ARMS

Watch the protégé surpass the master as Dan teaches Vinny the ins and outs of ARMS.

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Giant Bomb Review

71 Comments

Arms Review

3
  • NSW

Nintendo's newest title delivers on tone and fleeting fun, but struggles to sink its hooks in.

It’s been a hell of a year for Nintendo fans. March saw the launch of the Switch, the company’s hottest console in over a decade (and thankfully, one with a gimmick that actually works well). Alongside it, fans were treated to one of the most ambitious and well-received Zelda games of all time. If that weren’t enough, Super Mario Odyssey stole E3 with its bonkers trailer and great demo. Between the Switch’s big launch and Mario’s October release, the summer of 2017 plays host to two of the company’s newest IPs. Splatoon 2 is set to follow up on the surprising success of 2015’s multiplayer-focused title, but not before Arms has a chance to prove that Nintendo can produce another solid new online property.

No Caption Provided

In some of the same ways as Splatoon, it succeeds. Its tone is immediately likable, greeting players with a catchy theme and an inviting art style. Ten fighters are available, including a pulsating blob-man, a robotic beach cop/guard dog duo, and a girl with ramen noodles for arms who can turn one arm into a dragon. They’re some of Nintendo’s weirdest characters in a long time, and that’s counting the children that turn into squids and paint each other.

No matter who you pick, the core components of combat play out the same way. Each character’s arms (or in Twintelle’s case, pigtails) are inexplicably long and springy, allowing for punches that can stretch across the length of large battle arenas. Once a punch has started its flight, it can be curved to adjust to your foe’s movement. If you press both punch buttons, your arms will extend in an attempt to grab them for a throw. Outside of a dash, jump, and block, that’s about it for the basic controls.

Ribbon Girl's mid-air jumps make her one of the more agile characters in the game.
Ribbon Girl's mid-air jumps make her one of the more agile characters in the game.

If that all sounds a bit simple, it’s because it is. Grasping the controls doesn’t take long, but there is a little more depth that becomes apparent as you continue to play. If you hold the dash, jump, or block button for a couple of seconds, your next punch can be charged with a powerful elemental attack. Each character comes with their own special abilities, but the game does a poor job of making this known (you have to dive into a help menu to see their descriptions). Ribbon Girl can perform multiple jumps in mid-air, Min Min can deflect incoming attacks with a spinning kick, and Master Mummy can regain health while blocking. These important traits will help you determine whose playstyle is best for you, so it’s best to jump into the help menu and read up on them as soon as you start playing.

Much of Nintendo’s pre-release footage of the game showcased players with a Joy-Con in each hand, shadow-boxing with motion controls. While this works alright for the most part, it occasionally makes controlling your fighter feel like an awkward Wii game. I greatly preferred using the pro controller, even if it does come with the minor handicap of not being able to curve each arm separately. This also requires you to block by clicking in the left stick, which is less intuitive than several other available buttons. With no option to remap the controls, I did my best to get used to it. Even with its drawbacks, I felt like the pro controller offered me better direct control over my character and attacks than the imprecise motion controls.

Playing with friends is fun, but it might be hard to keep them invested for more than a few fights.
Playing with friends is fun, but it might be hard to keep them invested for more than a few fights.

Arms come in a variety of types. On top of standard boxing gloves, your fists can be equipped with heat-seeking missiles, party poppers, flying discs, laser-spewing dragon heads, and more. The bigger and heavier they are, the harder it is to counter them (a Megaton ball will pass straight through a counter attempt from a party popper, for example). In addition to their types, most arms also feature an elemental power that can inflict temporary status effects on your enemy. The variation in arms can lead to some interesting strategic opportunities if you notice an opponent relying on a predictable method of attack.

New arms are unlocked via a drip-feed of in-game currency that you’ll earn as you play through the various modes. Rather than using your cash to purchase items outright, you use it to purchase time in a target shooting gallery that rewards you with new arms. As you strike enough targets, gift boxes float across the screen that contain your prizes. These can be arms for any character, but you tend to get more for the character you selected for the shooting gallery. A couple of factors lead to this system feeling underwhelming. For one, it takes a long time to build up enough currency to purchase significant time in the minigame. Also, your prizes are simply other characters’ default arms. It’s not like you’re unlocking or leveling up new arms, you’re just unlocking the ability to use one of Helix’s arms on Spring Man, for instance.

Filling your special meter allows you to unleash a flurry of attacks.
Filling your special meter allows you to unleash a flurry of attacks.

