As previous Nintendo hardware brought us new ideas and new ways to play, so too has the the company delivered on a variety of new IP and games that not only utilize the hardware’s capabilities, but expand on its roster of beloved, colorful characters. Like Pikmin, Animal Crossing, and Splatoon before it, ARMS represents one of the first original IP from Nintendo to debut on the Nintendo Switch this spring. Much like those games, ARMS is immediately approachable with its colorful characters and a quirky premise, but under the hood features a far more robust emphasis on fighting and strategy than one might expect, and seems sure to capture an audience on the Switch.
We’ve had the opportunity to go hands-on (I promise this will be the only pun) with ARMS over the past week with the final build of the game, which also happens to run alongside the “Global Testpunch” demo that is currently happening now through Wednesday, June 7th. As it was first revealed back in January, it proves to be a great showcase for the capabilities of the Nintendo Switch as a console thanks to its integration of the system’s unique features, but doesn’t slump as a fighting game that’s accessible for anyone and has just enough levels of depth for more seasoned fighting game veterans.
In the same ways that Nintendo has brought smart reinvention to racing with Mario Kart or shooting in Splatoon, ARMS is Nintendo’s answer to fighting games. Of course Smash Bros. has been around for decades, but compared to that series’ focus on being more of a “party brawler,” ARMS feels much more in the spirit of a traditional fighting game. However, its unique premise and style makes it feel like classic “Nintendo,” with an approach to fighting that caters to both casual and hardcore players.
ARMS is a fighting game that takes place in 3D arena-style maps, where each player comes paired with a set of extendable, stretchable “arms” that they use to knock out the other opponent. Ranging from simple boxing gloves to more elaborate arms like a boomerang or rockets, the key to success in the game relies just as much on what arms you are using as it does to using the environment and depth of the fighting space to outsmart your opponent.
After choosing one of ten total characters from its roster, players start out the match by choosing the pair of arms that they wish to fight with, which can be any combination of either the same arms or a mixed-and-matched pair. After choosing, combat then relies on players hitting either the left or right shoulder button to extend their spring-like arms and attempt to connect their punches with the opponent, before eventually knocking them out.
Though the combat mostly focuses on players exchanging punches from across the stadium, extra levels of strategy are thrown in through a few additional mechanics like dodges and throws, while the characters and environments also come with their own level of depth depending on who – or what – players pick.
The roster of fighters in ARMS is admittedly small at only ten characters, but the game (so far) makes up for it with a lot of personality and charm. The boxer-like Spring Man acts as the game’s well-rounded fighter who’s well-suited for beginners in the game, while characters like Ribbon Girl and Ninjara are ideal for the quick, fleet-footed fighters. Heavyweights like Master Mummy and Mechanica lend themselves to players looking for a bit more “punch” in their…well, punches, at the cost of speed and agility. The rest of the roster, such as Kid Cobra, Byte and Barq, and Twintelle – who is already a fan favorite with her hair-focused combat – instead have more unusual combat styles that will cater to players looking for a more “specific” type of character.
During my time with the game, I naturally found myself leaning towards some characters over others – I mostly favored the quicker characters like Spring Man and Ninjara, as a player that likes to weave and dodge pretty often. However, ARMS manages to do a lot with a limited roster (which will hopefully be expanded with DLC), with each character feeling radically different than the other in terms of how they play and fight.
Aside from the characters and arms that players will pick, the game also switches things up during the match with a variety of environmental hazards and obstacles that can either work for or against the players’ advantage. From Ninjara’s Ninja School that places the combat down a narrow staircase to emphasize jumping and dodging to Twintelle’s French red carpet premiere level that features parked cars as obstacles, each arena offers some new twist or challenge to the combat that will allow players to think beyond just exchanging punches and grabs, while also providing some exceptionally colorful and varied locales.
Though we’ve only had the game in our hands for around a week, ARMS has already proven itself as an experience that’s pretty hard to put down. Combining the quirky nature of its previous titles like Splatoon with a style that feels fairly close to traditional fighting games, ARMS offers a unique fighting experience that lends itself well to the Switch from a hardware standpoint, but is far more in-depth than what Wii owners had a decade ago with something like boxing in Wii Sports. Whether you decide to play with motion controls or not (with the game fully supporting more traditional options too like the Joy-Con or the Switch Pro Controller), ARMS‘s level of fun and accessibility is extendable in every way.
ARMS will release for Nintendo Switch on June 16th, 2017 – stay tuned for our upcoming full review next week. You can also get hands-on time with ARMS yourself though the Global Testpunch, which is running now through June 7th, 2017.