Post Script

Why Arms’ great­est trick is also likely its most di­vi­sive el­e­ment


We can prob­a­bly blame Su­per Mario Galaxy. Wii’s star at­trac­tion was the game that truly in­voked the ire of the more tra­di­tional seg­ment of the gam­ing pop­u­la­tion; for all that the con­sole’s ground-break­ing mo­tion con­trols had broad­ened that au­di­ence, it had done so with games like Wii Sports and Car­ni­val Games – ti­tles built specif­i­cally for those con­trols, and those peo­ple. Wii launch ti­tle The Leg­end Of Zelda: Twi­light Princess was eas­ily for­given, a Game­cube port with Wi­imote con­trols tacked on to give early adopters some­thing more meaty to chew over than the rest of the launch line-up of­fered. But Galaxy? A true main­line Mario game that in­sisted play­ers give a lit­tle flick of the wrist to per­form a spin at­tack, or to ac­cess the star gates that cat­a­pulted them be­tween plan­ets? Sim­ply un­ac­cept­able, ap­par­ently.

For many, that was not the begin­ning of the end of mo­tion con­trols. It was sim­ply the end. Now, if they were to be spo­ken of at all, ‘mo­tion’ would have to be re­placed by ‘wag­gle’, ‘con­trols’ would make way for ‘bull­shit’ and the whole thing would have to be said with a sneer. Or, if you were on the In­ter­net – and you prob­a­bly were, let’s be hon­est – with an eye­roll smi­ley.

It was ab­surd then, and it’s even more ab­surd now. Th­ese days we ac­cept mo­tion in­puts as just an­other way to play, and some­times the best way to con­trol cer­tain games. Where would VR, for in­stance, be with­out them? Rez In­fi­nite would still be in touch­ing dis­tance of per­fect, yes, but games such as Bud­get Cuts or Su­per­hot VR wouldn’t be the same. In­deed, they may not even ex­ist. VR’s re­turn to the fore has been bumpy, but with­out Nin­tendo’s mo­tion-con­trol ground­work, its come­back trail would’ve been even rougher.

Yet Arms, for all its qual­ity, risks re­open­ing old wounds. Here, once again, is a game os­ten­si­bly built for those for whom games are more than a mere pas­time. Fight­ing games are in equal part renowned and feared for their com­plex­ity; Arms, how­ever, does away with a lot of what we ex­pect from a game in this genre. There are no com­plex combo strings to mem­o­rise. In­deed, the Flurry Rush su­per aside, we’re yet to land a combo of more than three hits be­fore an op­po­nent is knocked down. Ev­ery move, in­clud­ing the dam­ag­ing Flurry, can be per­formed with a sin­gle ges­ture or but­ton press.

As such, Arms finds it­self in a dif­fi­cult place. Com­mit­ted fight­ing-game play­ers may see it as too sim­ple. Novices may see a game in a genre that has al­ways baf­fled them. The Galaxy hate mob may – OK, prob­a­bly will – see a sim­pli­fied fight­ing game that’s played with mo­tion con­trols and dis­miss it out of hand as a game that’s com­pro­mised at a con­cep­tual level. We’d love a Nin­tendo-de­vel­oped fight­ing game, they’ll say. But we want a proper one.

In fair­ness, there may be times when you’ll agree with them. Feel­ing a lit­tle over­con­fi­dent af­ter a few suc­cess­ful hours against the AI, we headed on­line – but Ranked matches aren’t avail­able un­til you’ve cleared the sin­gle­player Ar­cade mode at dif­fi­culty level four. Well, fine; we’ve done one through three, so this should be easy enough. Ex­cept it turns out there’s a very good rea­son Nin­tendo has elected to gate off the pun­ish­ing bat­tle­grounds of ranked play in this fash­ion. Level four is a heck of a step up; we strug­gle for an hour so then quit out, suitably chas­tened. We put the Joy-Cons to one side, pick up the Pro con­troller, and try again. It’s still no cake­walk, though it’s a good deal eas­ier – but then again, it should be. We don’t have to think about how to op­er­ate the con­troller in our hands. Mo­tion con­trols are in­tu­itive, yes, but not to the same de­gree as the friendly con­fig­u­ra­tion of sticks and but­tons that we’ve held in our hands for count­less thou­sands of hours over the years. This is why Galaxy be­came a sort of bête noire for the trad-games crowd: its hy­brid of ‘proper’ and mo­tion con­trols added a layer of un­cer­tainty into their play ses­sions. I know the prob­lem, and I know the so­lu­tion. But what’s the thing I need to do with my hands to make it hap­pen?

This is pre­cisely, of course, why mo­tion con­trols ex­ist, and why Wii was such an in­stant suc­cess: be­cause your non-gam­ing rel­a­tive didn’t need to ask you which but­ton to press to make the lit­tle man serve the ball. It’s why Arms is the way it is, too. Nin­tendo hasn’t made a true fight­ing game since the ’80s, be­cause the com­plex­ity and niche ap­peal of the genre don’t chime well with the com­pany’s al­most ob­ses­sive de­sire for its games to feel wel­com­ing and easy to un­der­stand. That it has made some­thing so friendly, yet so deep, with such a ba­sic set of in­puts is re­mark­able, yet it runs the risk of be­ing dis­missed on sight by an el­e­ment of the game-play­ing pub­lic that sees be­ing asked to do any­thing other than twid­dle thumb­sticks and tap but­tons as an af­front.

The dif­fer­ence this time is they don’t have to. Thanks to its host hard­ware’s por­ta­ble na­ture and var­i­ous con­troller con­fig­u­ra­tions, in Arms, mo­tion con­trols are op­tional. For our money they’re prefer­able, even if they’re not op­ti­mal, the joy­ful phys­i­cal­ity of a lo­cal mul­ti­player bout prov­ing more than enough to make up for any frus­tra­tion at the oc­ca­sional botched or mis­read in­put. Per­haps the wider pub­lic will agree. Maybe Arms will, by of­fer­ing both sides of the con­trol di­vide at the same time, be the game that fi­nally re­pairs ges­ture con­trols’ rep­u­ta­tion. If not, it may have to make do with be­ing the Switch’s Su­per Mario Galaxy. That, in fair­ness, is pretty good com­pany to be in.

The Galaxy hate mob may – OK, prob­a­bly will – see a sim­pli­fied fight­ing game that’s played with mo­tion con­trols

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