My early bouts in Arms were little more than silly slap fights, featuring me wildly throwing and curving punches. As I played more and started to improve, I found the fights to be more rewarding. Playing through the ten-stage Grand Prix mode on the easiest setting allowed me to breeze through with perfects without any real strategy. Once I started working my way up the difficulty ladder, however, I found it much more necessary to utilize counters, blocks, and my character’s special abilities.

Even with the added depth that’s necessary during higher difficulties and online play, Arms never becomes deep enough to feel as rewarding as a more traditional fighting game. On the other side of the coin, it doesn’t capture the pure chaos of goofier fighters like Power Stone or Super Smash Bros. It exists somewhere in the middle, with a little bit of depth and the occasional interactive environment but not enough of either to really get into a groove.

If the moment-to-moment fighting doesn’t exactly thrill you, then there isn’t much else for you to do in Arms. Bringing in a friend or three can be fun for a bit as you compete in free-for-alls or 2-on-2 battles. Minigames like volleyball and basketball are interspersed throughout the single-player Grand Prix matches and available in multiplayer, but they’re bare-bones distractions at best.

Some stages have light interactivity, such as the bouncy surfaces surrounding Spring Man's stage.
Some stages have light interactivity, such as the bouncy surfaces surrounding Spring Man's stage.

Unlocking other characters’ arms is the only form of progression in the game, as you can’t level anything up or buy new cosmetic gear. Splatoon was criticized by many for its sparse assortment of modes and progression, but its launch offerings seem robust compared to what’s available in Arms.

It’s encouraging to see Nintendo experiment with new IP, especially in these early months of the Switch’s release. That said, Arms doesn’t make the same splash that Splatoon did two years ago. It introduces some great new characters and some entertaining gameplay, but the depth of combat and overall amount of content is lacking. Online play features a ranking system, but ranking up does nothing for you but change a number onscreen and earn you a little bit of currency. I never felt like I was progressing in any meaningful way, and the lure of unlocking new arms for my characters wasn’t strong enough to make me want to dive deeper.

If you play enough Arms, you’re bound to have the occasional thrilling, close-fought bout. These brief moments are fleeting, however, and the game simply doesn’t give you enough reasons to keep coming back.

71 Comments

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BrunoFFS

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BrunoFFS • 

So it didn't have legs after all

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GRIMREEFZ

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GRIMREEFZ • 

Cool. About what I expected.

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Ravelle • 

@brunoffs said:

So it didn't have legs after all

Splatoon didn't either so let's hope they'll keep adding stuff along the way.

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SleepingLesson

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SleepingLesson • 

The real question was "Does Arms have butts?" and the answer is yes.

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Ohnonono

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Ohnonono • 

I have been having great fun with this game. I do wish it had more content, but I love the online.

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Humanity

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Humanity  Online • 

@brunoffs said:

So it didn't have legs after all

I swear each time they mention this game all I can think about is that pun.

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Solh0und

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Solh0und • 

Should've spent more time on Arm day.

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sodapop7

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sodapop7 • 

They proved they could do the steady release of content with Splatoon that kept me playing for quite a while. I don't see why they can't do it with this too and hope they do!

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Onemanarmyy

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Edited By Onemanarmyy • 

Seems about what i expected. I caught a stream of this a few days ago and it seemed to be somewhat fun to make boxing motions in a game, but after that novelty wears off, i don't know if i would keep playing.

It might have been the stream quality but i thought the game also didn't really.. 'pop out' as much as Splatoon. While the characters are a similar brand of goofiness, the game looked a bit flat to me. Not as colourful neither. But i guess the map plays a big part in that. The upper screenshot looks kinda drab while the bottom screenshot looks more what i want it to be.

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Homelessbird

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Homelessbird • 

Yeah, I can't say I disagree with anything particular in this review, but I still would personally score it higher. It does have a little more depth than I think Dan uncovered - stuff like last minute dodging blocking punches. At the end of the day, though, it's a fighting game, and if you don't feel rewarded by playing it and increasing in skill, it's not gonna be for you, and we already know Dan isn't a big fighting guy.

I'll be interested in what Jason, Jeff, and Ben think of it

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ToySoldier83

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Silellak

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Silellak • 

@ohnonono: same. I've been loving my time with it, but also understand a 3-star review. It's not for everyone, but if it IS for you, MAN does it sink it's teeth in. I haven't been able to stop playing, which is sad, because I REALLY want to finish Horizon.

