ARMS is to fighting games what Splatoon is to shooters. It’s a breath of fresh air within an otherwise stagnant genre that hasn’t seen much in the way of originality over the years. As such, it’s a testament to Nintendo’s drive for innovation. Developed exclusively for the Nintendo Switch, ARMS is an unconventional brawler that pits combatants against each other inside an arena, where they battle it out until only one is left standing. Sounds just like every other fighting game out there, you say? Well, not quite.
The game is played in the third-person perspective as opposed to the traditional side-by-side camera seen in other fighting games. Each of the game’s 10 characters has extendable arms that spring out to hit adversaries. Once launched, your character’s arm behaves much like a projectile with finite range, and you have the ability to alter its trajectory in order to ensure that you land a hit to the opponent. Each arm is mapped to an individual button on the gamepad or, in the case of motion controls, to each Joycon. Simultaneously launching both arms yields a throw attack. All characters also possess the ability to jump and dash as viable options to avoid incoming attacks. Successfully landing attacks fills up your character’s super gauge. When filled up, it allows you to trigger a time constrained supercharged state, with attacks dishing out a higher amount of damage.
It all sounds fairly simple on paper in terms of mechanics, and sure enough, it’s easy to grasp the game’s fundamentals. However, at the same time, it’s also difficult to master them. On top of that, every character has unique traits that give them specific advantages and disadvantages against the others. If that wasn’t enough, each character also has an assortment of arm customizations to choose from, which can be anything ranging from a missile launcher to bionic boxing gloves. Each of them comes with its own unique attributes. It’s worth appreciating here that Nintendo appears to have struck an ideal balance between simplicity and complexity.
It’s not hard to see ARMS become a flagship franchise for Nintendo in the long run. However, at this point, the game is largely barebones for those looking for a decent single-player experience. ARMS is clearly designed with multiplayer as the focus, but the absence of standard modes featured in other fighting games, such as a story mode, hurt its overall value. It’s sad to see that characters that exude such unique personalities, thanks to their imaginative character designs, don’t have a story of their own to tell.
That said, there is a more basic arcade-like mode called Grand Prix, where you duel against each of the game’s characters. Despite the AI posing a significant challenge at higher difficulties, it’s a fairly short tournament as you only have to overcome 10 opponents in order to win. Along the way, you’ll get some variation in match types, including a volleyball variant that has you use your arms to keep the ball away from your side of the court. The twist here is that the ball is actually a bomb that is scheduled to explode after a number of seconds. There’s also a basketball variant, where you have to net your opponent using throws in order to win. While these match types serve as nice distractions, they aren’t nearly as engaging as the core battle mode itself.
The game also features an endurance mode, where you have to battle through 100 opponents, as well as a basic tutorial mode that runs you through the fundamental moves, but fails to provide mentoring on advanced tactics. Outside of a handful of slides found in the game’s ‘Help’ menu, you’re essentially on your own to discover deeper aspects of the combat mechanics. Unlocking new arms for characters can only be accomplished by playing a mini-game called Get Arms, where you punch through pop-up targets in order to earn randomized loot boxes, each carrying a set of arms. Moreover, Get Arms can only be played once you possess a certain amount of in-game currency, which is accumulated as you play through the other game modes. Earning unlockables in this manner tends to get fairly tedious, given the unnecessary amount of grind involved.
ARMS’ real strength lies in its multiplayer, whether you play offline in split-screen with friends or take the battle online. Ranked matches are understandably limited to 1-on-1, while unranked party matches provide a decent amount of flexibility with respect to the player count. You can either choose to go 1-on-1, 2-on-2, or even participate in a 3 player last man standing brawl. In addition, you can also team up with two others to take on a powerful boss character. The matchmaking does a good job of keeping playlists varied. It’s also worth mentioning that the netcode is pretty stable, even in 2-on-2 instances with utter mayhem.
When ARMS was first revealed, it was heavily marketed as the poster child for motion controls on the Switch, with the left and right Joycons simulating the movement of your character’s left and right arms, respectively. However, despite the motion controls themselves being pretty accurate, the game is best played with a gamepad, especially in a competitive environment. Performing moves at the touch of a button is just far quicker and more intuitive than performing gestures. That said, motion controls are a nice option to have, and good for a casual round or two between friends.
Besides the lack of single-player content, the other major complaint that can be raised against ARMS is the lack of a customizable control scheme. You’re essentially stuck playing the game using the input configuration Nintendo deemed fit, and that’s not really an ideal situation for a game brimming with competitive potential. On the whole, though, Nintendo’s latest franchise manages to impress in areas that matter the most for a multiplayer focused game. Provided that the publisher keeps the game updated with a regular stream of content, much like it did with Splatoon, ARMS is likely to have legs heading into the future.
ARMS Review (Switch)
Game Reviewed on: Switch
Game description: Arms is an upcoming fighting game developed and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Switch, which is set for release worldwide in June 2017.
Nintendo's innovative fighting game excels in the gameplay department and offers a robust multiplayer experience, but packs limited appeal for solo play. With a regular stream of content, though, ARMS is likely to have legs heading into the future.