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‘ARMS’ Test Punch Week 1 Reaction

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ARMS is shaping up to be a fun new IP from Nintendo, but between the bright colors and swinging fists, the Week 1 Test Punch leaves a few unanswered questions and concerns.

After several ARMS-centric Nintendo Directs, Nintendo let its fans into the ring to go a few rounds this past weekend with the first of two Test Punches. Out of the gate, there’s a lot to like in Nintendo’s new brawler, and The Big N is working hard to convince us that it’s going to be the next Splatoon. But while ARMS is looking like a shiny and fun experience, time will be the true test of whether or not it has the staying power of a solid competitive fighting game with depth.

The polish that Nintendo fans have come to revel in was on full display with this welcome online demo. A vibrant color palette pairs with wonderfully wacky character designs and a set of mechanics unlike anything we’ve experienced, all running smoothly in both TV and handheld modes.  There are shades of old brawlers like Power Stone in here, with nods to both Splatoon and Overwatch, but ARMS is very much its own property. All of which takes place in well-designed stages that themselves were crafted to have an effect on each battle. So, yeah, it looks good. But how does it play?

Some of the biggest questions I have around ARMS stem from its varied potential control schemes. I immediately jumped into the prescribed and much-trumpeted method, the so-called ‘thumbs up’ motion controls. In ‘thumbs up’ mode, a Joy Con is held in each hand vertically for jabs, with tilts for moving and blocking and some button presses for a jump, dash, and rush. It’s a lot, but it’s surprisingly intuitive. As I began to throw and curve some punches and strafe around, it was apparent that ARMS does indeed excel well beyond being a glorified version of Wii Boxing. The mechanic works, and it works pretty well. That said, I did experience a few unintentional punches, and felt as though some weren’t thrown when they ought to have been. This could be chalked up to inexperience, or it could be part of the game while playing with motion controls.

I also gave ARMS a go with the Joy Cons attached to my Switch in handheld mode. Personally, a game’s functionality in handheld is important to me for The Switch – much to the chagrin of my fellow New York commuter, I play with this little beauty on the go a lot. Once again, things worked relatively well, particularly when I realized I could use ZL and ZR to punch (an idea that is inexplicably not offered in the colorful instructions). But where punches were more reliably thrown, it was now more difficult to curve them. In motion controls this can done by physically turning the Joy Cons, here you have to do it with the stick, and it feels like a bit of an awkward sacrifice.

NintendoSwitch_ARMS_Presentation2017_scrn03.0

For me, neither control scheme felt perfect, and neither felt broken. Perhaps we can hope that the experience will come to mirror that of the Switch itself, where neither handheld nor TV is perfect, but the sum total is something great?

The online on display worked very efficiently, arguably moreso than that of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. I was matched up with no problems, no lag, and no dropped games. The online demo ran strictly in Party Mode, swapping you from gang matches, small games of ARMS-style volleyball, and one-on-one matches. Larger gang battles are exhilarating but overwhelming, where it feels like much of the overall strategy is sacrificed for enjoyable chaos. Thus far volleyball feels like a bit of a throwaway if an amusing diversion. The real meat and potatoes are where they belong, with the compelling one-on-one battles. Here, it was already feeling apparent that strategy comes first, and patience and thought can pan out. The other additions are welcome, assuming we’ll be able to choose to simply play one-on-one matches online once the full game is released.

Controls and online aside, the actual gameplay is intriguing and has a lot of potential, but again begs some long-term questions. In standard fighting game style, there is an elaborate form of rock-paper-scissors taking place between punches, blocks, and throws. This is modified by the subtleties of each fighter, as well as which powered gloves you chose to place on either hand of any given fighter. These three variables amount to quite a lot of potential strategic variation. With so little time in the ring, it’s hard to say whether or not this will pan out as a vast and subtle system of strategy or a game of glove roulette, but with the little time I had, each small change definitely felt like it made a difference, and the fighters all play with unique weights, speeds, and specials. It was definitely a blast to try out the different combinations, and I could see getting really into tweaking until I found my perfect combos and preferred set-ups.

There’s a lot to commend here from Nintendo. They’re clearly trying something new, they’ve done a beautiful job with the presentation, and they’re working hard to get us on board. Unfortunately, without more time, it’s hard to say whether or not we have a deep and well-executed game that does for fighting games what Splatoon did for shooters, or if we just have a fun little diversion with slightly wonky controls.

In the end, I got to experience several really exciting fights and a few frustrating moments. When the stars aligned and I was feeling like I was understanding the rhythm of the game, the bouts were undeniably exhilarating.

Despite my questions and concerns, the Test Punch left me wanting more, and I’ll be ready for it next weekend. I hope that it’s a matter of time and experience that will allow me to embrace one of the control schemes as my go-to, and that the implied strategic nuance bears fruit.

