Arms Global Testpunch Impressions: Nintendo’s New Fighter Needs a Helping Hand

After launching their newest console with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and a “Global Testfire” for Splatoon 2, Nintendo gave Switch owners a taste of their first wholly original game this weekend with a “Global Testpunch” for Arms.

Arms is what you get if you take Punch-Out‘s behind-the-back viewpoint and give every character a stretchy extendable set of arms and a pair of superpowered boxing gloves (which are, strangely enough, also known in-game as “Arms”). It’s all very silly, and the gameplay often feels a little wishy-washy, but Nintendo might be able to overcome these flaws and transform Arms into another big hit.

Platforms: Switch
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Genre: Stretchy-Armed Punch-Out
Release Date: June 16, 2017
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+

Players who participated in the “Global Testpunch” were dropped into a lobby and then randomly assigned to one of three match types: Fight, Team Fight, and Volleyball. In Fight, up to four players battle against each other in a free-for-all battle. Naturally then, Team Fight is a two-on-two affair, but Arms adds a tether between both teammates to keep everyone close. And Volleyball is… the sport of volleyball with an exploding ball.

Like Punch-Out, players will be able to perform left jab in Arms with B, while a right is assigned to A. But in this futuristic sport, players can also jump with X, dash with Y, block by pushing in the left analog stick, and attempt to grab their opponent by pressing B and A together. I’m hoping that Nintendo gives us the option to reassign these inputs in the final game, because this setup felt completely unnatural to me, though I was able to muddle through and get used to it. A motion control option is also available, but I didn’t test it out during the “Testpunch.”

Once I overcame my controller woes, Arms started to come together. One-on-one fights are fast, and it is relatively easy to string together combos of rights, lefts, and grabs. I also felt that combat was improved thanks to the decent selection of gloves available. Landing hits with a standard boxing glove felt good, but knocking down opponents with an arcing ninja star on a chain or a triple shot felt even better, and delivering a rapid-fire beatdown after filling the Flurry Meter was my favorite way to end a match.

That said, free-for-alls with three or four players quickly devolved into chaos, and figuring out how to keep track of every player was a chore. A fight where two players are duking it out and a third just pounces in and grabs a few free hits isn’t very fun. I’m sure this part of the game will improve as the community figures out new strategies and tactics, but I wasn’t very impressed with three or four-player fights.

I’m fairly hopeless when it comes to online fighting games, but I couldn’t get it together in Team Fight at all, and I never felt like I was in sync with my partner. Whenever I jumped or dashed using the rather spry Ninjara, it felt like the tether was holding me down because my partner was trying to go in a different direction. But was he? I really have no idea, because the rapid movement from all the players made the action too hard to follow.

But oh man… that [CENSORED] tether. The tether restricted your movement so much that every character seemed to blend together in a swirling neon-coated assault on your eyes. I think it’s very likely that Team Fight will work better as a local mode with everyone in the same room. Copious yelling and vicious smack talk can only improve it, and being able to communicate with your partner will go a long way towards making the action easier to follow.

For Volleyball, whoever gets to the net first and “serves” the ball seems to win the vast majority of the points. Volleyball matches can be over in seconds and I was never happy when it came up in the rotation.

Arms’s one-on-one fighting is excellent, even with the rather poor default control scheme, and Nintendo could easily have another hit on their hands. But there’s an equally good chance that participants in this weekend’s “Global Testpunch” have seen almost everything the game has to offer, and won’t feel any desire to check out the rest of the game’s single-player and multiplayer modes. After putting a few hours into Arms, I feel like I fall into the latter camp. I’ve had my fill, and I’m not sure what the full game can do to change my mind.

But Nintendo has promised that, like Splatoon, additional characters, stages, and gloves will be added to Arms for no extra charge in the weeks and months after it’s release on June 16. Perhaps Nintendo will be able to stretch the premise and turn Arms into their next big franchise.

The Arms “Global Testpunch” will return for a second round this Friday, June 2.

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John Scalzo is Warp Zoned’s Editor-In-Chief and resident retro gaming expert. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at john AT warpzoned DOT com.

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