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ARMS Successfully Punches Its Way to the Fighting Game Ring (Review)

With ARMS on the Switch, Nintendo has added to their roster yet another exclusive fighting game that exudes impressive amounts of charm, fun gameplay, and deep combat. Its wacky spaghetti-armed brawlers make for a unique twist in the fighting genre that only Nintendo could think of. But where does it rank amongst its contemporaries?

As you’re probably already aware, ARMS is a vibrant fighter where the combatants use spring-like arms (or weaponized hair, in the case of one of the characters) to reach out and punch their foes. Think of it like a futuristic version of Punch-Out!! The button layout is rather simple: two of the face buttons control each arm while the other two let you jump and dash. The bumpers on the controller unleash a Rush attack. Simple enough, right? Well, things get interesting when you consider that the 10 playable characters each have their own unique abilities. Some fighters can slow down punches (Twintelle), while others are able to dash quicker, gain extra punching power when their health is critical (Spring Man), and one even has a robot dog that assists you in battle (Byte and Barq). Then you get to choose which two arms to equip—some of which feature status effects like electricity, fire, wind, etc. that can shift the fight. How you decide to combine everything introduces a lot of variety to the game.

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I haven’t even mentioned how great the design for our stretchy friends are. Each of the 10 colorful characters comes equipped their own battle arena that is thematically in line with their overall design. For example, Min Min the “ramen bomber” has a battle arena that’s shaped like an actual giant ramen bowl. Items like health containers, Rush boosts, and bombs make their way onto the battlefield just to make things even more interesting. The stylistic choices are really out there, and awesome. I’d also like to mention that for some reason the internet is obsessed with Twintelle’s booty, and it makes me laugh every time I think about it.

On a related note, each character gets a small background story from the silly yellow ARMS league commentator, Biff, coloring the lot with a bit more personality. In other words, don’t expect an immersive narrative like the one found in Injustice 2.

You won’t have to input complicated button combinations to pull off epic attacks; ARMS is more about getting into the rhythm of fights. Countering is huuuge. Knowing when to go for certain attacks can be the difference between winning and getting obliterated. Missing a grab attack will leave you wide open to some heavy hits. You can even focus on dealing damage to your unfortunate adversary’s arms to render them unable to block your incoming onslaught. Charging up punches will also unleash your arms’ special abilities like freezing someone or burning them. For a while I thought I wasn’t getting better, but the more I tested my skills against others, the more it felt like I was getting quicker and my moves more intuitive.

Twintelle Gif

This gameplay makes ARMS super accessible and exciting for every skill level. Nintendo is really good about doing this. The Mario Kart and Smash Bros. franchises are the best examples of this game design–easy to pick up but difficult to master. And overall, it’s incredibly entertaining.

When playing solo, your go-to mode will be the Grand Prix where you’ll duke it out through 10 fights, aiming for a best-out-of-three goal. You can choose from seven difficulty levels; the furthest I’ve reached with my favorite character, Twintelle, is difficulty setting six. If you’d like, you can play the Grand Prix with a friend that will bind the two of you with a string to keep you close while you guys are are pitted against two other fighters. This mode feels too straightforward even if it does pack a few surprises in there.

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Of course, you’ll also have to compete in the occasional mini-game. The list includes…

-1-on-100, in which you are tasked with fending off 100 easily smashed critters
-Skillshot, in which you twist your punches to hit as many moving targets
-Hoops, which is essentially a game of basketball
-V-Ball, which is a punchy volleyball experience

As for unlocking new Arms, instead of just rewarding you with new gear, you’re given in-game currency (which is earned in every mode) that you can then use to play a mini-game where you swing at moving targets that might include loot. It’s these little touches that make the whole experience more interactive and unique in comparison to other titles. Getting the in-game currency did become a bit of a grind for myself simply because I could only go through the Grand Prix to earn said cash. I assume it’ll be easier to earn goods when the game launches and the online lobbies are populated.

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One thing I was disappointed with is the fact that though each character appears to have the same ARMS, you still have to unlock all of them for each character separately. So just because you get one glove for Ninjara, it doesn’t mean the other nine fighters will have it unlocked even though those other nine brawlers have the same gear. It’s strange, but I guess you’ll only be focusing on one or two different characters anyway.

While I haven’t had too many opportunities to play online outside of the Global Testpunch events, you can expect to play in Ranked Matches, Party Matches, Versus (couch-co-op), Friends (Online with friends), and Local (fight against nearby players) modes. It’s a good amount of modes for a new IP. Especially since it’s clear that Nintendo was focused on quality rather than quantity. I played with some Nintendo folks online and it worked flawlessly (I lost despite it being super close). If that same experience permeates throughout the online modes when the game launches, I expect this to create a fun and wild competitive scene.

Nintendo Switch Arms img 2

Finally, let’s talk about motion controls. By attaching the Joy-Con to the wrist straps you use a control method that Nintendo has deemed the innovative thumbs-up grip setting where your thumbs rest on the L and R buttons. As someone who doesn’t usually like motion controls in games that require some precision, I was admittedly impressed by how robust fighting with the Joy-Con was. All the attacks are straightforward and can be executed with simple tilts of the controllers. It wasn’t my go-to gameplay input, but during couch multiplayer sessions, I found it to be a much more exciting and involved experience. The more frantic pace made for a good time with friends. It’s also a bit of an equalizer since my skill dipped quite a bit when playing like this (there are some out there who’ve practiced with the motion controls way more than I have). You’ll still sparsely miss inputs here and there, but it’s better than Wii Boxing.

There’s a surprising amount of charm and depth to ARMS that I didn’t anticipate. Despite only receiving minor background stories, each of the 10 fighters feel unique and has a personality to match it. The fighting mechanics, whether you’re using standard or motion controls, are always fun. This has that Mario Kart/Splatoon/Smash Bros. vibe to it, where anyone can pick it up and have a good time. It’s colorful and in your face. Add the great mini-games and a bevy of multiplayer options, and you have yourself a strong new IP. I wish there were more characters and arenas to battle in, but the ones already included are stellar.



This review was completed using a Nintendo Switch copy of ARMS provided by Nintendo. The game hits shelves on June 16, 2017

Images: Nintendo of America

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