Why ARMS Controls Are a Punch to the Right Direction

During the last weekend players have been able to get their hands on Nintendo’s newest game, ARMS. At its core it is a fighting game where players throw punches at each other with extendable arms (see the trailer below to see what I’m talking about). One of Nintendo’s big selling points of the game are the motion controls with Switch Joy-Cons. The Joy-Cons are held with a thumbs-up grip and simple punching motions translate to punches in game. What came as a pleasant surprise to many players — the motion controls are actually really good.

ARMS — Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017 Trailer

Why does this matter? It matters because it promises a bright future for alternative control methods for games. If we think motion controls in the past, many of us remember the Wii which popularised these type of controls with the Wii Remote and Nunchuck. What many of us also remember is that even though those controls were fun for a while, they actually were not too great. Back then, the accuracy of motion controls just was not good enough to provide enjoyable gameplay in the long term. Many games offered motion controls as an alternative method (e.g. Mario Kart Wii) but most of players still opted to use classic controller.

This is not the case with ARMS — the motion controls do not feel a hinderance compared to a gamepad. I mean, at all. It feels very natural and intuitive to punch with your own hands. The accuracy of the motion controls is spot on. During the multiple hours I spent playing the ARMS Testpunch sessions I encountered zero situations where I would feel that motion controls were not accurate enough. There has been a lot of discussion about control scheme of choice on Reddit during the weekend. For example, this poll shows that answers are dead even. At the time of writing this blog post, 3306 people have voted; 1671 for motion controls and 1635 for gamepad controls.

Motion Controls or Pro Controller/Grip -poll in Reddit

This is remarkable because it shows game developers that you can create interesting interactions for players with different interaction options. In my last blog post I wrote about how Steam Controller’s interesting input methods can be used to create unique and intuitive interaction methods for the players. Classical game controller has been around so long that I feel it is sometimes restricting the design space game designers could explore without handicapping half of the playerbase.

Don’t get me wrong, motion controls are not “the most intuitive option” for all games in this world. What I’m trying to say it is great that technology is finally catching up and allowing game designers to experiment with these kind of controls and designing games solely for these control methods. The traditional controller is not going anywhere (there is a reason why it has stayed the same for so long), many players enjoy using it and many games are amazing played with a controller. But it cannot be that the same old control scheme is determining what kind of amazing games we will see in the future.

And during waiting for that future, I will be enjoying kicking players’ asses in ARMS with motion controls — without needing to worry whether my opponent is using that overpowered Pro Controller or not.