Arms is the Nintendo Switch's next big release, and we recently got to spend some extended hands-on time with the game. We played a bunch of versus rounds, as well as its new modes, Hoops, Skillshot, and Teamfight. Below, you will find some of our big takeaways from our hours with the game.
If you prefer video over words, you can hear me try to convince Ben Reeves, an Arms skeptic, that he might want to give this game another look while emphasizing many of the points below.
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It’s slower paced than you might think
Arms mixes all kinds of genres together. It’s on the boxing side of the fighting game genre, but the long-distance nature of the fighting mixes in a small amount of shooter. Since the fists fly across the stage, there is often time to counter, or to redirect your fist if you need to. I had a lot more success being slow and contemplative before throwing each punch, than I was just trying to eject my fists as fast as possible.
It’s not Wii Sports Boxing…
In a motion-controlled boxing game, it’s tempting to start throwing out your fists as much as possible, but throwing out punches carefully and with a strategy in mind is a much safer way to play. That isn’t to say you won’t be violently punching the air during a fight.
…Unless you’re pulling off a super move
Along with the need to throw out punches quickly if you see an opening or need to deflect a grab, when you fully charge your super move, which tends to happen about once per fighter per match, hitting the invisible speed bag is a good idea. When you execute the move, you have a small amount of time to punch as much as possible. It’s like getting the golden mushroom in Mario Kart.
Motion controls work well, if you keep your movements small
We still haven’t had a chance to play the game without motion controls. Nintendo’s Arms expert, who has been playing the game for months, said he played two weeks with motion controls, two weeks with the standard Joy-Con controls, and two weeks with a Pro Controller and personally felt motion controls gave him the most accuracy. It’s hard to say if we will feel similarly once the game releases, but I found little to complain about with the motion controls once I got the hang of things after a few rounds, especially by keeping my movements small.
The new Hoops mode it a lot of fun
Hoops is all about grabs. You’re on a basketball court and if you pull off a grab, you send your opponent into the oversized hoop. Like normal basketball rules, the further you are from the hoop, the more points you get. Watching the resulting animation of pulling off a grab on the basketball is super fun, and watching your opponent fly toward the hoop as you hope they don’t bounce off the rim is exciting.
The new Skillshot mode is also a lot of fun
The other non-standard target mode, Skillshot, is also fun. You can still punch and grab one another, but your main goal is hitting as many shared targets as you can. I can’t imagine it will be a destination mode for the game, but as a change of pace between boxing matches, it worked well.
Teamfight is chaotic
The cooperative two versus two mode is chaotic. You and a partner are linked and can prevent one another from getting grabbed, or gang up on a single opponent, or just each take on a single opponent. In this mode, when you’re splitting the screen four ways, the framerate drops, just like Mario Kart 8. But just like Mario Kart 8, it still plays very well.
It looks like there will be a lot of replay options
We didn’t get to dive too deep into this, but if you hit the Watch Replay option after a match, it looks like there are a lot of editing options for what you see. You can change camera angles, watch back moments in slow-motion, and more.
The arenas change over the course of battle, affecting strategy
My favorite example of this is an arena where if you hit the ground hard enough, a trampoline appears. I gravitated towards Ribbon Girl as my fighter, a character who is very good at jumping already, so when a trampoline appeared, I found myself flying through the air even more.
The arenas all feel dramatically different
The arenas all look distinct, but there is far more different between them then just their looks. One arena has hoverboards players can stand on to speed up their movement. Another constructs digital blocks in the middle of the stage that can be punched through, and yet another takes place on a long set of stairs that changes how you fight depending on whether you’re at the bottom punching up, or standing at the top, fighting downward.
There is one character who has her normal arms and fights with her hair
Pending the reveal of any additional characters, Twintelle appears to be the only character who has her normal arms, which only made me more inquisitive about a question I have had about the universe of Arms since the game was revealed.
It’s unclear if characters have to have their arms surgically removed in order to participate in the sport
Twintelle still has her arms. The fans in the audience watching the matches all have their arms. But the rest of the fighters do not have traditional arms. They look like their arms have been replaced with special interchangeable arms and fists in order to participate in the sport. When I asked Nintendo about this, they laughed and said, “No. They don’t have to undergo surgery,” but I don’t know if I believe them.
Ribbon Girl is the best
Ribbon Girl is fast, good at dodging, and can jump really well. She is a good introductory character and became my favorite.
Ninjara is alright, too
Second to Ribbon Girl, Ninjara is fun, too. He’s fast (maybe you’re noticing my preference now) and disappears when he dodges in mid-air. For this reason, he’s difficult to track.
Master Mummy is lame (except in Skillshot)
Full disclosure, when it comes to fighters, I always struggle with the slow strong types, and that is what Master Mummy is. He was difficult to fight with, and when someone else was playing with him, I didn’t have much trouble taking him down. Of course, his strategies will likely emerge later. We only had a few hours to play, after all. That being said, he was great in target mode. His huge fists took out extra targets, and swiftly knocked the competing fists out of the air.
The music reminds me of Stephen Chow movies
The music is upbeat and poppy, but with some occasional operatic vocals. It made me think of Stephen Chow movies like Kung-Fu Hustle or his more recent movie, Mermaids.
You can change your arms between every round, and it’s often a good idea
You play best of three matches and between every fight, you can change out both of your arms if you so choose. It can help you to adjust your strategy, or as was handy in our case when we had limited time to play, try out a bunch of different combat styles without having to leave the fight.