For a while now, we hadn’t been getting too many brand new IPs from Nintendo. But after the success of Splatoon, it looks like Nintendo’s getting creative again!
ARMS for Nintendo Switch is a fighting game where you use extendable arms to hit your opponent. Unlike most fighting games that have you fighting from a side view, ARMS is viewed from behind your character, very reminiscent of Nintendo’s own Punch-Out!! And much like Punch-Out!!, fighting is as simple as punching with your left and right arm.
The main draw for ARMS though is how it controls. ARMS uses the Switch Joy-Con’s motion controls to move and attack. You hold a Joy-Con in each hand and punch to extend your arms in-game. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “A competitive fighting game that mainly uses motion controls? Seriously?” Yes, motion controls certainly can be fun, but they aren’t exactly known for their reliability and accuracy. And considering fighting games more than anything else require your inputs be incredibly precise in moments when you need to make split-second decisions, how can ARMS advertise itself as a competitive fighter with motion controls as its main way to play? That’s the first question here. How well do these motion controls work anyway? Short answer, pretty well.
So with a Joy-Con in each hand, you move around by tilting the Joy-Cons in the desired direction. To attack, you simply punch with either your left or right arm to make those arms extend in-game. To guard, tilt your Joy-Con inward is if putting your arms up to defend yourself. You’ve also got dashing with the left shoulder button and jumping with the right. First thing I’ll say is that punching with the Joy-Con feels great. They fit very well in your hands and it’s actually very responsive. There was never a time when I tried to punch, but nothing happened or I punched in-game when I didn’t mean to. The Joy-Con motion controls are pretty reliable in this respect. And since punching will make your arms extend out for a moment before retracting and giving you a chance to punch again, waggling and throwing your arms out like a maniac will not work and is discouraged simply by the way the game’s designed.
Now before I go any further, I should mentioned that traditional button controls ARE an option, but you may actually prefer motion controls because they do have one advantage, you can curve your punches as your arms extend by tilting the Joy-Cons left or right. Since each Joy-Con controls each arm, you’re able to curve each arm independently. So if you wanted to curve your left arm right and your right arm left to box an opponent in on both sides, you can. This isn’t possible with traditional buttons though. With buttons, you punch using two separate buttons (like A and B or the left and right triggers), but you curve punches using the left analog stick only. So if you curve one arm, you’re going to curve the other as well, they can’t act independently, giving the motion control option a clear advantage.
HOWEVER, despite the motion controls working well and having that advantage, I still prefer the traditional buttons. Why? Well it’s not control over my arms I worry about, it’s control over my character. With motion controls, you move your character around by tilting. While this works sufficiently, it doesn’t feel nearly as precise as an analog stick. With an analog stick, you’ll feel like you’re in complete control over how you move and you won’t veer in a wrong direction because you were adjusting yourself in your seat or something. I feel that not being able to control your arms independently is a small sacrifice for precise movement. But hey, there’s no right or wrong way to play. If you value arm control over movement control, go for motion controls.
So enough about control, how does the game actually play? Well, as stated before, it’s as simple as punching with your left and right arms. You can dash for quick movements to avoid attacks, jump for airborne attacks, grab when someone’s guarding too much, and unleash a Rush attack when your rush gauge fills up with every punch you throw. There are currently 10 characters to choose from and they all have unique abilities that set them apart, but aren’t so incredibly different where you’ll feel like you can’t play as someone. Some examples:
Spring Man has a comeback ability where when his health is low, his arms are more powerful and stay charged.
Ribbon Girl has the ability to jump three times in mid-air (which is pretty annoying to fight against…).
Master Mummy doesn’t flinch when hit by a normal punch and regenerates health when guarding.
They all have unique abilities, but for the most part, play generally the same. What really sets one player from another (besides personal skill) are the ARMS they use. You can equip different ARMS on each…arm. They all have different movements, weights and attributes that’re the key things to take note of when fighting someone. For example:
A Sparky is a medium sized boxing glove that comes at you head on. It’s electric attribute when charged will disable an opponent’s arms for a moment if hit, which pretty much guarantees a free extra hit (or throw) afterward.
A Boomerang is a medium sized boomerang that curves and attacks from the side. It’s wind attribute when charged will blow an opponent away and knock them on the ground, even for big characters like Master Mummy.
A Megaton is a powerful and heavy glove that will go through light and medium ARMS, but it’s slow and doesn’t have any special attribute.
Each character starts with three ARMS, but every character can obtain every ARM with money. You earn money just by playing the game, but earning a good amount to spend on ARMS will take a little while as most matches give you 1 coin or 3 on average, depending on how well you do. At points, it does become somewhat of a grind fighting online match after online match or going through Grand Prix mode with every character to earn that cash, but I personally didn’t mind too much, because fighting is just so much fun.
