ARMS sets a new high standard for motion controls

When the original Wii was released over 10 years ago, motion controls in a video game were considered a thing of the future. The Wii did something innovative and fun with this new concept, but the execution was not always what we expected. “Boxing” was more of a flurry of wrist flicks and sword fighting motions. And who remembers swinging around the blaster adapter? There was almost no precision, which limited these experiences to fun diversions it was hard to take seriously. 

Yet with Nintendo’s ARMS for the Switch, motion controls are back and better than ever. Not only is ARMS fun, entertaining, and well executed, but the motion controls actually make this game better.

Going Through The Motions

The basic controls to ARMS are straightforward: you hold each Joy Con in an upright position. You move around each arena by tilting your hands together in sync and you attack by punching outward. However, the special thing about ARMS is that you can curve your punches by twisting your wrist. Curving your punches allows you to dodge around obstacles and/or surprise your enemy with an unpredictable barrage of virtual punches. The precision of the Switch and its Joy Cons is quickly noticeable, and it stands above and beyond any motion-controlled fighting game we've ever seen before.

Each character features their own advantages and disadvantages, along with customizable options, and learning them adds depth to the game. Being on the offensive feels fluid and responsive, but the game plays just as strongly on the defensive side too. Dodging is simply executed by turning the Joy Cons horizontally. You can also quickly turn the tide of battle by collecting power-up orbs that drop around the map. Trigger one and you may get a huge boost of health, or send a group of bombs your enemy’s way. Having an automatic lock-on system also makes things easier, as matches quickly get chaotic.

Staying In Control

Playing with motion controls is the ideal way to play ARMS, but it is possible to play using a standard or pro controller. With those controls you move around with the left analog stick, attack using the ZR and ZL buttons, and blocking is assigned to the left analog stick click. The controls work well enough for basic execution, but if you are playing against players using motion controls who have some time with the game under their belt, then you are probably going to lose. Curving punches doesn't feel as natural and intuitive as it does with the motion controls. Also, let’s be real, landing a shot to your opponents face isn’t nearly as satisfying with a standard controller.

As much as I personally don’t like the standard controls, I do have to commend Nintendo for offering the choice. Even though most players will play this game with motion controls, some physically can’t, and some just don’t have the room. Yes, ARMS is much better with motion controls, but playing on a standard controller doesn’t make this game less fun, just less flexible.

I think many gamers were skeptical about ARMS when it was first revealed, but the critical and audience reception has been very positive. ARMS supplies us with plenty of characters to choose from and flaunts the type of artistic flair that only Nintendo could pull off. It feels like Nintendo has taken some inspiration from another surprising first-party game: Splatoon. That third-person shooter already showed us that Nintendo has the ability to pull off fun yet competitive games, and ARMS aims to keep that trend going.