Ever since the Nintendo Wii, Nintendo has pushed the concept of motion controls to the forefront of its consoles. Arms, Nintendo’s upcoming boxing game, stretches the principles of motion controls to its limits, providing Nintendo with a unique opportunity, or risk, to perfect its decade-long loyalty to motion controls. With the release of the Switch back in March, Arms will be the moment Nintendo can show what its hardware can really do.
The latest Nintendo Direct presentation on May 17 showed new characters, features, and gameplay for Arms. Whilst not surprising us with anything extraordinary, the idea of the game is well rooted, it did give some of the strongest evidence as to what Nintendo was trying to achieve with the Switch. Where 1-2-Switch provided a beginner’s guide to the joy-cons, Arms is the first test of strength for the Switch’s motion controls, not only for the player but for Nintendo itself. If motion controls are going to continue from the Wii’s initial success, then Arms is the game to progress it further.
It’s quite obvious that Nintendo sees a unique opportunity with Arms, hence the continued promotion of it until its release. This has been the second Nintendo Direct presentation in a row which has put Arms as a priority. However, in each presentation, Nintendo has focussed on the characters and new features such as different attributes for the gloves. There’s little more that Nintendo could show about Arms that would change wavering opinions. The concept of Arms was known with the first footage shown, the additional features weren’t going to persuade new fans, only reinforce the original fans of its different approach to boxing. The best opportunity Arms has to persuade the waverers is with its Global Testpunch demo in the eShop on May 26-28.
It isn’t that promoting the additional features of the game is a bad thing, it just doesn’t reveal the spectacle of the motion controls. The character designs are articulate, splashed with personality similar to Splatoon. Each character seems to have a particular focus given to them, giving a unique style to each one. The design theory itself is very clever, stripping down a popular genre and building it back up with an idiosyncratic style, making it accessible to newcomers. And this is clearly what Nintendo is trying to do when they first drew up the concept of Arms, provide an easily accessible game that attracts new players to the idea of motion controls.
What the joy-cons can do is astonishing. With just the joy-cons alone, you can punch, curve punch, block, move, and deal devastating elemental damage. This in itself shows the tactical nuance needed to be successful at Arms. The competitive play is where this game could really excel, with multiplayer modes such as Ranked Match displaying the intentions that Nintendo had. However, this is where games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe knock Arms into second place because of its superior social aspects. Arms requires two joy-cons to get the most out of it, meaning your friends would also need their own set of joy-cons which don’t come cheap. This limits the social ability of the game more than it first appears. Without social interaction, there’s a possibility the game won’t reach certain potential players. This remains a small drawback to a unique strength, and whilst Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will have the advantage of a more accessible social circle, Arms will maintain a unique experience with the motion controls.
Before the release of the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo focussed heavily on its motion controls and social impact. The memorable commercials showed young adults in their 20s and 30s playing socially, a concept often overshadowed by the rise of online gaming. Arms rose from the fire of this rationale, holding a burden no other game on the Switch will. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was always going to succeed, it’s part of one of the most successful franchises to date. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was never going to be green-shelled, and Super Mario Odyssey has a historic fan base that remains loyal, meaning it’s almost a success before it’s even released. Arms has no such fan base yet meaning its success is fully reliant on the capabilities of the motion controls.
This makes Arms the most crucial release for Nintendo this year. Whilst there are bigger names still to be released, none walk into an arena with such a crucial fight to win. Nobody can doubt Nintendo’s commitment to motion controls, a concept with the lifespan of a phoenix. If Arms fails to live up to the hype that Nintendo is stimulating, then the importance of the motion controls on the Switch takes a step backward. Should Arms have a similar success to Splatoon, then Nintendo can finally shake off the Wii U chained around its ankle.