For now, I’m ready to stretch those arms and get back in the ring.

Marty has a new book, Retro Games! Forty of the world's mightiest old school games from the NES through The Playstation. Marty is an artist, writer, teacher, and maker living in Brooklyn, NY, best known for making sock puppets and taking their pictures. He's written four other books, made lots of art, and made even more sandwiches. He loves writing about video games and pop culture almost as much as he loves digesting them. Yum!

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Patrick

    May 30, 2017 at 3:38 pm

    As someone who isn’t big on fighting games, I was hoping that ARMS would find the same sort of innovation that had me so addicted to Splatoon (despite not being a huge online shooter fan either), but after about 10 minutes I’d had enough of the demo. I thought everything worked well enough, the basic tactics were understandable, and nothing felt overwhelming, but it turns out ARMS is just another fighting game. For those who like the genre, that’s obviously great, and hopefully it turns out to have enough content and depth for them. For me, the magic simply wasn’t there.

    • Marty Allen

      May 30, 2017 at 5:07 pm

      That’s an interesting perspective, Patrick. I’m somewhat of a lapsed fighting game fan, so I’m definitely looking for the depth. But I can see what you mean. For me, Splatoon won me over to a genre I’m not a huge fan of. I’m not sure I can see ARMs doing the same for others.

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Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019

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Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019

Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019Awesome Mixtape Vol. 5

It’s that time once again in which I bring to you my awesome mixtape featuring the best tracks from the best video game soundtracks of the year. Last year, my mixtape featured tracks from Triple-A titles such as Red Dead Redemption 2 and indie darlings like Celeste. In 2017, my picks for best soundtracks included tracks from some of my favorite games including Cuphead, Breath of the Wild and Into the Woods, to name just a few. Well, 2019 has been another banner year for the industry and as always, the games were blessed with an astounding selection of musical scores— some would argue the soundtracks were even better than the actual games at times. As always, it wasn’t easy deciding which songs to include and what to leave out— and as always, I’ve also mixed in some audio clips from various cut scenes while trying to keep it spoiler-free. Feel free to share this link and let me know if you think I’ve missed any great soundtracks in the comments below.

Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019 Playlist

Death Stranding clip
Death Stranding
: Low Roar – “I’ll Keep Coming”
Life Is Strange 2 clip
Life is Strange 2: Seyr – “Colour To Colour”
Life is Strange 2: Jonathan Morali – “Into the Woods”
Life Is Strange 2 clip
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Sayonara Wild Heart”
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Wild Hearts Never Die”
Death Stranding: CHVRCHES – “Death Stranding”
Afterparty clip
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “Title and Credits”
Afterparty: scntfc – “Hades Gonna Hate”
Afterparty: scntfc – “Schoolyard Strangler”
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “The Garden”
Octopath Traveler: Yasunori Nishiki – Main Theme
Octopath Traveler: Yasunori Nishiki – Cyrus the Scholar
Kingdom Hearts 3 clip
Fire Emblem Three Houses clip
Fire Emblem Three Houses: Yuka Tsujiyoko, Hirokazu Tanaka – “Main Theme”
Fire Emblem Three Houses: Yuka Tsujiyoko, Hirokazu Tanaka – “Blue Skies and a Battle”
Devil May Cry 5 clip
Devil May Cry 5: Kota Suzuki – “Urizen Boss Battle Music”
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “The Garden”
FAR: Lone Sails: Joel Schoch – “Colored Engine”
Days Gone: Nathan Whitehead— “Soldier’s Eye”
Death Stranding: Low Roar – “Easy Way Out”
Death Stranding clip
Death Stranding: Low Roar – “Easy Way Out”
Metro Exodus: Alexey Omelchuk – “Main Theme”
Resident Evil 2 Remake clip
Resident Evil 2 Remake: Masami Ueda, Shusaku Uchiyama, Shun Nishigaki – “Mr.X Theme Music (T-103)”
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Begin Again”
Life is Strange 2: Lincoln Grounds, Pat Reyford – “Morning Good Morning”
Life is Strange 2: Sufjan Stevens – “Death With Dignity”
Luigi’s Mansion 3 clip
Luigi’s Mansion 3: Koji Kondo – “Main Theme”
Ape Out: Matt Boch – “Intro”
Deltarune: Toby Fox – “Field of Hopes and Dreams”
Return of the Obra Dinn: Lucas Pope – “Loose Cargo”
“Star Wars: Imperial March” Hip Hop Remix
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order: John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra
Death Stranding: Silent Poets – “Asylum for The Feeling”
Catherine: Full Body: Shoji Meguro – “Tomorrow”
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening: Koji Kondo – “Marin’s Ballad of the Windfish”
Metro Exodus – Alexey Omelchuk: “Teardrops”
Sekiro: Yuka Kitamura – “Ashina Reservoir”
Return of the Obra Dinn: Lucas Pope – “The Doom”
Medley: Eye of Death / Wild Hearts Never Die / Dragon Heart / Clair De Lune

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Game Reviews

‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming

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Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.

