Nintendo's 'Arms' Is This Generation's 'Punch-Out'

Nintendo's 'Arms' Is This Generation's 'Punch-Out'

Arms Nintendo

Goofy, spring-armed brawler for Nintendo Switch is far more technical than you'd think

Goofy, spring-armed brawler for Nintendo Switch is far more technical than you'd think

To dismiss Arms as just a goofy-looking fighting game with motion controls – as Nintendo seems so intent to do in its trailers and advertising – is to do it a massive disservice. Yes, you can play it by holding the JoyCons "thumbs up" and throwing punches like you did playing Wii Sports Boxing back in 2006, but there's far more to it than that. Now that we've spent some considerable time with it – both during the online "Global Test Punch" and with the core single player experience – it's clear that it's a much deeper, more satisfying, and more technical fighting game than we ever anticipated. Just play it with a controller if you're serious about it.

Let's get the lazy comparisons out of the way up front. If you've experimented with the many different flavors of fighting game that have been attempted in 3D over the past 20 years, there's a lot here you'll be familiar with. The most obvious is Sega's 1996 arcade 3D robot brawler Virtual On which eventually found its way to the Saturn, Dreamcast, PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360. The core similarity being that everything is viewed from behind your fighter, with the camera constantly locked onto your opponent like a boss fight in a modern 3D Zelda. There's also more than a whiff of DreamFactory's 1999 Final Fantasy-flavored grappler Ehrgeiz and Capcom's arcade arena-fighter (and Dreamcast launch game) Power Stone about it too.

What all of these games have in common, and what sets all them apart from the Tekkens, Street Fighters, or Super Smash Bros. games is pacing. They're all much more deliberate games that focus less on fast-paced martial arts histrionics and more on timing and power. Given the focus on arms and punching, it will hardly shock you to learn that Arms borrows heavily from the boxing genre, too – but what might is the fact that it credibly has more than a half-decent shot at being this generation's Punch-Out.

Despite initially coming off like a cartoony punchfest with 10 daft-looking characters with stretchy arms, it doesn't take long with the single player Grand Prix or Versus modes to appreciate how hardcore it actually is. At the lowest of its seven different difficulty levels, it's a goofy but satisfying scuffle, but turn things up to the fourth (which also serves as the threshold you have to be able to beat before you can enter ranked online matches) and it totally changes what it requires of you. Spamming punches and hoping for the best won't get you anywhere; instead, you need to take advantage of every tool that the game makes available.

There are 10 different fighters to choose from, and though they're all elaborately styled with distinct personalities (there's Master Mummy with stretchy bandage arms, Ribbon Girl with...well, ribbons for arms, Ninjara with chains, etc.) they basically fall into a number of different archetypes: there are slow and heavy fighters, fast and nimble fighters, and ones that are in-between. Making things more interesting is the fact that each arm can be equipped with one of three different classes of "glove" that fall into seven different types: fire, electric, wind, ice, stun, explosion and blind – each of which turns the glove on the end of the arm into a different kind of tethered projectile. Different combinations of arms change the dynamics of each bout, and glove choice becomes an important factor in choosing how to face specific opponents. Every time you win a fight you earn coins that can be traded in for time in a minigame that gives you the opportunity to unlock new arms, loot box-style.

As with Punch-Out before it, throwing punches is actually far more of a thoughtful process than just flailing about. Because every fighter has such long stretchy arms, as punches are thrown, the attacker has plenty of time and opportunity to "steer" it with a form of aftertouch that directs the strike from any angle. In turn, this means that reading your opponent's body language becomes a vital skill. Strikes can be avoided with jumps, dashes and blocks, and as your technical proficiency improves, you learn that perfectly timed parries allow you to deflect incoming punches leaving your opponent momentarily hobbled.

Despite being of a very different genre, Arms shares a lot in common with Blizzard's Overwatch. The game itself isn't bogged down by any lore or exposition, but there are enough hooks in the way the characters and tournaments are presented that there's plenty of opportunity for storylines to evolve in other media. Nintendo is already promising that the game will be supplemented with new characters, maps and arms – indicating a very familiar rollout model that has served Blizzard well for the past year. Similarly, while Arms' core systems are very technical, it can be enjoyed as a fairly lightweight casual game, or as a phenomenally deep and skill-based competitive challenge. Thankfully, it doesn't take itself too seriously (which should be clear enough from the character designs) and it mixes up its tense, hard-fought battles with goofy – but incredibly enjoyable – distractions like a volleyball game where you're punching a bomb inside a beach ball back and forth, and a basketball game where you dunk each other.

It remains to be seen if Arms' Spring Man, Kid Cobra, Ninjara or Mechanica will become as iconic as Punch-Out's Glass Joe, Little Mac or King Hippo, but given the response to the game during the Global Test Punch it's clear Nintendo has a shot at another strong franchise like 2015's Splatoon.

Arms will be released for Nintendo Switch on June 16.