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Arms preview: On the One Hand

Back when Nintendo first unveiled the Switch's initial software lineup, there's been one thing people were keeping an eye out for besides the expected first-party franchises. There were people on the lookout for the next Wii Sports, the casual game that would sell people on the capabilities of the console while also being just plain fun. Since that night, the wide assumption was that this game would be Arms, the third-person fighter centered around punching opponents with comically-large extend-o limbs.

When Shacknews went hands-on with Nintendo's brawler, it reinforced the idea of Arms' great potential. However, it's also showing some layers of depth underneath the simplistic concept.

The first thing to note about Arms, as Nintendo's Treehouse staff noted to the press on-hand, is that the game should not be mistaken for Wii Boxing. The idea is not to flail wildly in hope of landing massive combinations, because that's not how Arms works. Rather, the game's combat is laid along a rock-paper-scissors foundation. Punches can be blocked, opponents can be thrown out of blocks, and throws can be thwarted by well-placed punches. Players using motion controls can also angle their punches, while also using the shoulder buttons to dash around the arena. It should be noted that traditional controls for Pro Controller users will also be an option, but the peripheral was not on-hand during this demo to try this out.

Today's Nintendo Direct revealed some new details about Arms, including a trio of new characters: the hoverboard-riding Kid Cobra, the hair-raising Twintelle, and the fighting duo of Barq & Byte. Each of these characters come with their own trio of different default arms, which can be mixed and matched. The full game will allow for any of the game's characters to use any arm and that was when Arms' potential depth started to sink in. The reality is that finding the best combination of character traits and arms is an endeavor that would take much longer than a hands-on press session.

And character traits can come in handy. For example, Twintelle has the ability to bullet time punches by dashing to the side just before impact. Byte doesn't get any such advantage, but he does have his robotic dog Barq that can poke opponents for extra damage. In fact, Barq's strikes were sometimes enough for me to win close matches.

Strategies can also vary depending on the game mode. While most players will stick to the standard 1v1 Versus game, what works there may not necessarily work in other game modes. Playing 2v2 will require some coordination with your partner, particularly because of the twist that partners are tethered together. If one player gets knocked into the air or sent flying to the other side of the stage, there's a good chance that player's partner will also get taken for a ride. Also, certain arms that work in the standard battles will not work as well for one of the game's newly-revealed game modes: Skillshot.

Skillshot mode is a shooting gallery that sees both players standing on opposite sides and trying to take out targets that pop up in the center of the arena. Whoever can take out more targets is in prime position to win, though bonus points can also be earned for combos and also for slapping the opponent around. As noted, certain arms aren't quite meant for this mode. For example, while I was faring well with Helix's ice dragon arms, they proved too plodding for the fast-paced Skillshot. Master Mummy's bulkier arms that covered more ground, however, was an ideal choice.

Then there's Hoops mode, which is a game of half-court basketball where the winner is the first player to reach ten points. However, instead of using an actual basketball, the idea is to shoot your opponent. Using throws near the basket, players can pick up their opponent and literally slam them through the hoop, NBA Jam-style. High-percentage shots from below the rim are encouraged, though three-pointers are also in play. Unleashing your special meter here will pay dividends, because it will often bounce the opponent off the wall and into the hoop for three points. Hoops is a fun diversion, albeit one that can grow tedious, since throws can be difficult to avoid.

Arms' surprising depth becomes evident when presented with the multitude of arm options and it's something that players will soon be able to get a taste of themselves. As also revealed during today's Nintendo Direct, Nintendo is set to launch a Global Test Punch over the course of two weekends.

For those that cannot participate during that time, the wait for Arms is almost over, regardless. Look for Arms to hit Nintendo Switch on June 16.

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