One Gamer’s Thoughts: ARMS Will Determine the Future of Motion Controls

If you’ve listened to the Nintendo Entertainment Podcast, you know I’ve had a bit of a love affair with ARMS from the minute it was revealed at the Switch event back in January. After playing the game for a couple of weeks, I feel confident saying my enthusiasm wasn’t misplaced. ARMS is a lot of fun, especially when playing with motion controls. It feels strange typing the terms “fun” and “motion controls” in the same sentence, but I actually really enjoy them.

This piece isn’t about my appreciation for them, however. It’s about motion gaming and the role ARMS will play in determining the course of its future.

When the Nintendo Switch was revealed it promised to change the way people played video games in several key ways. The Switch would offer home console experiences on the go, feature several control schemes to enjoy games with, and revitalize the idea of motion controls with the Joy-Cons’ infrared sensors.

So far, the Switch has proven itself to be a very successful marriage of home console and handheld experiences. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild proves the device can play massive games previously only available on home consoles, while Mario Kart 8 Deluxe fulfilled the promise of accessible local multiplayer wherever you go thanks to several controller options.

ARMS sets out to be the first game that delivers on that final promise. Motion controls were included in both Breath of the Wild and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but neither game was built around them. In fact, both games were far better experienced with the Pro-Controller.

While that hardly renders the Joy-Cons irrelevant, it does make you question whether or not Nintendo was smart to pour resources into infrared sensors and HD rumble rather than improving the console’s battery-life or processing power. Both of those games’ success has nothing to do with the additional features packed into the Joy-Cons. With ARMS, Nintendo finally has a chance to sway the court of public opinion back towards enjoying motion gaming and prove that the investment was worth it.

The very idea of ARMS was clearly born from the idea of the Joy-Cons and was meant to showcase their motion features. Go back and watch its reveal again at the Switch event for evidence. Nintendo placed it right behind 1+2 Switch, and used the same advertising style. The 1+2 Switch video starts at 17:50 and ARMS follows it immediately. 

After playing the game it became even more obvious that Nintendo wants people to play with motion controls on. Each arm is controlled by one Joy-Con, and half the fun comes from throwing punches, twisting them, and trying to knock out your opponent like a boxer. It’s hard to imagine this game being released on a system like the GameCube or even the Wii because its gameplay is built around each player using two separate controllers for two separate arms.

1+2 Switch set out to prove that the Joy-Cons could take motion controls to the next level as well. It ultimately failed miserably, but not because the controls themselves were bad. The games found in the package were just uninteresting and uninspired. ARMS is anything but that. It’s nails the Nintendo charm, from its visuals to its characters, and exudes creativity. If ARMS fails, it could and should be the death knell for games based around motion controls.

Of course, ARMS could succeed wildly commercially regardless. But the thing to watch out for is how reviewers and fans react to the Joy-Cons vs Pro-Controller debate when playing the game. If a game like ARMS, which owes its very existence to the idea of motion controls, is seen as more enjoyable with the Pro-Controller that should force Nintendo to move on.


In that situation, I’d advocate for Nintendo to immediately begin developing a new Switch bundle that features Joy-Cons without motion capabilities and a pro-controller. Every other upcoming Switch game, including Splatoon 2, Mario Odyssey, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2, favors the pro-controller. By giving gamers what they want Nintendo may even be able to reach out to the audience that has already decided that the Switch is nothing but a collection of gimmicks.

On the flip-side, and if early indicators are any sign, the success of ARMS’s motion controls could dramatically change the Switch’s future. The people at Nintendo bleed creativity, and the games they could come up with using this technology could be every bit as compelling as ARMS. ARMS also has esports potential, and having players boxing on stage at a tournament like EVO would make the validity of motion gaming impossible to debate.

When ARMS releases, I’m not expecting everyone to fawn over its motion controls. There will always be those (including yours truly) who generally prefer traditional controllers over motion inputs. Still, if ARMS can give people like me a reason to believe in motion controls, the Switch could offer motion gameplay experiences that no other console can. That selling point could play a big role in reshaping this console generation as well as the ones to come.


