First impressions are always important in video games, as the first trailer of a game can sometimes make or break it before it launches. During the Nintendo Switch presentation a trailer for a futuristic boxing title aired, showing five different characters with massive spring-loaded fists of fury. “Could this be a re-imagining of Punch-Out?” I thought to myself as I watched this strange video play out. Nope, the game is simply called ARMS. Well, if nothing else that’s probably the easiest way to describe what’s going on. I was skeptical after watching the trailer, but having played ARMS for myself I feel a lot better about it.

The demo I played at the Switch event featured five fighters, swirly blue-haired hero Springman, superheroine Ribbon Girl, wrapped-up brute Master Mummy, the lithe Ninjara, and the Tron Bonne-esque Mechanica. Each fighter comes not only with a few special moves --- Mechanica, for example, can temporarily fly around the arena upping her ability to dodge --- but also with a trio of punching “gloves” that could be mixed and matched however I choose. Do I want a more direct punch with Ribbon’s Slapamander (a great name for a punching glove, by the way), or would I be better off with the finger rocket glove? I have some time to answer these questions before I’m thrust into battle against another attendee.


These one-on-one battles take place in enclosed arenas, decided in a best-of-three round format, with each of the two smaller JoyCon controllers serving as each of my hands. A quick extension of my arm sends the corresponding first toward the opponent, with a successful hit making a clear sound and showing how many Hit Points of damage I inflicted. I can curve my punches by turning my hand while extending, giving me a little more range than I originally thought.

I’m not limited to punching though, as throwing both hands at the same time results in an unblockable grab attack that pulls the opponent in for some big damage. After a while my successful attacks fill a small meter which, when activated, give me access to a super flurry attack done by quickly punching in front of me multiple times. Fighters also have some defensive options, like blocking, dashing forward, and sidestepping attacks, but I continually had trouble making those happen. I’m not sure if it was the button placement or if I just wasn’t executing the motion correctly, but an attempt to sidestep ended with me getting smacked in the head more than successfully dodging the move.


That all seems pretty complicated, but the game is way easier to pick up and play that I expected. At its core ARMS is essentially an elaborate game of “rock, paper, scissors,” where knowing the right counters can be the difference between victory and defeat. Customizing my fighter before each round felt like the choices mattered, as the wrong gloves could put me at a huge disadvantage. With the exception of dodging the JoyCons served their purpose well, as punches came out as I instructed and curved when I put the spin on them. Most importantly the rounds I won or lost always felt like I won or lost them, with no technical errors costing me or my opponent a match.

On the surface ARMS looks super weird, a hybrid of Punch-Out and one of those joke extendable boxing gloves from old cartoons, but the idea works pretty well in practice. I do expect the roster of five to increase in the coming months, as well as a larger array of customization options, but I understand Nintendo not revealing everything at once. As long as the dev team can hammer out the dodging issues and make the mobility options a little more responsive, ARMS could become a surprise hit for the Switch in the vein of Splatoon on Wii U. We’ll find out if ARMS will make gamers punchy or punch-drunk this coming Spring.

ARMS is scheduled to launch exclusively on the Nintendo Switch in Spring 2017.