In many ways, the Nintendo Switch feels like an evolution of several disparate concepts it has toyed with over the years, from the Super Gameboy to the Wii. In no piece of software is this kind of iterative evolution more apparent than Arms, which looks and plays like a Wii Sports Boxing sequel that was shelved for years and then fell into the lap of the Splatoon team.
The Wii Sports Boxing DNA is clearly evident right from the start. Holding a Joy-Con in both hands, the player physically punches the air with each hand, and the matching arm flies in the game. In a minor but unmistakably improved tweak, twisting your fist as you deliver a punch makes the arm curve at an angle, which adds a wrinkle of strategy as well as rewards you for following through on your real-life punches.
(Nintendo has since clarified that you can play with a Pro controller without using the motion controls, but honestly, what would be the point of that? I remain open to being convinced, but this feels like a motion-controlled game first and foremost, and based on my limited experience, button-based controls would likely to sap the fun out of it.)
Artistically it's a clear visual descendent of Splatoon, which sported more elongated faces and almond-shaped eyes than Nintendo's usual style, usually with inky domino masks and splashed with neon and sheen. Arms takes this aesthetic and ages it a few years. It looks like the sport that Squid Kids would watch in their off-time, combining the bright and bubbly anime influence with its otherworldly strangeness. Like kids with cephalopods for hair, the denizens of this world have some variation of springs for arms.
The Splatoon influence doesn't begin and end with mere aesthetics, though. The 2015 surprise hit also showed a purity of design, building a complex and deep sports-like experience around simple mechanics. The depth came from how the dueling factions, both equipped with equally straightforward goal, clashed and improvised.
Arms carries that philosophy into a 1-on-1 competition. The mechanics themselves aren't terribly deep–just a combination of juking, dashing, and punching. But the punches were responsive enough that when going head-to-head, the game gets surprisingly complex. It's a game of fake-outs and feints, dodges and distance. The ability to swap out weapons on each arm, mixing and matching as you please, is likely to add that much more strategy.
I suspect that Arms won't have quite the longevity of Splatoon. Team sports add extra layers by sheer numbers, so this is more limited as a matter of course. Regardless, it's an impressive twist on an idea that was introduced but far from perfected on the Wii, and a surprisingly strong part of the launch line-up.
This Arms preview was based on a pre-release demo of the system at an event where refreshments were provided by Nintendo.
Steve Watts posted a new article, Arms is Wii Sports Boxing by Way of Splatoon (Hands-On)
Those joycons are a nice size for my tiny doll hands
I swear I wrote a post saying the exact same thing as this article title but of course I can't find it now :(