Some Thoughts On Arms After Playing This Weekend's Open Beta

Arms is hard to pin down, both literally and figuratively. While this weekend's global testfires offered a good introduction to the house of whimsical party combat Nintendo is trying to build, a quick stroll around inside left me wondering, Peggy Lee-style, if that's all there is.

Across the roughly three to four hours I spent playing the game's open betas I got a good sense of the game's feel, which is to say the rhythm that you'll unconsciously slide into of launching punches and throws while bobbing and weaving across an array of different arenas. This is the heart of Arms at the moment: Throwing one punch, waiting for your opponent to dodge it, and then throwing the other to where they will land after evading the first. Using the game's motion controls, which are good but not great, you can aim your springs to fire-off in a particular arc, flailing to hit moving targets as your brain tries to match up the timing of an elastic, mechanical arm with the one actually attached to your body.

With the Joy-Con attached to one another (my preferred configuration) your left analogue stick doubles for both directional movement and aiming, making your manoeuvres feel more precise than what the gyroscope allows, but still somewhat imprecise. In total, it's a good feel; the kind you'd expect from the company that made Mario Kart 8, Smash Bros. Wii U and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But whether good feel (and beautiful colours, great character design and so on) can make up for a seeming lack of tactical depth is the question.

A typical match during the first period of open betas (another round of which starts on June 3) will see you eyeing up your opponent, trying decide whether they're the aggressive type, someone who prefers to sit-back and react, or simply has no idea what they're doing (an indication they might be using the motion controls). You can dodge right or left, a quick burst of speed marked by rapid acceleration and deceleration rather than a single, fluid motion, or jump into the air make yourself an even more difficult target, either attacking or dashing again from there.

Compared to something like For Honor, however, the movement feels less targeted and deliberate. While an arrow icon will mark the person you're currently oriented toward (matches can include 2v2 or more in some cases), there is still a lot of room for improvisation with the direction you character's facing and throwing their arms in. In theory this should feel liberating, but in practice it can lead to chaos.

As for attacking, you're limited to throwing right and left punches, either with a slight spin or head-on, or imitating a throw. Like most games, throws can be used to break through an opponent's blocking action, or to break their attempt at throwing you. And when things get particularly dire, or you've spent a significant amount of the match in a defensive stance which fills up a power meter, you can unleash a special flurry of blows that are much more powerful and harder to dodge than normal attacks.

For the first hour or so, this loop of three options on offence and three options on defence is enough. It takes time to get used to, and if you throw in the motion controls as well, it ups the novelty factor as well, like the boxing from Wii Sports but with a bigger budget and great art direction. But spend a little more time with Arms and you start itching for another layer of complexity. That layer doesn't have to be as technical as Street Fighter or as brutal as For Honor, but it will need to surface at some point if Arms is going to have the kind of shelf-life of similar genre-make-overs like Splatoon.

One thing that does leave me feeling hopeful is Arms' prodigious use of numbers. Any time you land a shot, a two or three digit number appears over your opponent to let you know how much damage you dealt. Bigger, heavier characters naturally deal more per shot, while lighter, quicker ones like Ninjara, the beta period's most popular character thus far, do less and are expected to make up for it by connecting more often. (The game's current meta, to the extent that there is one, consists of Ninjara players air-dodging and spamming throws).

In this way, it allows players to choose between, say, Manny Pacquiao and Mike Tyson not just in terms of visuals and mobility, but across a number of metrics built into the game's code. In principle than, there's a lot of potential for statistical depth between different characters and arm configurations even if the game currently lacks a solid triangle of rock, paper, scissors counters to anchor it.

Arms will release for the Nintendo Switch on June 16. Meanwhile you can take part in the next phase of the open beta with a full schedule of times available here.


Comments

    It's a buy for me. Motion controls are great and I like the set-up to go from one match to another.

      Yeah, I'm not sure why the author disliked the motion controls so much. I played about 3.5 hours with motion controls only and by the end was pretty consistently winning matches, so at least for now the skill barrier is within the range of the motion controls.

        As someone who loved Skyward Sword and had no problem with the motion controls there that everyone else seemed to complain about... I hated my time with Arms. About 80% of it was frustration not fun, with me internally yelling "fuck this game and it's janky-arse bullshit" over and over. Although I somehow managed to keep winning fairly consistently in my second session, but everything after that was just kill-me-now levels of hate.

        May have to drop back to Pro controller next weekend.

    The first test session was all-out weird, as nobody had 'settled' into the game and what makes it tick. I played it in handheld mode so took to it pretty quickly.

    Subsequent test sessions, where the collective skill level of the playerbase seemed to be raising before my very eyes, plus my attempts at changing up the way I play (motion controls, needlessly randomising my character choices), I wasn't too hot on the game then.

    Volleyball mode was strictly okay - interested in the other modes that will be spotlighted this weekend.

    I did like what I played, but it's like most fighting games. I need to keep up with the 'meta' to play it online.

    Another thorn in the side of this is the wishy-washy details on Nintendo's paid online services. I don't yet know what the story is there.

    As far as individual characters go:

    Spring Man: didn't use him

    Ribbon Girl: liked her a lot

    Ninjara: I couldn't work out his secrets

    Master Mummy: more my playstyle, hit hard and turtle back. Won a few on the trot with him.

    Min-Min: don't think I used her

    Mechanica: OH MY GOD THIS CHARACTER. SO HARD TO PLAY AGAINST.

    Helix/DNA Guy: too weird for me.

    I wasn't totally sold on it, but my daughter loved it. That said, she seemed to win the majority of her matches with the simple strategy of flailing about like a crazy woman. This makes me wonder if the game has as much depth to its strategy as they claim. Early days of course, but we shall see.

    I have a design to make a virtual-on twin stick controller for this, just to nerd out.

    But i needed to be able to trigger punch with a button using the motion controls, and the tests proved that impossible.

    Sad.

    Game was fun though. I find there's more depth to work with than the article implies, what with the weight systems, disabling arms, and various counter measures. Barely anyone was effectively using the skills, which is to be expected.

    I think it'll go alright.

    I played with my 3 kids in the co-op mode and we loved it.

    As someone who isn't a regular gamer I loved this game. It looked amazing and after a few goes I could use the motion controls pretty well. In saying that I am pretty hopeless and did end up flailing about here and there when in a pickle. Volleyball was interesting also. I feel like this game is pretty universal and could introduce and include people who aren't usually the gaming crowd as it is an awful lot of fun. Hubby has been going on about this game for ages and before the tester I didn't understand the hype at all, but after giving it a go I'm super excited and can't wait for him to buy it!

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