Nintendo’s power has always been in their wide assortment of IP. Mario, Zelda, and Metroid were always the headliners, and it seemed like they were resting on their laurels a bit before some new stuff started to trickle out. Still, new IP from Nintendo is always a big deal, especially when they’re in different genres than the company is used to. ARMS is such a new IP, bringing Nintendo into the fighting genre in a way not seen before (Super Smash Bros is different). Once again they deliver a colorful, fascinating new world, with fun and interesting gameplay mechanics. It’s not a massive new franchise, but it’s a fresh take on the genre and Switch owners will definitely want to check it out.
In ARMS characters have extending robotic arms with different types of fists on the end. Players duke it out in small arenas, in either 1v1 or 2v2 fights. Each character has their own initial selection of fists, with different styles offering their own specific advantages and disadvantages. New fists can be unlocked via in-game currency, which is earned at a respectable rate. Fighters fling their fists toward each other and are able to curve them as needed to try to land a blow. Throughout the fight you’ll charge up a powerup meter which will let you unleash a flurry of strikes that deal a ton of damage. There’s also other fighting standards like grabs and charged hits, but the focus is on the arm extending action and the unique control method.
ARMS plays like one of two games, depending on which controller setup you use. Nintendo seems to want people to stick with motion controls, as that has been the method shown in almost every video or presentation. Using this the game feels like a full fledged evolution of Wii Sports Boxing. You punch with the controller in hand, and your character mimics your movement. You can twist the Joy-Con in order to curve your hit, tracking your foe as best you can.
ARMS is an interesting new take on the fighting genre
This control method is definitely fun, and the motion sensing works quite well. Players will feel more immeresed and engaged in the action as they swing their arms. Movement is a bit tough though and will take a while to get used to. Players have to tilt their controllers in specific ways to move, which can go wrong if you haven’t developed the muscle memory yet. Changing targets in larger matches and more precise movements are also tougher in this controller setup.
For those seeking a more refined and competitive ARMS experience you’ll want to use a standard controller, either by inserting the Joy-Con into the grip or using the excellent Pro Controller.With this configuration players control the game more like Punch-Out, with each arm being controlled by a different mutton. Using the triggers actually makes the game feel great, and you can still curve your attacks with the analog stick. While I found the game to be fun but not all that great with motion controls, switching to a standard setup really made it feel great. Looking at other players impressions it seems that they’re evenly split on which is preferred, so it’s good that Nintendo included both so that players can decide for themselves.
Outside of regular fights, or at times during the main campaign, players will tackle a few different modes. These include a volleyball and basketball style game mode and target practice. Each gives players something different to play, allowing for some variety in the otherwise pretty straightforward fighting experience. Basketball is kind of dull, with players just spamming grabs at each other to score points. Volleyball is more interesting, though the short timer makes it more of a diversion than an actual mode unto itself. Targets offer some fun, and really fine tune your aiming skills, though again it’s mostly a side thing rather than a full mode that you’ll put a lot of time into.
This is ARMS’ main flaw, a lack of overall content to explore. The Grand Prix is the main area of the game, putting players to the test as they try to conquer ten different fighters in a row. With multiple difficulty options, some of which are quite challenging, players will find a decent amount of time can be put into this mode. Outside of this though you are pretty much left with just the online multiplayer, unless you will always have someone around who wants to fight with you.
Luckily online multiplayer works well and is a whole lot of fun. As seen in the global beta program, players were able to queue up fairly easily. ARMS also features a nice practice mode while you wait for players to join. It’s a small touch, but very welcome. The question for those who are on the fence about ARMS is, do you see yourself playing online a lot? If so, then it will be a great addition to your growing Switch library. If not then you might still get hooked on the unlockables, with every fighter being able to unlock every other character’s fists via in-game currency and a fun little minigame. If neither of these is appealing to you then ARMS might lose your interest after a while.
Playing through Grand Prix is arcade style fun, but once you reach your difficulty peak you’ll either have to work to break through, or just give up on the game. The other modes will be fun party games, but not much else. There are a few things that push ARMS above being a passable game even with these caveats though. First off, the presentation is fantastic. Characters are all excellently designed and feature interesting little quirks that have already drawn in a lot of fans. Music, likewise, is great and I often found myself humming tunes from ARMS long after I’d turned the Switch off. Those seeking something unique will find it here, with Nintendo altering some key aspects of the fighting genre and delivering something distinct with this game.
Adding another great title to the Switch’s growing library, ARMS is an interesting new take on the fighting genre. Multiple game modes expand the single player options, but this is a multiplayer experience at its core. If that sounds like something you want then ARMS is an easy buy, but those who aren’t interested might want to hold back a bit. Even playing alone though you’ll find something fun and special here thanks to Nintendo’s trademark quality in gameplay and presentation.