ARMS: My Testpunch Impressions

If you’ve been following my Twitter ranting over the last few days, you probably know what’s coming…

Over the weekend, Nintendo opened up the floodgates and allowed the world to join in its Global Testpunch, a pair of weekends dedicated to showcasing and stress-testing its new ARMS franchise. I’ve made no secret of my ambivalence to the game (fighting games just aren’t my thing), but I wanted to give the game a chance before writing it off, so I dusted off my boxing gloves and went a few rounds with Nintendo’s springy fighter.

The quick version of this post is that while I can see the appeal of the game, I’m not still not all that impressed or enthused. My detailed thoughts can be found below.

  • The stages were a bit more different than I first anticipated, but outside of the smashable pillars in the laboratory arena, they still felt pretty similar. Unlike Splatoon, where you were encouraged to explore every nook and cranny of the map, the nonstop action of ARMS (unless it was a three-player battle; more on that later), kept your focus on the task at hand and not the scenery.
  • The character designs were pretty cool, but it felt like the weapon choices differentiated them more than their special abilities. The difference between Spring Man and Monster Mummy was less noticeable than the difference between the Slapamander and the Megaton. (Of course, had I been better at the controls, the character differences may have been more apparent.)
  • Speaking of the controls: Using the Joy-Cons in the thumbs-up grip was really awkward at first (I had to keep rotating them to make sure they were facing the right way), and I ended up resorting to Wii-era ‘flicking’ instead of throwing punches. While it felt better with practice, there were a couple of commands that I thought should have been mapped to different buttons. Specifically, I though the dash/jump and special attack triggers should have been switched, and having the targeting button as the Up D-button was a terrible choice (they probably should have improved their auto-targeting controls rather than mapping it to a button). I tried the Joy-Con Grip during my last testpunch round, and while the controls felt more familiar, my performance seemed to suffer.
  • One-on-one battles were straightforward enough (and pretty intense!), but three-player free-for-alls were underwhelming because they encouraged players to hide on the periphery and let the others duke it out, and then swoop in for the kill shots once everyone else was weak. The team battles were better, however, and the tethering mechanic added a neat twist.
  • Volleyball was okay, but it was a bit of a chore. Targeting the ball was a problem, and once a player scored a point, it seemed like they could quickly respond to the serve and go on to score several in succession. Close games were exciting, but they also seemed a bit rare.
  • The network connection seemed pretty solid, with only a few disconnects and only one battle with noticeable lag/teleporting (as if Ninjara needed any more help with that…) The real-time battle updates in the lobby were pretty cool, and the emotes were a nice touch, although I liked the canned phrases of Mario Kart 8 better (generic and inoffensive as they were).

In truth, however, there were two things that sunk this game for me:

  • I had been playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf before my second testpunch round, and I distinctly remember thinking halfway through the round, “You know, I’d like to take another crack at catching a tiger beetle right now…” If a game can’t keep my attention from drifting to a slow-paced life sim, that’s a red flag.
  • My arms and elbows started getting really sore from all the flicking, and as someone who has battled repetitive-motion injuries in the past, any pain like that is a total non-starter.

While some commentators gushed over ARMS so much that I questioned whether we were part of the same testpunch, nothing I saw over the weekend changed my opinion about not buying the game. It’s certainly a unique take on the fighting genre, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if it gained a Splatoon-like level of hype and prominence. I’ll just be watching from the sidelines while it happens.