The Nintendo Wii was the first video game console I can remember my father being eager to play. For him, like so many other parents and grandparents, the appeal was in the system’s controller as much as in any of its games. The Wii’s motion controls, which were showcased to great effect in “Wii Sports,” ushered in a utopian moment where it appeared that console manufacturers had figured out a way to seduce untapped demographics. This impression was bolstered by the initial excitement that circulated around Microsoft’s Kinect, a device that promised to transform the human body into a video game controller. Fast-forward a few years, and many opinion pieces, later and the phrase “motion controller fad” summed up what many people thought of that period.
Now, one wonders if the eulogies for motion controls might have been drafted too early as the phenomenon has seen a resurgence in the VR space, demonstrated by the Oculus Touch and the recent launch of the PlayStation aim controller. And even though the Wii’s successor, the Wii U, was (poorly) marketed around the benefits of its “second screen” tablet controller, Nintendo still integrated motion controls into one of its best titles of that generation, “Splatoon,” and one of its most disappointing, “Star Fox Zero.” In any case, the company certainly hasn’t shown a reluctance to integrate motion controls into games for its robust-selling new console, Nintendo Switch.
“Arms,” an exclusive game for the Switch, aims to do for the fighting genre what “Splatoon” did for multiplayer shooters: create a space for new players while enticing traditional fans with new gameplay mechanics.
In “Arms,” you select a character from among ten fighters (Nintendo has said it will add more post-launch) and do battle, in different arenas, against A.I.-controlled opponents or other players. The game’s colourful aesthetic and silly sports commentary evoke the carefree spirit of “Splatoon” as well.
With the exception of Twintelle who, like Bayonetta, fights with her hair, the competitors in “Arms” use their elastic, corkscrew limbs to hurl punches at each other. By holding one of the Switch’s controllers or “joy-cons” in each hand, a player can throw a corresponding right or left punch. Tilt both controllers in one direction and a character will move accordingly. You can also make your avatar dash forward and jump by clicking on the L and R buttons on top of the left and right joy-cons. Learning a bit of fancy footwork is key since many battles turn on a scramble for advantageous positioning. If you find yourself on the wrong end of a punch, you can point the controllers together and your fighter will adopt a defensive pose. Blocking, however, carries a major risk because doing so leaves you open to being grabbed by an opponent and chucked through the air, an action that can be accomplished by thrusting the two joy-cons out in front of you.
It took me a while to come to grips with the game’s motion controls. This was really my own fault because I spent a fair amount of time using the game’s old-fashioned control setup where you move around using an analog stick and throw a punch by pressing a button. Although working with such a setup made sense when I found myself on the subway and wanted to take advantage of the Switch’s portability, I paid dearly for it at home when I went online and faced off against another player. As the game’s producer, Kosuke Yabuki, told Game Informer, “The motion controls in “Arms” actually allow for more fine controls; the two gyros allow for some fine adjustment of left and right on the punches that you can kind of use it to curve your punch. So when it really comes down to it, when you really don’t want to lose, we really feel that motion control offers more precise control than traditional controls.”
“Arms’ “ Grand Prix mode, which pits players against A.I. controlled opponents, unfolds over ten matches that include two wonderful palate cleansers – volleyball and basketball matches in which you, respectively, try to lob an explosive ball past your opponent or grab and dunk him in a basket. At the start of the Grand Prix, you can select a difficulty ranging from 1 (easy) to 7 (difficult). As someone who usually opts for the “normal” or, occasionally, “hard” difficulty in other games, I stuck with “Arms” level four difficulty for longer than I should have; for me, it wasn’t the best setting to work through an unfamiliar control scheme.
The first time I cleared the Grand Prix was with Twintelle. Yet, I did so relying heavily on the traditional controller setup. It was only after I got walloped online by an opponent whose punches were alarmingly more accurate than mine that I dedicated myself to learning the game’s motion controls. So I dropped the difficulty level on Grand Prix mode and began piecing together some tactics.
I’m nowhere near ready to take on the game’s hardest difficulty levels, but “Arms” is the first fighting game to pique my interest since “Super Smash Bros” in 2014.