When Nintendo releases a new IP, it’s worth taking note. Releasing to the masses a week from today comes an all new Switch exclusive, ARMS. It’s a perfectly fitting title for a fighting game whose core design revolves around fighters who can equip different extendable arms to take into battle.
If ARMS kind of reminds you of Splatoon at first look, that’s understandable. From the earliest press materials and reveal of the game, it’s a colorful, vibrant game that pops off the screen. It’s fluid and well animated, with catchy music and charming stages to compliment the variety of zany and unique fighters. Light, Medium, and Heavy fighters run the gamut of male and female humanoid types to light-hearted sci-fi types like Kid Cobra. The game oozes creativity in these regards, and it goes towards making the experience more robust. With ten fighters and a handful of game modes (and more of each type coming with DLC), ARMS offers a pretty decent mix of things to do right out of the gates.
As with any Switch game, there are multiple ways to play. The most advertised way is by strapping on each joycon and using the motion controls to punch and weave, and twist your arms to put some curve on your punches, a very important gameplay mechanic. Motion controls worked fine and like any motion controlled game that has you standing and bobbing and punching as you get into the groove of the game, you’re likely to break a sweat and get a minor workout in depending on your conditioning and length of play. This is all well and good and in my testing the motion control tracking works very good, but I ultimately spent most of my time playing in handheld mode. You lose some fidelity in curving your punches perhaps, but the comfort and portability of it made the exchange worthwhile, especially for longer sessions.
In ARMS, fights are conducted mostly at a distance, with players much further apart than you might expect from a typical fighter. It’s the extendable arms then that are used to close that gap, but with players having the ability to dash, block, and jump, you have to use those extendable arms wisely. Misjudge a hit and miss, and you’re likely going to be left vulnerable for counter-attack. Different arms move at different speeds and have a variety of different attacks, from walloping punches to tri-pronged ends to elemental powers. Characters have their own unique traits too, such as the Mummy’s ability to heal while blocking, something I’ve come to lean on a lot on the harder difficulties (for me, this game got tough, fast).
What I came to realize quickly in ARMS is that there is more strategy to the game than first appears. Between the variety of arms to equip, their different classes, the differences in the characters, stage hazards, and so forth, more strategy is required for higher end players. As with any game requiring more time and effort, the key to that being a good thing is if you’re into the game itself. For me, this is where I started to hit a wall. While I appreciate Nintendo’s creative talent, I can’t say I was particularly into the ARMS universe or its characters. It’s not that it’s too different from Mario, Zelda, or Kirby, etc., but it just didn’t hold my interest. The same goes for Splatoon, though, so these newer Nintendo IPs may just not be for me. That said, ARMS seems to be doing well in early online testing, and as far as the technical and ease of use experience, what I have tested so far has operated smoothly, so kudos to Nintendo for achieving that as well.
That said, there are a handful of ways to play ARMS right now, the primary solo mode being the Grand Prix. This mode is like your traditional arcade mode that pits you against the other ARMS characters in 1v1 battles that get increasingly harder. You can play in two player mode too, although I wasn’t able to test this. A potentially critical missing component to Grand Prix mode though is that there is no story, it’s just a series of battles with sports-like mini-games mixed in that have you playing a dangerous game of volleyball (spoiler: the ball is a bomb, mode is call V-Ball) or basketball (Hoops) in which you have to throw your enemy into the hoop for points. There is also the Skillshot mode in which you have to smash targets with speed and accuracy. Depending on your starting difficulty setting — and if memory serves there are seven levels of difficulty to choose from — the fights in the back-half of the Grand Prix can provide a stout challenge.
With little to feel really invested in (the ARMS mythos is largely non-existent), it can be tough to want to stick through the frustration. Timing of your punches, nailing your special attack or throws, knowing your character’s unique abilities, those things take more of a priority as the difficulty ramps up. Team Fight, which can be played in local multiplayer, V-Ball, Hoops, Skillshot can all be played from the Versus menu anytime. You also have the tempting but tough 1-on-100 mode in which you fight against 100 CPU characters, several at a time. The CPU characters get increasingly hard, but don’t take many hits at all to destroy. This mode definitely keeps you on your toes and you’re likely to learn a lot about your character and skills. The ARMS Test mode challenges you to random arms and then you also have a helpful Training mode available, too. Online play performs well, but I haven’t spent a great deal of time in it as, well, it’s just not my cup of tea. A Party Mode gets you right into various non-ranked play while Ranked Match does precisely that. A Friends option from the main menu helps you connect with friends.
ARMS offers a very colorful and well animated fighting adventure with more strategy and depth then it might first appear. The initial offering feels just a little bit thin though in that despite the customization options in-game, you cannot customize or remap the controls and the single player modes are kind of thin — challenging, but not particularly captivating or appealing especially when the going gets tough. Online play is, like any other game, largely based on what you make of it and how the community does. Technically, my limited experience with it worked well, but time will tell if this game will have the legs to continue into something larger and sustained. For a new IP though, Nintendo has done another impressive job overall, but I would not consider this a must-have title for all Switch owners.