Expect Nintendo to face questions about whether it relies too heavily on older characters from its heyday, why it hasn't fully embraced online multiplayer formats and whether it got too caught up in the (sometimes gimmicky) motion-gaming trend it started with the Wii. Nintendo has made some headway counteracting those narratives in the past couple of years, but it needs to show it can keep it up. That makes Arms — Nintendo's completely new multiplayer, motion-controlled game — perhaps the most important Switch launch so far.
Arms is an awful lot of fun. It's essentially a boxing game — but one that gives players cybernetic limbs and the chance to brawl it out in a high-tech arena.
Players put one of the Switch's palm-sized Joy-Con controllers in each hand, which makes the punching motion feel fairly natural. When you punch with your real arms, your character punches on-screen with extendible cybernetic limbs. Depending on how you position your hands, you can curve your punches or block your opponent's attacks.
There is a bit of a learning curve, as players have to use the small buttons on the compact controllers to lunge, jump and charge attacks. It's a lot of thinking to do on your feet — literally, as it's most fun when you play Arms while standing.
You can play with someone else in the room, though they'll also need a pair of Joy-Con controllers and enough room to keep from actually punching you during play. You can also play against friends or strangers via the Internet, making for some very long-distance fights.
Arms seems to address a lot of Nintendo's biggest problems head-on. It succeeds as a new series in that it's engaging without having to rely on the cast of beloved, but well used, Nintendo characters such as Mario, Kirby and Yoshi. That's a promising sign that the success of Splatoon, the last new series Nintendo launched, was not a one-off.
The multiplayer feature is fun, both online and in the room with another player. It was easy to get into matches during the pre-release sessions that Nintendo set up for reviewers. When playing with friends, however, Arms would benefit from voice chat — a feature that's coming to the Switch next year. Even so, the multiplayer matches are smooth and clear of noticeable bugs.
Plus, the motion controls feel smoother and less forced than they did on the Wii, for example. Using motion is optional, and players may feel they have better precision without it. But I found that it subtracted from the playing experience. (Motion is necessary for playing Arms in mobile mode, however, as your airplane seat neighbor probably wouldn't appreciate your swinging fists.)
Arms isn't the game to carry the Switch itself. There are still some hurdles for Nintendo to clear to make the Switch a true success — namely, it needs to court other developers to make games for its more mobile, but less powerful, console. But Arms is a delightful addition to the Switch lineup and shows, perhaps most importantly, that Nintendo has been hearing the concerns of its fans over the years.
Plus, did I mention? It's a lot of fun. That matters, too.