3 Responses

  1. Avatar

    I own ARMS (and 1 2 Switch).
    Quickly 1st off, I can’t see a Switch variation shipping without motion controls, period. The complications of SKU manufacture, confusing audiences with motion/motionless joy-con and creating a Switch with control options disabled in various games just won’t fly.
    2ndly, I think ur tech knowledge is off, Infra-red sensors? Motion uses accelarometers plus gyro no?

    Now ARMS and proving motion.
    To start, if the motion controls prove unpopular in ARMS, it could just be the games programming and design itself. ARMS uses quite the unique setup (and they attribute character travel in the same functions as punch aiming and blocking, which really challenges the setup)
    Interestingly with button controls i dont think u can individually aim your arms, with motions you can, but bloody hard not activating wrong moves

    But one good ultimate question pointed out, woulda Switch been more successful ultimately with no motions to begin with and that dollar value put to extra processing/batt? (or just a cheaper system entirely)

    I tend to think not, the fairly nominal cost savings of the accelarometers wouldn’t have granted Switch any noteable feature boosts and going forward, lack of motion controls will limit the variety of software Switch can offer. Nintendo can still do Switch Sports, Switch Fit and other various games where motion controls may prove neccessary.

    And lastly on Arms, even if motion doesn’t prove the defacto pro play style, i like using them anyways for my personal exercise during play. It’s definately an added bonus Nintendo should promote

    • Avatar
      Tyler Kelbaugh

      Thanks for reading and leaving a thoughtful reply! I think you’re right about my tech error. I remembered them promoting the Joy-Con’s infrared sensor, but it seems I was mixing that up with the gyro.

      I stand by the motion-less Joy-Cons. Although the situations are different, the 2DS gave gamers a cheaper way to enjoy the 3DS’s incredible back catalogue while removing the defining selling point of the 3DS hardware. The timing would have to be right, and they’d have to find a clear way to communicate the different packages to consumers, but I think a motionless Joy-Con could actually attract a crowd that may ignore the Switch as is. It’s a great way to cut down the console’s price as well.

      That’s fair, and it’s definitely unreasonable of me to put all that weight onto one game. Still, I’m doing it anyway because after all the experimentation with motion controls, all the frustration so many gamers have dealt with, I feel that this game should be the breaking point. Especially because reviewers (myself included) have almost universally praised the motion controls in ARMS. I actually really like them, and for me ARMS has shown that they can be used effectively. It’s the audience as a whole that I’m most interested in though. What upcoming Switch game could possibly serve as better proof of their worth? ARMS is really the only game justifying the motion control’s existence on Switch right now, and no other game revealed for the future so far even attempts to.

      That’s a very good point. Motion controls to open up a ton of options for casual games, but I think the market for games like that is way smaller than you’d expect. I can’t see a potential “Switch Fit” coming anywhere near the level that it did for the Wii. Those basic, depthless games were a fad that died a long time ago in my opinion.

      Of course, I could be totally wrong. But that’s the feeling I get.

      Appreciate your thoughts!

      • Avatar

        Yeah all cool. Anytime lol
        When I think back to the Wii, I also think of things like Metroid Prime Trilogy which pushed a point-aim control scheme that in my opinion basically smashed every other console shooter out there (not technically motion, that was an infra red sensor).
        Interestingly the infra red sensor on the switch joy-con is totally different, no infra red bar to work off, and if 1 2 Switch is anything to go by, that underside sensor may have a horribly short range for any type of point-aiming. Either way, I’m sure they’ll figure a solution.

        Yes I like motion in Arms as well, I’d have loved it if Nintendo had included an online indicator to denote what control scheme anyone is using in Ranked matches at least so everyone can get a clear view of who’s winning most off what control scheme’s. Nintendo’s probably afraid button controls will be printed as superior and have the crowds ignore motion controls to Switch’s detriment.
        Maybe the biggest issue in Arms is , throws easily mix up with punches and you can’t simultaneously throw 2 punches (they must be sequential)
        If perhaps they attributed some button trigger to activate ‘throw’ motion so players can definitively choose a throw motion or punch motion.

        Ultimately I’ve plated both styles. And with motion, I find I’m getting better, but had plenty of error with many moves in tight spots, however it seems about a 50/50 split between an accidental move has actually saved me vs get me killed