ARMS Is like Wii Sports Boxing on Steroids, and That’s a Good Thing [Hands-On Preview]

There’s never been any doubt Nintendo’s upcoming ARMS will be a certifiable blast to play. Its unique, precise, yet flail-friendly motion controls almost guarantee it, while the quirky premise of Inspector Gadget boxing offers up everything Wii Sports Boxing could and should have been. I’ve spent quite a bit of time with the game thus far, and while it’s not yet clear if ARMS has legs, it certainly has heart, and is a whole lot of fun.

I brought my Switch homeward bound while visiting family over Memorial Day weekend, and decided to immediately to throw caution to the wind and fire up some three-way multiplayer (ARMS allows for up to four-way locally, but there are only so many Joy-Cons floating around during Switch’s early days).

There are ten total fighters in ARMS, all of them substantially varied and none of them locked behind artificial barriers of single player progress via the game’s Mario Kart-esque Grand Prix. It wasn’t long before I’d settled on the sassy Twintelle as my favorite, one of the few ARMS contestants with actual human arms who uses her hair in combat instead. Other standouts include Helix, the gelatinous anthropomorphic Flubber, and Min Min, a girl seemingly comprised of ramen noodles. These three just scratch the surface, and other characters bring quirks of their own like health regeneration or, in the case of robocop Byte, a canine companion. The game could definitely benefit from more fighters down the road, but for such a new premise ten is a great start.

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The real meat of the experience is clearly ARMS' motion controls, and I’m pleased that they’re very responsive. What I wasn’t aware of in advance is specifically how they’re carried out; Joy-Cons are held sideways, thumbs on the L and R triggers, while analog sticks go unused and movement is handled via motion tilt. To punch, just drudge up your old muscle memory from Wii Sports Boxing - steady, methodical punches are more effective than spastic twitching, though thanks to the precision of the Joy-Cons and their Motion Plus internals, the latter will actually still register every move you make.

What’s fun about combat is the realization that you’re never safe; with arms that extend almost entirely across most stages, you need to constantly move, as well as constantly attack and defend. Crossing your ‘Cons executes a simple block, while grabs are handled via two-handed double punch and soon proved to be an essential part of any ARMS fighter’s arsenal. Like Smash Bros., a blocking fighter can be easily grabbed, introducing a sort of rock-paper-scissors element within the ARMS framework that makes intuitive sense.

Of course, this would all get old fast without the title’s own namesake, customizable arms. In the case of my preferred fighter Min Min, she begins with three options for arms: Dragon, Megawatt, and something called the Ramram. The names are nonsensical, but you get the gist quickly. I soon learned that Ramram is a boomerang-esque quickshot, able to pepper foes with fast and furious blows, while Megawatt is the exact opposite, sending slow but crushing yellow fists toward opponents. Dragon proved a bit trickier - it deploys quickly, but then stops and fires a beam that can be directed by the games’ motion controls. Punches can also but curved as they fly by tilting the Joy-Cons, a nice gyroscopic feat that forgives a lack of perfect aim and can often result in quite the devastating blow.

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I haven’t yet tested the game online, but I did very much enjoy its replay system; like Mario Kart 8, you can relive the events of a match from numerous perspectives, with granular control over fast and slow-motion options. One quirk I noticed here is that slow-motion replays, at least in multiplayer, proved a bit choppy unlike the buttery smooth slo-mo of Mario Kart 8. Given that much of the same staff worked on ARMS you’d think this wouldn’t be an issue - perhaps a patch is on the way to solve the problem.

ARMS launches on Switch June 16th, and I’ll be playing a whole lot more of the Grand Prix and online Party Match between now and then. There are also goofy-yet-fun distractions in the form of Volleyball and Hoops, not necessarily deep or fleshed-out but worthy pace-changers all the same. It’s not clear yet the sort of strategic layers that may or may not emerge from ARMS over time, but if you were simply hoping for accurate motion controls and a barrel of fun, right now prospects are looking quite good.