New Super Lucky's Tale carnival

In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.

It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.

New Super Lucky's Tale factory

Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.

And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.

New Super Lucky's Tale farm

It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.

No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more. 

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How Do ‘Pokemon Sword and Shield’s’ Max Raid Battles Measure Up?

Max Raid Battles are one of Pokemon Sword and Shield’s premier new features. Do they live up to their full potential? Let’s find out.

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max raid battles

One of the most heavily promoted new features of Pokémon Sword and Shield have been their Max Raid Battles. These gargantuan fights are both a key part of the online experience and likely the first taste most players will get of Dynamaxed Pokémon in-game. So, how’d this take on Pokémon Go’s raid system pan out in the series’ first mainline entry on console?

Well, on the plus side, getting into the thick of a raid is super straightforward. After the opening hour or two, players are introduced to the Wild Area and can access Max Raid Battles straight away by walking up to a pillar of red light on the field. From there you can invite others, challenge the raid with NPCs, and choose which Pokémon you want to use.

Real Friends Raid Together

Playing with friends online, though, is a bit more convoluted. There’s no “Invite Friends” option to be seen. Instead, all social features are handled through the Y-comm (literally accessed by pressing the Y button). It’s here that players can Link Trade, Link Battle, exchange player cards, and more.

After actively connecting to the internet–which has to be done each play session and each time the Switch is put into sleep mode–it’s up to the host of the match to find a portal and send an invitation to everyone. A notification will pop for friends on the side of the screen, and then it’s up to everyone to join the match directly through the Y-comm interface.

If players want real people to fill in any remaining slots (all raids are four-person affairs), they’ll need to join before the room fills up. Setting a Link Code avoids this hassle by creating a room but, unlike Salmon Run in Splatoon 2, only computer players can fill remaining spots after friends finish joining this way.

After some experimenting and fudding about, my buddy and I were able to hop into matches fairly quickly without much issue. Nonetheless, it’s hard to shake the feeling that creating friend lobbies is only such a headache because it had to be tied to the Y-comm. Pair this with the fact that battling while waiting for a friend to create a room can cause the notification not to pop, and getting a group together is a bit more painful than it should be.

Max Raid Battle Rundown

The raids themselves are a surprisingly engaging twist on the classic Pokémon battle formula. Groups of four challengers work together to take on a Dynamaxed raid boss. Each raid boss has a different star rating, and even the 1-star battles are no joke the first few times around. These boss Pokémon are merciless, and regularly one-shot lower leveled ‘mons with ease.

To combat these monstrous foes, one random trainer in every group is granted the ability to Dynamax their chosen Pokémon and lead the charge. The Dynamaxed Pokémon gets the benefit of having extra-powerful moves and increased HP, though it’s rather disappointing that there only seems to be one Max Move per move type (one Grass move, one Dark move, and so on). Each of these has a secondary effect on the battlefield; some trigger sandstorms, others trigger a health regeneration field that heals everyone a bit each turn. Regular moves with type advantages deal a significant chunk of damage, but it’s Max Moves that can truly turn the tide of battle.

If one of the group’s Pokémon faints, that trainer has to sit out for a turn before it automatically gets revived (a smart design choice to keep all trainers actively involved). However, the fainting of each Pokémon triggers the storm above to become more and more vicious. After four faints or ten turns, everyone is booted out of the raid sans rewards.

max raid battles

The Fruits of Victory

Two of the easiest ways to better your odds are 1) Choose a Pokémon with a type advantage going into battle, and 2) Manage who Dynamaxes when. Each trainer’s Dynamax meter grows periodically and, though only one trainer can use it at a time, multiple players can activate it over the course of a raid. It also seems like each raid’s star rating is tied directly to the raid boss’ level, so bringing a generally powerful Pokémon to a lower-level raid is another viable strategy for success.

Aside from the chance to capture the raid boss itself (and some Pokémon are Max Raid Battle-exclusive), winning a raid nets players some very worthwhile rewards. These include everything from EXP candies and berries to nuggets and TMs. It’s not so much of a haul that it hurts the overall balance of the game, but there’s enough to make getting a few friends together and grinding raids for a couple of hours worth it.

max raid battles

Though Max Raid Battles are just a small part of the overall Sword and Shield package, they’ve ended up being a rather fun take on Pokémon’s traditional multiplayer offerings. For as unnecessarily complicated as playing with friends is, there are also a few cool ideas here, like being able to join a raid from anywhere on the map as long as the host is at the raid pillar. There’s some good fun to be had here if you prefer to battle alongside your friends instead of against them.

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