Nintendo is unassailable when it comes to fun, but they’ve never been as interested in competition. While developers and publishers alike have been pushing competitive esports-ready games like League of Legends, Overwatch, Street Fighter, and Call of Duty (among many others), the only highly competitive game Nintendo has ever had is Super Smash Bros. Melee — and many of the game mechanics that made it so competitive were glitches. Nintendo has never invested much time or money in online multiplayer, either, so no thriving competitive scenes have sprung up around any of their other games (save for the most recent Super Smash Bros and Splatoon).
ARMS might signal a change. While Nintendo still doesn’t seem to be pushing competitiveness too hard, ARMS has the sort of depth you’d usually find in an esports game. It’s a boxing game from Nintendo, but when you compare it with Wii Boxing, you can see how much Nintendo’s thinking has changed (you can check out about a half hour of gameplay below).
In ARMS, you pick from a variety of fighters with extendable, springy arms (except for one fighter who uses her hair instead). At the end of those arms, each fighter can be equipped with one of three different types of gloves, specific to each fighter — anything from gloves that split into three mini gloves to gloves that launch bird projectiles. You can slip different gloves on each arm, too, giving the game nearly infinite combinations to play around with.
Things are just as interesting in the ring. Using the Joy-Con controllers (you can use the Pro controller, but it’s not nearly as fun), you can move your hands to the left or right to move around. Your fighter can jump, dash, block, and launch punches at your opponent, giving it a true boxing feel. When we played a few rounds, we immediately saw that flailing was not going to be a winning strategy — like in boxing, you need to patiently wait for an opening to slip in jabs or curve long-range punches in from the side. Flicking the controllers forward (using the wrist straps on the Joy-Cons is strongly recommended) to launch punches was a little awkward at first, probably because the game uses a new thumbs-up grip — the Joy-Cons are held with the joysticks and face buttons facing in, with the thumbs on top of the shoulder buttons. Get some reps in, and the controls start to feel tight and precise.
Even the stages themselves add some depth. One stage has parked cars you can use as cover, while another is ringed by trampolines that you can bounce opponents off of to launch merciless combos. Those combos can include flurries — once your special meter is full, you can go into a kind of turbo mode that lets you launch super-fast punches that do loads of damage. But again, you’ll need to be patient — use that special at a bad time, and you’ll waste it and end up getting pummeled instead.
You won’t be able to sit back and keep blocking punches, either. In ARMS, you can grab opponents, and those grabs need to be dodged instead of blocked. Of course, someone launching a slow grab attempt is a perfect time to launch a counter-punch — at this point, you can see why this is far from the usual simplicity of a multiplayer-focused Nintendo game.
ARMS does have a single-player mode pitting you against AI, but it’s more or less practice for the more competitive multiplayer scene. Provided Nintendo can provide a solid online service (still a question mark), the game has all the depth needed to sustain a competitive scene for a long time. Nintendo wants to help sustain it, too — not only have they promised new stages and fighters in the future, they’ve said all of those extras will be available free of charge.
So, when can you play it? Right around now — ARMS became available for the Nintendo Switch yesterday.
Check out more of our E3 2017 coverage right here!