Nintendo has always provided gamers with intriguing and quirky new ideas of how we play games through their systems, with some being far more successful than others. Take the motion control craze that the Wii started to the interesting (but flawed) second-screen experience of the Wii U. Though their experimentation on the hardware front has led to some mixed results, Nintendo has often found far more success when it comes to implementing quirky new gameplay ideas on the software side of things, with the Nintendo Switch’s ARMS proving to be the latest in the line of the company making an out-of-the-box concept turn into an incredibly fun and dynamic gameplay experience.
In the same ways that Animal Crossing brought adorable (and addicting) slice-of-life simulation to the GameCube and Splatoon brought a very “Nintendo” version of shooting mechanics to the Wii U, ARMS sees the fighting genre brought to the Switch in a way that packs a surprising amount of depth and strategy into a title that’s just as immediately accessible to those seeking a fun fighting experience with some wacky and wavy extendable arms, as it will be to more seasoned fighting enthusiasts looking for depth.
As the name implies, ARMS is a fighting game where players throw punches with a pair of extendable, stretchable “arms.” After selecting from one of ten different fighters, players then choose their arms — which can either be the same pair of weapons or mixed-and-matched — and either attempt to knock out the opponent, or outlast their foe with just enough stamina at the round’s end.
The arms at players’ disposal vary greatly not only in speed and power, but also in their wild and crazy abilities. Traditional boxing-glove style arms are great all-around options for most fights, while dozens of different arms are available for players to switch up their fighting style to varying effect. These range from the Boomerang that allows players to sneakily catch players off-guard with a returning projectile arm, to more elaborate and cartoonish arms like the whip-like Slapamander or the Revolver that shoots out three long-reaching shots in a row.
Based on the trailers and gameplay footage that first showed off the game earlier this year, ARMS might have seemed like the type of game that would cater mostly to the Wii Sports crowd: in a way, it does. Especially when playing with the motion controls (which actually function remarkably well), ARMS has the type of easy-to-grasp mechanics that should make it immediately enjoyable to younger players or those that may not have the grasp of a Street Fighter or Marvel vs. Capcom title.
Underneath that simplicity though, ARMS features some surprising levels of depth that should make it a standout fighter on the Nintendo Switch. Aside from the arms that players have at their disposal, the gameplay deepens with additional layers like dodges, throws, and even radically different environmental hazards and obstacles that players either have to watch out for – or that they can use to their advantage if they’re crafty.
As much as it might feel like flailing your arms around to victory might be the way to win, ARMS is a more methodical and deliberate fighting game that emphasizes players to be strategic with their blows and where they are throwing their punches. More often than not, randomly throwing your arms around is a quick way to end the match early, so judging your distance from the opponent and (especially) being aware of what is around you is the best path to claiming victory. In the same way, it’s especially important to note the almost “rock-paper-scissors”-like structure to the combat; punches can deflect throws, blocks can deflect punches, and throws can get through players that like to block.
While it might take a little getting used to some of the finer points of its combat, ARMS‘s variety of single and multiplayer modes is sure to offer a little bit of something for everyone to get there. The Grand Prix mode – which takes players through ten rounds against the majority of the game’s cast – offers a great way to engage in single-player focused combat that still offers quite a challenge with the AI-controlled characters. Even when I played against medium difficulty opponents at level 4, I found myself up against some crafty AI opponents which ensures Grand Prix will offer up plenty of challenge — and a few surprises, as well.
Aside from the Grand Prix mode, the game also switches things up with a few “mini-game”-esque modes like a basketball hoops mode where players try to dunk on other players with grabs and throws. Alternatively, a volleyball-like game type — with the volleyball replaced with a ticking timebomb — emphasizes the players’ ability to juggle and set up combos, while a score attack mode has players hitting carnival game-like targets with the highest score at the end of the match. These games aren’t particularly deep, they do offer a nice diversion from the core fighting experience between matches and those looking for a break from the onslaught of punching and fighting.
