Nintendo's 'Arms' has all the depth the 'Wii Sports' games lacked

Waggle controls are dead. Long live gesture controls.

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Sean Buckley
Sean Buckley|@seaniccus|May 17, 2017 6:30 PM

For many, the Switch represents the Nintendo's return to form. It's the console that sheds both the name and the gimmicky motion controls that defined the Wii era of gaming. With traditional games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe leading the way, motion controls seem to be all but a thing of the past. Or they did, until Nintendo announced Arms -- a gesture-based boxing game for the Switch that seems to lean heavily on Wii Sports' legacy. It seems like a bizarre step backward, but don't worry: It turns out that Arms isn't repeating the mistakes of the Wii; it's showing how Nintendo has learned from them.

In fact, distancing Arms from Wii Sports Boxing seemed to be the entire point of the game's spring preview event. The company is proud of the game's motion controls but stresses that it's different from the simple waggle mechanic that defined the Wii's minigame showcase. In Arms, the boxers' telescopic limbs can be guided throughout the entire motion of a punch, allowing players to steer an attack as they extend toward the enemy. This means that to be effective, players need to follow through with their attacks, like in real life. It also allows the punches you throw to change direction halfway through their animation -- creating a more nuanced experience than Wii Sports boxing ever could have offered.

Even so, Nintendo is finding the association with the Wii's motion controls hard to shake. "I see this a lot," Nintendo Product Marketing Manager JC Rodrigo told Engadget, mimicking the short wrist-flick motions that defined Wii Sports Boxing. "When it comes to flailing and kind of doing this, your arms take time to leave your body and travel across. If your opponent's moving, and you just flick and don't do anything, your hand will just go wherever." It's most players' first guess at how to play the game, but Rodrigo says it's a tactic that doesn't work. "You will lose. Fast."

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There's a lot more to the game than punching too. Players will need to learn specific gestures to block attacks and execute grabs and will have to master the art of controlling their character's movement by leaning the Joy-Con controllers in just the right direction. It sounds complicated, but after weeks of testing each control scheme, Rodrigo said he's found it to be the most versatile way to play. Even so, it's not the only way to play. "There are button controls," he said. "So there are controls for all different types."

The core of the game is based around one-on-one arm-extending combat, but today Nintendo announced a few additional game modes. All of them play off of the game's boxing mechanics in a slightly different way. Skillshot challenges players to knock down more targets than their opponent in a carnival-style shooting gallery, and the game's Hoops mode only lets players score points by executing a successful grab move on their opponent to slam dunk them into a basketball hoop. There's also a new four-player battle mode called Team Fight that pits two teams against each other while simultaneously handicapping both by tying each player to her teammate. Basically, if your partner gets thrown by an opponent, you do too -- forcing players to work together to succeed.

As our time with Arms wound down, I left feeling a little nostalgic -- not for the Wii Sports Boxing experience Nintendo is worried Arms will be mistaken for but for the original Super Smash Bros. on Nintendo 64. Like Smash, Arms is a lighthearted, competition-focused brawler with endearing characters, unique stages and excellently balanced gameplay. The game is easy to pick up, and it's the perfect local multiplayer experience to share with friends -- but it also seems difficult to master, which may lend it enough complexity to keep competitive gamers engaged. It's this depth that sets it apart from Wii Sports Boxing and what will make the game a worthy addition to the Switch library of those who can see past the superficial similarities of Arms' gesture-based control scheme.

Arms will likely wind up being a game very much like Splatoon -- a fun, imaginative ideal for competitive multiplayer that doesn't completely make sense until you try it for yourself. Fortunately, Nintendo seems to understand this: Nintendo Switch owners will be able to try Arms for free during Global Test Punch events, during the last weekend of May and the first weekend of June. If the free taste gets you hooked, you won't have to wait long for the full game either: Arms launches for Nintendo Switch on June 16th.

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Nintendo's 'Arms' has all the depth the 'Wii Sports' games lacked