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ripelivejam

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Edited By ripelivejam • 

I'm loving the core gameplay loop, and Nintendo's promising added content so I'm not too worried on that front. It seems to have about the same amount of content as your average fighting game, anyway. I also keep forgetting Splatoon had a campaign; maybe I should play it someday,

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GERALTITUDE

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GERALTITUDE • 

"If the moment-to-moment fighting doesn’t exactly thrill you, then there isn’t much else for you to do in Arms."

- Daniel Ryckert

This seems like the most important part of this review, and really most every review pertaining to multiplayer focused games.

If you don't like the meat & potatoes - nay, if you don't love the meat and potatoes - no amount of side dish will really tide you over.

Curious to see how this one lands in the community...

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paledragon64

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paledragon64 • 

Three stars seems about right. It seems like a fun and well-made game, but when it comes down to it, I'm saving my money for Splatoon 2. Hope it's successful enough to warrant more content put into the game and potentially a sequel!

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suprst4r

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Phoenix87

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Phoenix87 • 

So, there's barely anything out for the switch. Besides Arms (which is just ok imo) nintendo released nothing at E3. No surprise sweet new games, no virtual console. So I'm pretty disappointed. Arms can not carry the switch, but yet its the "big" new release. The switch needs more games.

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puppymehard

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Boniti

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Boniti • 

Gotta say, I'm really enjoying it. While it may be light in actual content, I think the fighting has a lot more depth than Dan is giving it credit for. There are a total of 30 different arm types, and the combos you can create with these get really cool. It reminds me a little of MK10's loadout thing, where each character had three different play styles, except this provides way more customization. For example, I've recently been using one electric arm that curves a lot with a very light, noncurving fire arm, which means I can combo a stun straight into a higher damage hit.
I also feel like this game has a huge concept of risk vs. reward, more than most fighting games, cause your maneuverability and blocking ability is vary different depending on how many arms you have out. Often times, throwing both arms at once or in rapid succession can trap the opponent into a guaranteed hit, but if you miss you're pretty much guaranteed to get combo'd on. Lots of cool stuff.

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BrunoFFS

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Rincewind

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Rincewind • 

Which fighter has Fidget Spinner hands.

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suprst4r

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Edited By suprst4r • 

@brunoffs: yeah I mean someone was going to do it, you might as well do it

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Lionsy

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Lionsy • 

You've put into words why I was so unsure about if I wanted to purchase this for my starved-of-games Switch - This is the first game I've wanted that I've said to myself "You know what, I'm going to wait and watch the quicklook first, see what I think of it after that" but I've realised I only wanted it because I don't have any other games to play on my Switch :(

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Gaff

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Gaff • 

@sleepinglesson: Come on, it's bad enough that the Nintendo Switch is abbreviated to NS(f)W but no need to go there!

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Captain_Insano • 

"Nintendo's newest title delivers on tone and fleeting fun, but struggles to sink its hooks in."

That's a pretty great byline.

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Sunjammer • 

"imprecise motion controls" This always rubs me the wrong way. Sticks are one of the least precise control mechanisms in control-town, with a single floating point of precision spread across tiny travel. As a developer the amount of massage you have to put on stick controls to make them feel right is huge, they're that bad. The fact that you aren't used to using wrist twist (with more travel and thus MORE precision) instead of sticks is on you, not the control mechanism.

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oldenglishc

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oldenglishc • 

That darn Dan is such a Nintendo shill.

My five year old son is in love with this game. I'm a little worried about how much he seems to enjoy virtually punching his dad in the face.

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BabyChooChoo

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Pilzi • 

Always nice to see reviews on the site. Thanks Dan!

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WynnDuffy

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matthewgm

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matthewgm • 

This isn't the first time it's happened to me, but I saw the "NSW" and assumed it meant "NSFW"

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Vinicius_Alves

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Vinicius_Alves • 

I'm having tons of fun with Arms. Every day I play like 20 fights on Party mode. The variety of modes keep it fresh while you play online lag-free (I wish Super Bomberman R could do that). There's also ranked matches for people who just want regular fights.

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ripelivejam

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ripelivejam • 

Maybe if this game had Kung Jim in it. Alas...

(Good review, Dan. I see where you're coming from even if I don't necessarily agree.)