Though ARMS comes packed with enough modes and content that should keep players engaged with its fun combat and learning its intricacies, the game is noticeably a bit on the lightweight side when it comes to a wealth of content. The Grand Prix mode should feel pretty standard for most fighting game fans as a typical “Arcade Mode,” while the previously-mentioned mini games have a few issues of their own aside from their lack of much depth (Basketball in particular gets very chaotic with more players than a 1v1 matchup). This will be remedied in some way later on with plans for free DLC — including new characters, maps, and more — though it’s not without saying that ARMS does feel a bit light on characters and maps to play on.
What’s there is already great thanks to the great character designs and the lively, detailed maps, but I do wish there was just a little bit more of it at launch to avoid some of that repetitive feeling (aside from the wealth of arms that are at players’ disposal to unlock and use), but it’s encouraging that free DLC will help to keep the playerbase active post-release. The roster may lack the wealth of characters that some might be used to in other series (especially given the staggering roster in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U & 3DS), though that’s made up for by the uniqueness of each character and their colorful and cartoonish designs.
That emphasis on character and color is especially important, as ARMS is an incredibly vibrant and appealing showpiece for what the Switch is capable of. Though it doesn’t have the same “wow” factor as the sweeping vistas of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild provided with the system’s debut, ARMS pops off the screen with color and detailed character animations that play well on both the big and small screen, whether the Switch is docked or undocked. Maintaining a crisp 60fps in both configurations, ARMS is often as much fun to watch as it is to play.
Taking full advantage of the Switch’s different controls and settings, ARMS can be played with or without motion controls across its different configurations. Those looking to take on the motion controls can do so by holding two Joy-Con controllers and tilting both controllers in the direction that you wish your character to move in, using the shoulder buttons to dodge and jump, and then jabbing in the air to activate your punches.
Admittedly, it took me a bit of getting used to the motion controls – once I wrapped my head around it though, it was easy to see the appeal of the surprisingly-effective motion controls and how they add just that little bit of something extra to the gameplay experience. Though they lack the same level of precision as using a traditional controller, twisting the Joy-Con to give my punches some extra direction and throwing punches was an incredibly fun experience that’s a great demonstration of the console’s motion control capabilities. That said – they’re purely optional, so you’ll still be able to have a great experience using the Joy-Con Grip, a Switch Pro Controller, or other more “traditional” control options.
The core gameplay mechanics and multiplayer offerings are sure to be the driving force behind ARMS and its replayability, and so far in our time with the game, its multiplayer modes (with the game offering matches between up to four players) are a great match for the Switch’s online and local multiplayer capabilities. Online play has also held up quite well during our sessions in matchmaking and ranked play with little in the way of lag or dropped connections. While that could change once a larger player base hits the game during its release next week, it’s already a big improvement from what we last saw during the first few weeks of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe‘s debut on the platform and is encouraging for the game to develop a strong, consistent online audience in the coming weeks.
That said, like other fighting games ARMS lives or dies by its mechanics and competitive edge, and on those fronts it succeeds as a fighting game that packs plenty of style and even more character. From the competitive Spring Man, to the fiesty Ribbon Girl, and to the more cartoonish characters like Master Mummy and Mechanica, ARMS might not have the same degree of characters that players might fall in love with like Splatoon‘s Inklings, but it shares that same sense of wackiness and off-the-wall charm that made Splatoon one of the Wii U’s standout titles, and ARMS seems poised to bring that same level of personality to the Switch.
While there are certainly some questions that were lingering in my head as I was playing – like the actual biological possibilities of these fighters to even have such crazy extendable ligaments – ARMS is nevertheless the type of goofy, smile-inducing fun that’s perfect for on-the-go play on the Nintendo Switch. Having played numerous hours of it both on-the-go and in-the-dock, ARMS lives up to the promise that the Switch has provided so far in giving players enjoyable and accessible games that can play well just about anywhere, and is perfect for those that need a break from hunting down shrines in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or in-between races in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
As one of Nintendo’s first truly new IP for the Nintendo Switch, ARMS‘s first impression might lend itself towards being no more substantial than the games we saw in Wii Sports: fun for short bursts of play, but lacking in substance. Instead, the game manages to make that simplicity its greatest strength with surprising levels of depth on top of it. More often than not, ARMS pulls no punches in being one of the standout titles in the Switch’s early lineup of games for the summer.