By: Andrew Lister
Yeah, I know you're probably all sick of my intense love for Nintendo and their new Switch system. However, I managed to take a bit of time out of my busy day to sit down and play ARMS. The game isn't out quite yet, but they are currently doing an online beta, known at the Global Testpunch, to test the servers. Everyone with a Switch will be able to play the game for free and see what ARMS is all about.
I'm going to focus this review on a number of things I experienced in the half hour of drowsy, early morning gameplay that I got in at 7 am CST. I want to talk about my experience with the controls, gameplay modes, online functionality, and the characters and weaponry. Some of these things I'll go into more than others as this was just an online test and my time with the game was rather limited.
Click the link for my first impressions!
Getting the Hang of the Controls
My experience started with a brief tutorial teaching the unique controls and pitting me against a fairly competent CPU opponent. Now, I had the choice on how to control my character. You can play ARMS like a traditional fighting game with the Joycons placed into the grip or using the Pro Controller. However, I went for the way that the makers of the game intend you to play, which is using the two Joycons like Wii-motes from Wii Boxing.
At first the controls felt hard to master. You move by turning the Joycon controllers to the left, right, forward, or backward. If you turn both of them inward, you block, and you launch punches by literally throwing your arms out toward the screen. Other movement and fighting options include swinging both Joycons at the same time for a grab and using the trigger buttons to jump and dodge. I found myself having difficulty in both throwing punches and moving around the map at first. When I was thrust into online mode, I lost my first several matches due to mental paralysis; I didn't know how to properly dodge and throw counter-punches.
As I competed in more bouts, however, I started to get the hang of the mechanics. My brain was able to adjust to the task of movement and punching in real time while watching my opponents' moves. I'm not sure how the traditional controller would change gameplay, but the act of getting up and punching felt satisfying and fun, regardless of whether I won or lost a match. Speaking of matches, let's talk about the different modes.
Different Ways to Play
I'm not sure if we only got a sampling of the game modes available for multiplayer, but there were several ways to play. During my experience online, the lobby system chose my opponents for me and randomized the type of match. I assume that in ranked play, you'll be able to choose the type of match, and there will also probably be more options available for free matches at launch.
The bread and butter of the experience was the one-on-one matches. Like any other fighting game, this is where the real fun is to be had. The game tried to keep me facing people with a similar number of points (earned by winning matches) to keep the game competitive, and each match was a blast to play.
The game also offers a few ways for more than two people to play in a single match. Team battles place two people against two other opponents. It appears that like Mario Kart 8, you can play online with two local players, and I noticed a few people fighting as a team from one account in 2 vs 2 matches. To make things a little more interesting, you're actually tethered to your partner, so you can't get too far away from them. It adds a bit of strategy that might be frustrating if you're not communicating with your partner. Yes, here's where you can complain about the lack of built in voice chat.
For some reason they also decided to throw in a 1 vs 1 vs 1 mode, which is the biggest disappointment of my entire experience. The game does not have a great system for locking onto a target, and with the unique movement system, it's far too easy to get caught in the middle of a brawl and get destroyed by both opponents or for your fists to go flying in the wrong direction. If they could only improve on switching between your opponents to focus your attacks, it could be a more enjoyable experience.
The last mode they had on display was a volleyball game. When I was finished playing, I watched a streamer bitch and moan about the mode, but I honestly found it to be a lot of fun. It reminded me of Tekken Ball from Tekken 3. You literally have a net and a beach ball that will eventually explode on landing a number of times on an opponents' side to score a point.
Overall, I never got bored playing the online mode. The constant flow of battle and the slick online system kept me throwing punch after punch.
Nintendo gets a lot of flack for being behind the times on multiplayer. I'm one of those weird people that doesn't love playing online multiplayer games. I have a PS4, but I have little to no desire to get a PS Plus account. When I played WoW, I didn't usually play with many others, especially random people I didn't know. I'm sure that makes me the minority among gamers these days, but I did ultimately enjoy the online fighting offered by ARMS.
First of all, the online playtest was a smooth experience overall. Each match was completely free of lag, there weren't any long load times, and the matching lobby system provided a variety of opponents and game modes. I only had one time where the game kicked me out, but that may have been because either these are test servers or because I was using my wireless connection rather than plugged in directly.
The lobbies are actually pretty cool. When you get into one, you see the other names of the characters and their chosen fighter as they float around the screen. The visual aspect of randomized match-making is minor, but it's a very Nintendo touch that I love. While you wait, you can switch between the characters and even practice with the many weapons the game has to offer.
I'll be interested to see how the ranked mode works, how easy it will be to play with your other friends online (not that I have many), and how local cooperative and competitive play works.
One of the things that drew me to this game was the colorful characters and unique visual style. The concept of a fighting game where the combatants all have strange stretchy arms? Sign me up! That's the sort of creativity that so many of the cookie cutter shooting games lack these days, and it's the reason why games like Splatoon were so popular for Nintendo and Overwatch is such a hit for Blizzard.
There were seven characters available to play, and each one have their own abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. For example, Ribbon Girl, a blonde masked fighter, can perform a backflip kick that deflects an opponent's punch when timed properly. Ninjara, as you might expect by the name, can teleport in a puff of smoke that can confuse your opponents. Some fighters are quick and do less damage, and others like Master Mummy are more lumbering, but hit harder. There's plenty here for the dedicated fighting game fan to dig their teeth into.
The character differences are only a small fraction of the customization of the game, however. The game is called ARMS in part for its different customization of weapons. Each fighter gets a number of weapons that have different speeds, attack power, movements, and special abilities. To make things even crazier, weapons can have a number of elemental abilities that affect your opponent in one way or another. The number of combinations between fighters, their two weapons, and the elemental abilities offer a ridiculous amount of differentiation and replay value.
The demo only had three weapons for each of the seven characters, but even that felt like an endless amount of options for throwing down. I'm excited to see the final product and dig into customizing the weapons and seeing the game's other characters.
Test It Yourself
Can't wait for ARMS to hit store shelves an the Nintendo eShop on June 16th? Want to flail your arms and make your stretchy-armed fighters beat up one another? Then you're in luck! The Global Testpunch events continue this weekend AND next weekend! Remember that the servers are up for a single hour during each time below.
May 27th: 11 am PT / 2 pm ET & 5 pm PT / 8 pm ET
May 28th: 5 am PT / 8 am ET & 11 am PT / 2 pm ET
June 2nd: 5 pm PT / 8 pm ET
June 3rd: 5 am PT / 8 am ET, 5 am PT / 8 am ET & 11 am PT / 2 pm ET
June 4th: 5 am PT / 8 am ET & 11 am PT / 2 pm ET
Let us know what YOU think of the game in the comments below!
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