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xbob42

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Edited By xbob42 • 

"imprecise motion controls" This always rubs me the wrong way. Sticks are one of the least precise control mechanisms in control-town, with a single floating point of precision spread across tiny travel. As a developer the amount of massage you have to put on stick controls to make them feel right is huge, they're that bad. The fact that you aren't used to using wrist twist (with more travel and thus MORE precision) instead of sticks is on you, not the control mechanism.

Yeah, that stuff always cracks me up. I have no interest in Arms here, but Dan also seemed convinced that Splatoon of all things played better with the motion aiming off.... it's like, no, it's faster and more precise, and they even limited it to aiming up and down so you weren't wildly flailing your gamepad everywhere, it was just to help your vertical aiming. But nope, people swore it was horrible.

People are very used to their terrible controls. They assume they're accurate because these games, for decades now, have been putting soooo much auto-aim in them and fudging it in their favor for so long, that people are actually convinced they're good.

Sticks are great if you're just walking around, but not for much else.

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Mars

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Mars • 

I'm absolutely loving this game. It's currently a little light on content, but what's there is amazing. It is probably the best motion controlled game since Wii Bowling and my preferred method of play.

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Chicken008

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Edited By Chicken008 • 

Seems like going the Splatoon route was a detriment.

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danryckert

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danryckert  Staff • 

@xbob42 said:

Yeah, that stuff always cracks me up. I have no interest in Arms here, but Dan also seemed convinced that Splatoon of all things played better with the motion aiming off.... it's like, no, it's faster and more precise, and they even limited it to aiming up and down so you weren't wildly flailing your gamepad everywhere, it was just to help your vertical aiming. But nope, people swore it was horrible.

I've been adamant about how much better the motion controls in Splatoon are on tons of podcasts and videos.

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Scylo • 

I feel like each control method has trade offs. Motion controls it's less precise with dodging, and then the individual curving thing on the regular controllers (although I think as a player improves, this becomes less of an issue as you're spamming punches less.)

I've been having fun with the game, but I don't know if I'll still be playing it this time next week.

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Quantris

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Quantris • 

Each character comes with their own special abilities, but the game does a poor job of making this known (you have to dive into a help menu to see their descriptions).

Hmm, except for the part where this stuff is repeated ad nauseum before every fight (maybe it wasn't part of the build Dan reviewed?)

So far I think it's pretty solid for a fighter with some interesting technical play: it definitely benefits from the rareness of VirtualOn-style mechanics, and the effective use of charge moves feels fun to try to master. Wouldn't mind a more traditional training mode, though what's there is a bit more than bare minimum at least. I'm...not very good at it, yet.

For me it's four stars, with the hope of prolonged support making that closer to five. They did a really good job making the characters both interesting and distinct-feeling. Currently splitting my Switch time between this and Disgaea 5.

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damnboyadvance

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damnboyadvance • 

Seems appropriate that a game with a shallow name like "Arms" would be missing a deep level of gameplay.

I appreciate the reviews Giant Bomb posts. The quick looks are great for seeing the game in action, but it's also good to get these guys' overall opinion on games, which I feel are communicated best by a written review. Thank you, Dan.

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forteexe21

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Edited By forteexe21 • 

This seems pretty much what i expected from Dan seeing how he plays fighting games and his thoughts on more fighting games in general.

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der_hollander

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der_hollander • 

@xbob42 said:
@sunjammer said:

"imprecise motion controls" This always rubs me the wrong way. Sticks are one of the least precise control mechanisms in control-town, with a single floating point of precision spread across tiny travel. As a developer the amount of massage you have to put on stick controls to make them feel right is huge, they're that bad. The fact that you aren't used to using wrist twist (with more travel and thus MORE precision) instead of sticks is on you, not the control mechanism.

Yeah, that stuff always cracks me up. I have no interest in Arms here, but Dan also seemed convinced that Splatoon of all things played better with the motion aiming off.... it's like, no, it's faster and more precise, and they even limited it to aiming up and down so you weren't wildly flailing your gamepad everywhere, it was just to help your vertical aiming. But nope, people swore it was horrible.

People are very used to their terrible controls. They assume they're accurate because these games, for decades now, have been putting soooo much auto-aim in them and fudging it in their favor for so long, that people are actually convinced they're good.

Sticks are great if you're just walking around, but not for much else.

Motion controls will always be the Once and Future Gimmick for anything non-VR (which in and of itself is a gimmick, with the exception of about 2 titles) for a few reasons.

