For the next few days, the ARMS Global Test Punch will allows curious players a chance to try out Nintendo’s upcoming fighting game. The game is a sort of boxing game with one major twist: your fists are attached to elastic arms so you can punch much further than the length of your arm. Being a martial artist myself, ARMS looks to be a natural fit, and it is one of my most anticipated games being released on the Switch.
What drew me in initially about ARMS is the motion controls. You do have the option to play with the JoyCons attached to the JoyCon Grip or to use a Switch Pro controller if you prefer that instead. Since throwing various punches is second nature for me, I decided to dive into the game using the motion controls from the start. While playing like this, the JoyCons are held in your hand with your thumbs facing up and your fingers securing the front of the JoyCon (as seen below). You move your character by tilting the JoyCons one direction in tandem. There are also dash and jump mechanics that factor into gameplay as well. The most exciting thing, I think, is that you throw punches in the game by throwing punches yourself.
These controls seem very simple, but can cause some problems with gamers who also have a background in martial arts, boxing, or other forms of combat art. Firstly, any seasoned fighter (or anyone who’s watched a Bruce Lee movie) knows that the power of your punch comes from rotating your fist before making contact with your target. In the ARMS Global Test Punch, the motion controls require that you move the JoyCon in a completely straight line in order to throw a straight punch. If you rotate your controller during the duration of you punch, it changes where that punch will fly. For example, if you throw a left jab and then rotate your wrist to the right, the punch will change course and cruise to the right. In boxing, the proper way to throw a left jab is to do exactly that. That rotation immediately before making contact is the difference between a gentle tap and a solid hit. This does not translate well for someone who instinctively rotates their arms when they punch thanks to years of conditioning.
It took me a while to pick up on this. Most of the punches I threw ended up flying way off course. How could I ever pick up my black belt again after such a poor showing of the skills I’ve worked for years to master? Even after checking my stance, making sure I was rotating my hips, and checking that I was exhibiting all of my good habits, I still was struggling to hit a nearly stationary target. Once I finally started giving into some bad martial art habits (like not rotating my wrists and leaving my shoulders in place) did I start to see what was wrong. Your arm needs to extend completely straight without rotating anything, a concept that is taboo in most teachings!
Another thing I struggle with in the ARMS Global Test Punch is the character movement. Like I mentioned above, you move your character by tilting the JoyCons in one of the four directions. To be stationary, the JoyCons should be positioned up and down, which means they need to be held right in front of you. Since the game draws from boxing as it’s primary influence, I figured I would play as a boxer. Proper guard for boxing sees your fists held close to your face with your knuckles sitting level (or a little below) your cheekbones. While holding the JoyCons this way, your character is prompted to move backwards by the setup of the motion controls. Since this is such a habitual action for me, after throwing a punch to attack my opponent I would bring the JoyCon back to my face, causing my character to start moving backwards. This left me open to an array of counter attacks from my opponent since my positioning prevented me from blocking and strafing in a fluid fashion. At least this was a much easier habit to break than not rotating my punches. After adjusting my stance to accommodate for the control scheme, my habits still kicked in frequently. In boxing (and most combat focused martial arts) you are taught the importance of bringing your fist back to your face immediately so as to not be cause without guarding the number one area opponents target: your face.
Unfortunately a lot of good martial art habits can be problematic for anyone looking to play competitively in ARMS. I had hoped my experience would give me an edge against my opponents, but it actually turned out to be the opposite. I struggled to get out of the technical fighter mindset, but enjoyed the game immensely when I did.
Regardless of my (mostly half-hearted) objections to the game, the motion controls are insanely fun regardless of how far they lean from the actual techniques of the sports that inspire the game. It enables people without a background in combat arts to enjoy and appreciate a goofier version of something that some of us are very passionate about. I absolutely love that about my time with the ARMS Global Test Punch! I look forward to picking it up on June 16th.
Anyone who is still interested in seeing the game in action (and has a Nintendo Switch) should check out the ARMS Global Test punch while it is still available during the next few days.