If you told me that my favorite game from the Nintendo Switch preview event would be a motion-controlled brawler, I would have chuckled and gone back to longingly staring at screenshots of Super Mario Odyssey. But after wildly flailing my limbs around in Arms, a gesture-based fighting game coming this Spring, I’m reminded just how good Nintendo is at crafting competitive multiplayer experiences disguised as silly party titles.
Arms is a breeze to pick up and play — you hold the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Con controller in each hand, and when you throw an actual punch, your on-screen avatar does the same. You block by putting your arms up like a boxer would, and grab by reaching both arms out simultaneously. The shoulder buttons on the left and right Joy-Con are used for dashing and jumping, respectively.
Once I picked a character and did some basic training, I was ready to trade fists (or Arms?) with the nice young man standing next to me. Things started out as many motion-based games do, with the both of us swinging our arms about to get a feel for things. But as we got a better grasp off the action, I discovered a sense of fluidity and tension that I’ve come to expect from an honest-to-goodness fighting game.
That’s because figuring out when to punch, block or grab in Arms creates the same kind of rock/paper/scissors dance that makes games like Street Fighter or Tekken so great. Factor in the ability to jump and dash, and you’ve got a wonderful first-person fighting ballet that felt extremely responsive, even if it took a while for me to get comfortable landing hits.
There’s a bit more to Arms’ gameplay than just moving and punching. You can pick a loadout before each round. In one fight I was using some basic boxing gloves on both hands; in the next, my right hand was a missile launcher while the left threw boomerangs. Land enough hits, and you’ll fill your special meter, which allows you to enter an overpowered state where you can deal huge damage by rapidly throwing punches. Landing my special was by far the most satisfying part of the game, even if I looked like a fool while furiously flapping my arms.
It’s worth noting that Arms looks gorgeous, with a wonderfully colorful art style that reminds me a little of Splatoon — another one of Nintendo’s recent offbeat multiplayer hits. There were only a handful of playable characters in my demo, but they ran the gamut from nimble ninjas to beefy grapplers. A Nintendo rep told me that you’ll be able to kick back and play Arms with a regular controller, which could add to the game’s competitive viability but doesn’t sound nearly as fun as the thrilling stand-up brawl I had just experienced.
Like Splatoon and Super Smash Bros. before it, Arms proves Nintendo’s mastery at crafting pick-up-and-play multiplayer games that hide tons of competitive depth. It’s the perfect game for showing off your Switch to friends, which makes me bummed that it won’t come packed in with the $299 console this March. While we’ll have to see if there’s enough content to justify Arms’ $60 price tag, I’m already eager to develop new tactics and play around with all kinds of crazy weapon combinations when the game hits in Spring 2017.