It’s not even exactly about the eponymous appendages the game bids you fling at its menagerie of goofball pugilists, whose corkscrew arms uncoil in slow-mo arcs like lethal cruise missiles. It takes a genre and “Nintendo’s it”.
ARMS is Nintendo’s first new intellectual property on the Nintendo Switch. It’s unusual because in most fighting games I despise hazards, but in ARMS, it adds in more chaos I want from a game like this. Each Fist is different and has its own unique abilities. And unlike most boxing games, which tend to have a gritty vibe, the combat here is fantastical and the characters nearly whimsical.
There is an element of rock-paper-scissors to fights in ARMS though. Solo play, training, local multiplayer, online, and a few bonus game types to mix things up a little.
The first decision to make regards which of ten characters to choose. Players basically just need to punch, grab, and throw each other while they dodge, jump, and block to avoid getting knocked out.
So once you get to grips with Arms’ subtleties, its bouts become fascinatingly tactical, as you manoeuvre yourself into the flawless position to cause the most damage. You can also guard and block when on the ground by tilting the controller on its side. Sure, you can try clearing it with every single character at every single difficulty, but you might get pretty bored along the way. Some characters dash and jump around better than others and some can just win with overwhelming power.
ARMS is definitely unique in that it’s a fully 3D fighter that uses motion controls (though those are optional, more on that later), comes with a colorful and very diverse cast of characters, and introduces a way of fighting that it’s fair to say has never been done before. As Time notes, it might be a flawless title for the console. The fun twist to this mode is while you’re swinging away at these moving targets you have the opportunity to attack your opponent across the field, it can get pretty hilarious if you’re bullying a friend in multiplayer.
While on their own, these extra modes feel sparse and uninspired, but they do serve their goal well in the overall gauntlets of ARMS’ play.
Still, ARMS succeeds both as a surprisingly complex and detailed fighting game, and one of the best examples of motion controlled gaming we’ve seen. Rather than take on the likes of Street Fighter V, Tekken 7 and Injustice 2 in a straight up face-off, Arms aims to do something completely different. This isn’t like Mario Kart, where the brake button may as well not exist – you’ll have to keep moving round an arena, learn to time your punches and adapt your choice of weaponry mid-match in order to reign triumphant.
As for the Grand Prix feature that houses these modes, it’s a short-lived affair that can make for some of the most truly challenging encounters in recent memory. “It may not have the same skill requirement as other fighting games, but the flexibility and fast thinking it requires secures it as one that works on its own terms and opens the genre up to a wider audience”. There’s no real story mode or campaign, and don’t expect to find much in the way of Arms’ lore or storytelling. You also have the option of diving into a 1-on-100 fighting mode, which certainly evokes some Super Smash Bros vibes. One level allows you to ride around on a spinning top while jumping and punching your opponent – it’s insanely fun! Basketball rules apply too, so shoot for three. It’s probably the worst out of the mini games, but like the others, it’s a nice enough diversion.
As Mark’s review explains, Arms is packed full of cartoony characters who have two things in common: bendy, stretchy arms and the unhinged desire to beat the crap out of each other with them. It follows the big success of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, a port from the Wii U that has sold very well. It does, however, require a significant controller investment.
While motion controls is the main method presented to play, the controls allow for easy access when picking up a regular controller instead. Fortunately, the game felt great with standard controls, whether I was smashing the CPU in handheld mode on the subway or gleefully beating up my friend at a burger joint with the Switch propped up on a table. I also played wireless one-on-one battles with a pair of Switch consoles. Again, outside of slight differences in speed and size, as well as the elemental bonuses and weighted attributes of each fist, characters don’t play much differently from each other. The true essence of Arms is found in Party Match mode, which throws a group of players into a room and randomly places them into different game types.
Versus mode, meanwhile, can accommodate up to four players on a single Switch, and lets you select any of the mini-games and tweak parameters, such as the number of rounds. This is a mad, brilliant dance of a game, and one whose tune I suspect we’ll be humming along to for some time yet.
Arms reminds me so much of the Nintendo that I used to know.
Strip away its motion controls and Arms is a fun but forgettable affair, albeit one that you can carry wherever you please thanks to the Switch’s portable wizardry. The end credits theme is something else as well. The motion controls were a huge turnoff to me. I thought I had put that all behind me. Content updates should help alleviate that lull when playing solo, but I can’t predict the future. The characters that have been created and the world they live in is terrific. Players will feel more immeresed and engaged in the action as they swing their arms. Luckily for Arms the rest of the game is perfectly crafted. Hardly a day goes by without a preview or coverage of 2D platformers that references “Metroidvania” gameplay, as Metroid (alongside Castlevania) has almost singlehandedly helped in crafting an entire subgenre of games – and for good reason – in emphasizing exploration and a constant feeling of discovery within familiar environments. Speaking of level hazards, they’re one of my favorite parts of ARMS, I only wish they were implemented more into the core gameplay.