Over the past two weekends I have enjoyed the opportunity to play the ARMS Global Testpunch. This was a demonstration of the online Party Mode that ARMS offers, allowing players to test out the controls, meet the characters, and take up ARMS against opponents around the world. Naturally I came out of the Testpunch with some pretty strong impressions of what I think about the game. So today I’m going to go into detail about my thoughts on the game, and whether or not I think it will be worth picking up when it releases.
The first thing that happens in the Global Testpunch is that you are treated to a tutorial of the controls. This game can actually be controlled in a few different ways. Of course, the method with the most press is the motion control. Holding the Joy-Con controllers in the unique “thumbs-up grip,” you literally punch your way to victory and curve your hands in order to send your ARMS flying in the intended direction. Movement happens by tilting your Joy-Cons in the same direction, blocking occurs when you tilt them towards each other, and things like jumping, dashing, and your rush attack are activated by button presses.
The motion controls of ARMS are pretty smooth, and I didn’t have any issues with them from a strictly technical perspective. They worked well without any of the issues seen with motion controls in the Wii era like needing to re-calibrate. However, I did have issues with the motion controls in the sense that I felt super clunky playing with them. This, I believe, is not necessarily a fault of the motion controls themselves. I think it has more to do with my skill level and how I like to game.
I’m a physically awkward person with zero athletic potential and poor reflexes. I often describe myself as “methodical” when it comes to physical activity, which is a nice way of calling myself slow. When playing with motion controls, my characters punched slowly, awkwardly stumbled around the arena, and never could seem to angle their ARMS correctly. When I played with motion controls, I wasn’t having fun because I never felt like a cool warrior in a tournament with high-tech hands and stretchy arms – I felt like me flailing stupidly in my living room, complete with flashbacks to teasing in gym class.
Once I picked up the button controls, things changed. I assumed that the button controls would feel “lesser” somehow, that playing the game with this obvious handicap would prevent me from being able to compete on the same level as someone who is an expert with the motion controls. And maybe that really is how it is. But the button controls feel good, and more importantly for me I felt good when I played with a controller in my hand. The control stick allowed me to move fluidly around the arena and to aim my punches with a lot more precision. Having buttons to press rather than thrusting my arms helped me to associate a specific weapon with a specific button press and fight smarter. And I went from losing every single match to being able to compete a little bit.
I can easily see competitive ARMS creating this sort of divisive internet community. There will absolutely be a sect of elitist ARMS players who believe the only true way to be good at the game is to be good at the motion controls. But every fandom has some kind of elitist faction, and at the end of the day I am really glad that ARMS is a game that can be played with a controller if you want to. If nothing else, it at least allows people like me to join in on the fun and experience a game that would otherwise be off-putting.
The full game of ARMS will have ten different confirmed playable characters (last I heard, folks disagree on whether the rumored eleventh slot is for another playable character or for a random character select button). The first weekend of the Testpunch allowed players to experience seven of those characters – the second weekend added an eighth, as popular demand earned Twintelle a spot on the demo roster. The playable characters were Spring Man, Ribbon Girl, Ninjara, Master Mummy, Min Min, Mechanica, Helix, and Twintelle. Left out were Kid Cobra and Byte and Barq.
Spring Man felt pretty vanilla to me, which I guess makes sense as he is kind of the “everyman” of the game. His ability to have permanently-charged punches at low health is certainly a struggle to fight against but not gamebreaking. His signature ARMS are somewhat boring and didn’t feel all that powerful to me – the Fire attribute was not one that I felt added much to the strategy of the game, and Spring Man boasts a lot of fire.
Ribbon Girl was my preferred character during the first weekend of the Testpunch. I really enjoy her mobility and the combos it can open up. Being able to jump in midair and therefore stay airborne for longer felt pretty great, and I loved her ability to suddenly dive down to the ground. Because her fists are charged when she lands, I’d often use that technique to approach enemies and then hit them with a devastating one-two combo, paralyzing them with the Sparky and then sending them to the ground with the Slapamander. I didn’t care much for the Popper and couldn’t quite figure out how to use it properly.
Ninjara was my “second” character during the first weekend of the Testpunch. I like his ability to warp out of a guard or warp through the air – being able to move around without also being vulnerable is a very useful ability. When facing Ninjara, I always had a hard time nailing him down because I couldn’t catch him mid-jump. I wasn’t super fond of his ARMS, but I honestly didn’t grasp how to properly use the Buff until the second weekend of the Testpunch. I preferred to charge my ARMS while guarding, jumping, or dashing, but those techniques only charge the attribute – they don’t cause the Buff to grow. Because I never just stood still and charged up to buff up the Buff, I didn’t get maximum usage out of it.
Master Mummy wasn’t a character I excelled as. I enjoyed his super armor – the ability to continue moving and fighting without staggering from light punches is really helpful. Master Mummy also heals when guarding – luckily, the rate of healing is slow enough that it doesn’t break the game. It’s also very easy to punish fighters who overuse the guard ability. Master Mummy has some pretty decent ARMS, although I was never able to get a hang of the Phoenix. He’s a tough one to fight because his attacks deal a ton of damage and his no-flinch protection makes it difficult to stop him in his tracks.
