It was no surprise that the Nintendo Switch got first-party titles from popular franchises such as Mario and Zelda, but few would have predicted Arms, a new fighting game revealed at the Switch launch. Arms pits fighters with extendable arms (hence the name) against each other in an arena. In the run up to Arms’ June 16 release date, Nintendo held an Arms Global Testpunch event this weekend, similar to Splatoon 2’s Global Testfire, for Nintendo Switch owners to check out the game pre-release. Over several sessions lasting an hour each, we checked out Arms and found it to be quite entertaining.
Visually, Arms is a colourful game. Much like Splatoon 2, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, there’s a vibrant burst of colours, which, combined with its unique character designs, makes it stand out. From monstrous-looking mummies to spry ninjas, fighters in Arms are pixel perfect.
The Arms Global Testpunch let us play as Spring Man, Ribbon Girl, Ninjara, Master Mummy, Min Min, Mechanica, and DNA Man. It isn’t the complete roster, and the full game has three more playable characters. Nevertheless, there's enough to get a good sense of the game. Each of the characters has their own abilities and gloves that can be kitted out to suit different play styles.
Before the start of a match, you can choose from three different gloves per character. These range from propellers to lasers, and there’s one that splits into smaller fists too. There are character-specific abilities, such as Master Mummy being able to heal when guarding, or being to jump multiple times mid-air as Ribbon Girl. With the various permutations and combinations available, it’s easy to see that Arms has a surprising amount of depth to its battles, making each round feel fresh.
Of course this would be pointless without solid controls. With Nintendo promoting the use of the Switch’s motion controls, we were curious to see how it would pan out. In a post-Wii world where gyroscopes have found their way into a host of other devices, motion controls don’t have the novelty they once did. Luckily, Arms’ take on flailing around to land a punch works extremely well. Hitting an opponent by grabbing a Joy-con in each hand felt immediate, and each attack, weighty. As we curved our hits we noticed that our character’s arms curled as well, making our jabs tougher to deflect.
Speaking of which, guarding against strikes was easy too. Simply raise both Joy-cons to prevent damage. Arms’ responsiveness in terms of motion controls made it the best way to play the game, even if it does result in you working up a sweat.
For those adverse to physical activity, the usual set of buttons and triggers can be used as well, they’re as you’d expect - allowing for immediate visual feedback with no delay, though it didn’t seem as much fun as it was with motion controls.
Despite polished core gameplay mechanics, Arms managed to fall flat in one key area - multiplayer. Aside from a tutorial, all of Arms’ gameplay during the Global Testpunch was dependent on playing online. Here our experience was riddled with regular connection losses, both on our end, and those we were playing against. This ended up making fights, particularly the 2v2 online multiplayer, a whole lot more exhausting than it should have been.
Much like other fighting games, getting disconnected in the middle of a round ensures your rival’s victory, and getting into a new game takes awhile. The frequency of this occurring, both on a 50Mbps connection and a 4G hotspot, put a damper on our experience with Arms’ Global Testpunch. While Splatoon 2 Global Testfire proved Nintendo could do online multiplayer, Arms Global Testpunch fell far short of the mark, which is worrying as the game's release is barely a month away.
Hopefully, there will enough in way of single-player and local multiplayer modes, and by the time the game exits beta and launches, the multiplayer issues will be fixed too. As it stands though, Nintendo’s given us enough cause for concern to err on the side of caution.