Firstly, unless you are making the Holodeck pipedream, the idea of making controls more immersive by having the game interpret your imperfect, wobbly meatsack motions into something a game with very specific rules, animations and timing is a joke. Forgetting even the mess of calibration and acceptable value ranges for interpreting motion as an input (and mind you, the VR setups have to make use of multiple sensors just to even approach something resembling tactile precision), there's also the addition of input lag, because motion controls are in fact, the antithesis of what the controller is even for.

The whole concept of a controller is meant as a translator and interpreter to get the electrochemical signals from your brain created as a reaction to the stimulus received and perceived by said cranial pudding, and communicate those signals you perceive as "will" to the digital logic of your media of choice with as little lag and error as possible, thereby establishing the illusion of immersion that is unique to the media, and arguably regarded most important above all things. If it controls like garbage, then why play it, right?

Adding in motion controls stacks a level of uncertainty of input, adding an entire extra dimension of motion with no established zero point (you can't go back to neutral). On top of that, there's the issue of stacking meatsack lag onto your inputs in addition to wireless controller latency and animation frames to complete the input you registered, meaning that on a really good day, your input alone will double the amount of frame time it takes to complete a move, which in this case of a fighting game, is competitive suicide.

Good Control Design means that the player doesn't have to think about these things. It means that a player forgets the input device is even there, subconsciously maneuvering very small appendages a minute distance at much greater speeds than slogging their bigger, flabby appendages whilst also having to remember where neutral is because you can't just let go of the stick. Is a regular controller perfect? No, Auto-Aim exists as a secondary translator, working to read what the player meant to do and translating that into something that feels good.

TL:DR, Motion Controls only work for VR, and if you're so hung up about analog sticks, then get M+KB.

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MissAshley

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Edited By MissAshley • 

It's definitely the kind of game that does one thing very well, but only one thing. At the same time, I'm not sure how much more can be added to it without either making the game too complicated for motion controls or forcing the engine to do things it wasn't really designed to do.

Having more Arms to collect than other character's defaults would be nice, though. In Splatoon, I looked forward to seeing what fresh new clothes and weapons I could get. As ARMS is now, everything the game has to show is right up front.

Then again, the same can be said for other fighting games. Then again again, other fighting games have deeper systems. Then again again again, the systems in ARMS do have enough meat on them to make working out viable loadouts and tactics fulfilling.

I don't know. I like punchin' dudes, and this game lets me punch dudes. It doesn't have me hankering to let me punch dudes as often as I'd like, however, and I don't know why.

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quickbunnie

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quickbunnie • 

@sunjammer: sticks may have to deal with limited travel, but motion controls are generally even more limited. Internal motion sensors produce a lot of data noise even while held still, so the normalization data smoothing algorithms need time to recognize what is motion and what is not. The Wii/joycon sensors are also not very 1:1 in terms of reproducibility - exacerbated by high velocity and large displacement motions. There are precise motion controls in the works, such as the oculus touch controllers, using several light sensors that is nearly 1:1 position data with as little lag as they can muster. But that isn't what is being referred to when motion controls are categorized as imprecise.

But even more so from a big picture perspective, as organic beings, we will rarely be able to do the exact same motion twice. Thus digital controls will always feel more reproducable - and in common vernacular, precise.

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soulcake

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soulcake • 

Dan giving a Nintendo game 3 starts that's impossible ! :P

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Skyzard

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Edited By Skyzard • 

That's a shame, it looked quite cool.

I wish Nintendo would spend more time adding content to their games before release, seems to be a trend for them to release quite barebones these days with more added via DLC. Always seem to be late starting on projects.

Was hoping for an awesome single player experience that'd feel like a modern punchout in a way. Or maybe powerstone. They got the art style right at least.

Ah well, loads of fighters are out and coming.

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adulfzen

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adulfzen • 

I think 3 stars is a fair score for Arms especially because of the lack of content but I couldn't disagree more when it comes to the depth because for one it seems way too early to make that call, people are still discovering the game.

Second from my personal experience I've been constantly improving while playing almost only ranked and it feels like there is still a lot to learn. Stuff like arms match-up, guiding your oppopents into your arms, predicting player movement, your arms speed, recovery..

So at the end of the day I still wouldn't recommend the game to people unless they got to try it beforehand and enjoyed the game. Otherwise wait at least six months and see if the dlc they included up to that point makes it worth it. And only time will tell if the game indeed lacks depth ;)

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gbrading

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gbrading • 

This was what I was expecting. Arms would be a great downloadable game but it seems like it's currently trying to be oversold as a full-priced title.