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Arms shows that Nintendo Switch motion controls hold promise

The game might get us loving the waggle again

Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

Arms might be the game to get people back on board with motion controls, years after players burned out on them.

I’ve had the chance to play the game a pair of times now — first in January, when I found it to be one of the most promising titles for the then-unreleased Nintendo Switch; then this past weekend, as part of Armsfirst public beta. Both times, I played only with motion. Both times, I couldn’t imagine playing it any other way.

The predominant control scheme for Arms is motion-based. Players use only the Joy-Con controllers to move, block, punch and grab their opponents in the game’s various modes, which seems daunting at first. Even the Wii, a console based around transforming players’ bodies into controllers, rarely had games that required players to eschew control sticks for movement. How could this possibly work in Arms, with those tiny Joy-Con controllers?

Somehow, I found it to work almost perfectly. Punching and grabbing with the pair of Joy-Con controllers proves why this is an ideal control scheme. Holding them face up, with thumbs resting on the bumpers, I found it natural to start getting right into battles. I worked up a sweat. I jumped around the room. I became an active participant in the game — something I haven’t experienced, and haven’t enjoyed, since Wii Sports.

Arms motion controls
This is how motion controls work in Arms.

What’s better is that Arms doesn’t completely drop the analog buttons and triggers. Jumping is smartly mapped to the right bumper; dashing, to the left. The right trigger is used for performing special attacks, which require filling up a gauge over the course of a battle. These then turn right back into a motion-control punchfest, which is when it felt best to start thrusting my firsts rapidly toward the TV.

It’s not all so intuitive, though. Movement in Arms can feel slower in the motion-based method than when using the traditional analog buttons to play. Guarding and grabbing also take some getting used to, as both use similar motions. Guarding requires turning the Joy-Con in toward each other; grabbing happens when pushing the pair away from your body. I often had trouble getting the Joy-Con to recognize which direction the pair were heading in when moving them at the same time, leading to blocks when I wanted to do grabs and vice-versa.

This was frustrating, but it wasn’t game-ruining. By the end of the hour I played during the “global testpunch” (get it? Ugh) this weekend, I’d mostly gotten the controls down pat. And even with these minor pain points, I never got mad at Arms or wanted to quit in a rage. If I did ever get to that point, there were four other, mostly motion-free control options to choose from, anyway.

This was an issue with 1-2-Switch, whose motion controls were both required and more reminiscent of the unnatural, gimmicky movements prevalent two console generations ago. Arms is more subtle by design; there’s no shaking, no rapid movement, no threat of slinging a controller through the TV. 1-2-Switch is a reminder of what I didn’t love about the Wii; Arms is the opposite.

While the Wii enforced motion controls in games where it didn’t feel appropriate — here’s looking at you, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword — it seems like Nintendo has refined the control scheme. I don’t think I’d want Arms-style controls for Fire Emblem Warriors or anything, but it’s nice to have the choice. And for a game all about punching? I’ll take the waggle gladly.

Arms launches June 16.

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