is a really interesting switch that makes ARMS feel more like real life boxing than any other game could.
So here’s the short and sweet. As a fighting game, playing with a traditional controller configuration, ARMS isn’t half bad. It definitely takes a different turn on a fighting game, focusing more on timing, precision and patience. The brand is strong, with cool character designs that gamers can get behind. Its major weakness is unfortunately the main feature of the game: the motion controls. They just don’t work well enough for me to have fun playing ARMS, and they are the major selling point of this game. Oof!
DISCLAIMER: ARMS review copy was provided by Nintendo. The opinions expressed in the article above have not be affected by, dictated or edited in any way by the provider. For more information please see Girls on Games’ Code of Journalistic Ethics.