Disclaimer : The following article was written freely based on the author's opinion, and it may not necessarily represent Inven Global's editorial stance.
Nintendo has seen mixed results with its new intellectual property over the last few years. Splatoon launched for the Wii U in 2015 to rave reviews, and it quickly became one of my personal favorite games. The multiplayer shooter’s mix of fast-paced third-person shooting with a hefty dose of Nintendo’s classic charm made it a perfect addition to the company’s library, and a sequel looks like it will satisfy Squid Kids when it releases next month. But some of Nintendo’s other experiments haven’t been so successful. Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. attempted to put a new spin on turn-based strategy by introducing pseudo-shooting mechanics, and it fell flat on its face with a bizarrely uncreative story and sloppy combat. Arms, a hybrid multiplayer fighter and Nintendo’s newest AAA title, isn’t a massive failure, but after playing its Global Test Punch, it doesn’t look like it’ll be the “hit” that Switch fans were hoping for.
What immediately struck me about Arms is how simple the game’s “Rock ‘em Sock ‘em”-style combat is. Whether you’re competing in an online one-versus-one match, fighting as a team, or playing the game’s unusual take on basketball, you’re limited to just a few abilities. Each Arms fighter can throw both left and right punches that can be curved to hit an escaping target, and their fists can be customized with different configurations of weaponry like boomerangs or even missiles. While some do more damage, others are better suited for taking out particularly agile targets or dealing with more than one enemy at a time, and dashing before swinging can add a little extra damage to the blow. Launching both fists simultaneously will attempt a grab, which opens enemies up for extra damage, and fighters can defend themselves by dodging, jumping, or blocking incoming attacks. Character-specific moves offer unique wrinkles to the combat, like Ninjara’s teleporting ability after blocking an attack, but they don’t drastically change the flow of the game.
In standard two-player fights, this simplicity is to Arms’ advantage. With just one opponent to focus on, multiplayer matches turn into tense standoffs, with each fighter sizing up their enemy as they bob and weave around the arena and occasionally throw off a punch or go in for a grab. Against a player of equal skill – which was remarkably hard to find during the Test Punch – the battles often come down to the wire. If a player pulls off a special super-charged attack, they can quickly turn the tide of a fight with a flurry of punches. Aside from the satisfaction of pummeling your opponent into oblivion, the feedback from the Joy-Cons’ “HD Rumble” makes landing a series of blows feel incredible, especially when you land a knockout.
Physically swinging the Joy-Con controllers back and forth is a lot of fun, but the game’s motion controls feel slightly inadequate when playing against more seasoned players. Curving punches is accomplished by tilting each controller back and forth after throwing a punch, while blocking is done by tilting the controllers toward each other. It’s all intuitive and works just fine, but when playing against opponents using the Joy-Con Grip, the Switch in its handheld mode, or the Switch Pro Controller, the motion controls are a tad too slow. The simple act of tilting from side to side or throwing multiple punches is just not as fast as pressing buttons on a traditional gamepad.
When Arms is clicking, the game feels like Wii Sports’ boxing mode in an LSD-soaked fever dream, and its best maps add to the tension by putting destructible objects in the way, forcing players to fight strategically. Unfortunately, this is rarer when competing in any modes other than the standard one-on-one battles. In team battles, which have two players on each side, the action can quickly devolve into a mess, with both teammates wailing on one opponent as their teammate desperately tries to get the enemies’ attention. In free-for-all battles, which have three players duking it out, these problems are even more annoying. Strategy and tension are thrown out the window. Instead, you just have to pray that the other two players don’t decide to gang up on you, as you’ll be practically powerless to stop them. The results are reversed in the three-on-one battles against AI-controlled boss “Hedlock,” which require effective communication in order to take him down before the timer expires – this is a bit of a problem, since the Switch currently has no voice support, and when it adds it later this summer, it’ll still be limited to a smartphone app instead of in-game chat.
Significant lag, another problem all too familiar to Nintendo online players, doesn’t help either. Though I only experienced it for a game or two during the Test Punch, when Arms isn’t running the way it’s supposed to, punches that land don’t do any damage, characters make impossible grabs, and skill is made completely irrelevant. It’s a problem that should be resolved before the game’s June 16 release date, but in a game that relies so heavily on timing and precision, even the smallest connection issues can render it virtually unplayable.
Of course, that issue will be eliminated for those who choose to play multiplayer locally. Nintendo clearly wants Arms to be a game you play with friends so that you can lay down some smack talk as you pummel them into oblivion, and with a few players combining their Switch systems, you can throw down just about anywhere.
Arms looks like it’ll be the perfect game to show off to those who haven’t seen the Switch before. It makes use of just about every control configuration, it’s got colorful and zany Nintendo charm, and it’s easy to pick up and play, but I’m worried that its simplicity will ultimately turn off long-term players and those who want to play primarily online. With Splatoon 2 just a month away and the excellent Mario Kart 8 Deluxe already perfect for parties, you might want to consider waiting for an Arms deal.
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