Min Min is a fan favorite and one of the two characters I found myself preferring after the second weekend of the Testpunch. When dashing during a jump, she kicks punches away from herself, which is a great protective ability. But her real selling point is her left arm’s dragon form, keeping her left ARM fully charged at all times. This works incredibly well with her Megawatt, which hits hard and shocks the enemy to leave them vulnerable to a follow-up attack. I had trouble with Min Min at first simply because I didn’t understand how to form her dragon arm – once I mastered that and learned the benefits, I began to understand why so many players enjoy using her. The change from motion controls to button controls also helped – I found her Dragon weapon very difficult to use with motion controls, but aiming with the control stick is pretty simple.
Mechanica ended up becoming my favorite character to use by the end of the Testpunch. She’s got a powerful combination of great abilities and great ARMS. Her hover ability is useful and I love that it charges up her punches, making it easy to hover out of harm’s way and then deliver a crushing blow. And having super armor that prevents her from flinching allows her to tank weaker blows and then deliver a devastating counterattack. All three of her ARMS have value, though I mainly prefer the Revolver and the Whammie. The revolver’s multi-hit technique combined with its ability to shock the opponent makes it my favorite weapon in the game so far, and being able to follow that up with a devastating blow from the whammie is totally awesome.
Helix was easily my worst character in the game. This was a huge disappointment for me as, going in, Helix was the character I wanted to be good as. However, where Spring Man was too vanilla for my style, Helix was too quirky. I never quite got the hang of his ability to stretch or shrink, and while I experienced the power of the Guardian/Blorb combo firsthand against skilled Helix players, I could never command it effectively myself. Helix is the kind of character that I will both never be able to play as and will always struggle against – my hope is that with practice and a different set of ARMS, I might be able to make him work for me.
Finally, Twintelle became playable the second weekend. I used her pretty sparingly because it didn’t take me long to discover that I am pretty bad as her. I couldn’t quite figure out how to make her time-slowing power work for me, the momentary delay on her Parasol ARM didn’t mesh with my style, and I will always and forever be bad at using the bird ARMS. I still love her design, though – she brings some diversity to the cast and the fact that she fights with her pigtails is totally awesome. Now if only we can get a character who has stretchy legs…
The Testpunch allowed players to experience one specific way to play ARMS – the party mode. Party mode puts a group of people into a lobby where they play a variety of different minigames against one another. This can be anything from a classic 1v1 match to sports games like volleyball or something completely different like the Skillshot challenge. Playing different modes with a different number of players gave a lot of variety during the hour-long segments.
As the meat of the game, 1v1 fights were consistently the best part of the experience, and I often wished I was having more of them. However, the other minigames can be fun too and they create a nice break from fighting. Of course, fights aren’t just 1v1 either – team battles pit two pairs of fighters against each other and teammates are literally attached by a tether. This was an interesting way to handle team play but it can definitely be frustrating. What I particularly hated were three player matches, as these basically boiled down to mob mentality – two people brutally murdered one player and then turned on each other. This was a frustrating way to play and I rarely had a good time in a 1v1v1 battle even if I managed to be the guy who won.
V-Ball and Hoops bring sports into the mix. The former plays pretty similarly to its real-life counterpart, except you are allowed to touch the net, hit the ball multiple times by yourself, and even to hit the ball when it’s on the other side of the net. Also, the ball explodes. That’s a bit different. Hoops takes the ball out of the equation entirely and instead your mission is to dunk your opponent into the basketball goal. This is pretty satisfying and requires a weird sort of strategy, focusing on grabbing and dodging grabs rather than punching the snot out of each other.
Skillshot brings something different to the table. In this mode, players compete by punching through targets towards each other. Each broken target scores points and each blow on the opponent scores points, and the goal at the end of the match is to be the player with the most points. I really enjoyed Skillshot – it was probably my favorite mode to play in outside of the classic 1v1 match.
Conversely, my least favorite mode is the Versus Headlok mode. Headlok is a boss character, a robotic head that attaches to the body of another character and controls them. This gives them four extra ARMS for a total of six different attacking limbs. This makes it easy for Headlok to juggle multiple opponents, and three players work together to defeat it. Although this mode is cooperative rather than competitive, I didn’t particularly enjoy working together to fight this monstrosity and the battle felt out-of-place in a mode otherwise devoid of other characters. What the heck is Headlok, anyway? We likely won’t find out until playing the single player Grand Prix.
While I didn’t have equal amounts of fun with every different mode within the party mode, I did think that the variety was nice and it seems like playing Party Mode online is going to be the “main” ARMS experience, at least when it comes to collecting money to spend in the ARM-Getter to get more weapons.
Overall, I found ARMS to be a fun game to play. There are still some questions to be had about the game, though. Will the single player mode hold up and make the game enjoyable as an offline experience? How will competitive 1v1 ranking function, and will that mode require you to use motion controls or allow both types of players to join in? Will Nintendo’s smartphone app allow players in lobbies to communicate verbally, or will the lobbies continue to function as they did in the Testpunch?
If you are thinking of taking up ARMS but maybe didn’t get to experience the Testpunch, I definitely encourage you to give the game a rental and see if it’s up your alley. The characters are fun and quirky and seem relatively balanced overall. The gameplay is easy to pick up but tricky to master, and there are plenty of game modes to enjoy. I probably won’t spring for ARMS right away, but that’s more due to finances than to the fun of the game – I definitely think after playing it that ARMS is worth your time!