Part of what makes Nintendo a successful company is their unique take on genres. Splatoon is a great example of that. Instead of following established norms, it’s colorful, quirky and imaginative. While every idea hasn’t lead to success, ARMS is, if nothing else, interesting. By combining Punch-Out with imaginative ideas and traditional fighting game mechanics, it has the potential to be a break out hit for the Switch. However, with untraditional controls, heavy emphasis on competitive matches and more, is ARMS too weird to be successful or is it an experience only Nintendo can provide?
While the global test punch was a great way to introduce people to ARMS, it does a poor job of showing what makes ARMS so special. Part of the issue is the lackluster tutorial. Instead of giving players all the tools they need to succeed, something other fighters do a fantastic job of, it’s a brief overview of controls. The other issue is players have little to no idea of how ARMS is supposed to be played, so matches were, in my experience anyway, straightforward and slow. Thankfully, Grand Prix mode addresses this issue.
Grand Prix is ARMS take on arcade mode. It starts with an introduction to Biff, the announcer and then some background information on whomever you choose to play as. From there, Biff starts every match by setting up the fight or an explanation if it’s a mini-game. This continues until you finish the mode, but the real highlight is how the AI plays.
Before starting Grand Prix, you have to select a difficulty, which ranges from one being the easiest and seven the hardest. Even at one I would say the AI is more challenging than anyone I faced in the first hour of the global test punch, with even three or four forcing you to get better. But the important thing is, it gives you an example of how to play.
The key to being successful in ARMS is not just good aim, as you do have to guide your arm to hit your opponent, but movability. Those who can jump and dash, while properly aiming, will be far harder to defeat than someone who needs to stand still to aim. This obviously takes time, but once it clicks, ARMS goes from being a slow fighter where both parties have issue hitting to thrilling and fast paced match. Especially since ARMS is a lot more complicated than it looks.
Below the simple look is all the mechanics you’d expect from a fighting game. Every character has something that sets them apart and different arms have distinct advantages and disadvantages. For instance, large arms like Megawatt and Megaton, can’t be stopped by lighter arms, making it great for countering attacks or landing a decisive blow. Lighter arms can easily be countered, but move at a far greater speed. It’s much easier to anticipate an attack from a large arm than a light one. Other arms offer other advantages, such as range, covering an area, blocking or attacking at range. Some also elements that, when charged and successfully connect, stun, slowdown or add additional damage.
In addition to characters and arms being different, there are more mechanics you need to be aware of. These include, repeated attacks to an arm will disable it, making your opponent easier to damage; throws can’t be blocked, but can easily be countered with a fist and leave the thrower open to attacks; levels and items can be used to your advantage and more. This offers enough depth to make competitive players happy, with the accessibility to not exclude anyone.
The only downside is, there currently isn’t a lot of content. Grand Prix and versus are the only offline modes, with party, ranked and friends for online and local for those who choose to hook up multiple systems. Outside of versus, which can be be one versus one/three/four or two versus two, there is also V-Ball, Hoops and Skillshot, plus a unique online mode and two special offline modes.
V-Ball is just volleyball and is easily the worst mini-game in ARMS. What makes it bad is that it’s very slow and pretty easy. Hoops is the opposite, but really fun. Players fight to dunk the other player, which can be done by grabbing or excessively hitting them, making for an interesting experience. Finally, there is Skillshot, where both players try to hit the most targets in as few punches as possible, while also trying to prevent your opponent from getting the advantage.
The two offline modes are 1-on-100, where you need to hit 100 enemies without getting defeated and ARMS Test, where every fight you get three random arms and see how long you can survive.
As for characters, stages and items, there isn’t much. Currently there are 10 playable characters, with each one having a stage. Even though the stages are well designed and unique, they generally boil down to a gimmick. Ribbon Ring has boxes that obstruct your view and offer items, Snake Park has snakeboards that add speed and defense, with others offering things like high ground. On these levels you’ll find one of four items. One that gives you health, another for rush, plus an explosive and electric bomb. They’re fun and can sometimes turn the tide, but not very diverse.
However, one area where there is plenty of diversity is controls. ARMS supports motion controls, Pro Controller, single Joy-Con or dual Joy-Cons. Even though ARMS has a strong push for motion controls, they seem somewhat flawed. Not only did I find the inputs dodgy, but it doesn’t offer the same maneuverability a controller does. This could be solved by swapping the dash (L) with rush (Zr) and then using the left thumbstick to move, but sadly, this is not the case. The Pro Controller has the best set up, though assigning guard to pressing down on the left thumbstick is an odd choice. And, even though it supports one Joy-Con sideways, I found this style extremely difficult to play. I wouldn’t call it unplayable, but worse than motion, if only because it’s a lot of fun swinging and aiming your attacks via motion.
While ARMS might not be perfect, it’s off to a great start. Not only are the characters unique and interesting, there is a lot below the surface of ARMS. Between counter attacks, various ways to get the advantage, unique levels and various modes, there is a lot to learn. Sadly, there isn’t too much to see, but Nintendo has already confirmed there will be more content, for free, in the future. So, if you’re looking for a fun fighter or something to play with friends, ARMS is for you. However, online isn’t your thing and offline likely won’t happen, it might be better to wait.
[Editor’s Note: ARMS was reviewed on Nintendo Switch platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]ARMS (Switch) Review,