The game play of ARMS is just so addicting when you’re in the heat of a match. When the game was first shown off, it was admittedly a little dull to watch since you’re just kinda watching arms stretch out constantly, but it’s totally different when you’re actually playing. There are no complicated combos to master in this game, it’s all about spacing yourself and finding the perfect moment to attack as one normal hit can sometimes mean a world of difference. The game rewards patients and proper reaction timing. The combination of ARMS you use combined with your character’s abilities also yield interesting strategies. For example, fighting a Min Min with a dragon-arm powered Sparky that’ll disable your arms with each hit, allowing her to follow up with a throw afterward every time is one of the most annoying things in the world…
So that’s all well and good, but even if the game play is fun, does the game offer enough content to keep players coming back?
Well aside from the standard 1-on-1 matches, the game also has 2-on-2 Team Matches and Free-for-Alls. The game also has completely different modes like V-Ball (volleyball ARMS-style), Hoops (basketball ARMS-style), Skillshot (a mode that tests your arm curving skills with targets to hit), and 1-on-100 (where you fight waves of enemies that go down in one hit). They’re nice little distractions, but ultimately won’t keep players’ attention as much as the main fighting matches. The game also has a training mode, but it’s very basic. It really just teaches you the bare minimum and asks you to figure everything else out yourself. The best way to learn and get better at the game is simply to keep playing.
This game’s arcade mode, Grand Prix, is actually a pretty good teacher. You have to win 10 matches before becoming the ARMS League Champion. When you’re a new player, Grand Prix is actually quite a challenge as the AI is no pushover. I’ve put in over 15 hours into the game and still struggle when playing on level 4 or 5 (I ain’t even touching 6 or 7). But it’s very triumphant when you finally do beat it and you’ll be able to take what you learned into online matches.
One thing that must be said about Grand Prix mode though is just how underwhelming the presentation is. In most fighting games’ single player or arcade mode, it’s a perfect time to get players acquainted with the characters and overall world and story of the game, usually with an introductory cut scene and ending scene. ARMS barely does this. All it does is give you a very brief introduction of each character through text, small little details about them between matches, and an admittedly neat piece of art at the end when playing on level 4 or higher (if level 3 or lower, you get nothing).
I was really expecting more though. I really feel like this game has so much more to tell me about the characters and the world of ARMS that it just isn’t telling. Hell, I’d have no idea how the characters got extendable arms in the first place if it weren’t for the Nintendo Direct they had back in May. The ultimate final boss also just comes out of nowhere with no explanation for who or what it is. I do like mystery in games, but I need a little more to work with here.
Now that you’ve played through Grand Prix, you’re probably ready for what you’ll undoubtedly be spending most of your time on in ARMS; Online Matches. You can join a Party Match, Ranked Match, or play online with friends only. In Party Matches, you enter a random lobby of people who will be paired and put into a match or game mode randomly. Sometimes you’ll get a standard match, sometimes a team match, sometimes free-for-all, or even one of the side game modes. It’s a good way of mixing things up between you and the people you’re playing. The interface is also very nice as you can see players in the lobby and what mode they’re playing in. You can also see how far along into the match they are so you’ll know when to expect them to be done and enter a new one. You can warm up with your character and ARMS as you wait, but you typically won’t be waiting long as matches happen quick. You’ll always have something to do and someone to play against.
Ranked Matches is where it gets hardcore. It’s strictly 1-on-1 matches and you have your rank on the line. You can’t even play Ranked unless you’ve already beaten Grand Prix on level 4 or higher, so you know people in Ranked have some skill. Ranked Match doesn’t have a lobby like Party Match does though. Instead, you activate it to search for a player to fight as you continue playing the game. When it finds a player, whatever you were doing is interrupted and you go straight into the match. It works well enough, but I do wish it had some kind of traditional lobby. Instead, you’ll probably just wait on the main menu until you get a match, which like Party Match, doesn’t take long.
You can also of course play with friends locally with split-screen play, local wireless in handheld mode, and even LAN matches.
ARMS is a very fun and unique fighting game that’s simple, but addictive. Whether it’s worth purchasing, like with just about any fighting game, depends on how much you can see yourself playing, learning, and getting better at the game. Its single player content, while challenging, is a bit bare bones and will leave you wanting more from these characters. The side game modes are also nothing you’ll be spending too much time on either. But the standard matches are solid, online matches are quick, and just like Splatoon, Nintendo promises to update ARMS with new characters, new ARMS, and new stages for FREE throughout its life cycle, so the game has plenty to offer even as the months go by.
This review of ARMS is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game.
Unique, fun, and addictive. Virtually no story, but solid gameplay with a solid online interface and future content makes for a worthy addition to your Switch library.
A gamer through and through. Lover of all kinds of games with an especially soft spot for Nintendo.
Favorite game: EarthBound