Nintendo reinvents the fighting genre
If there’s one thing Nintendo does exceptionally well, it’s taking complex genres and making them accessible and fun for all. They did it with racing (Mario Kart), competitive shooters (Splatoon), platformers (Kirby), and now they’ve done it with fighting — ARMS.
ARMS is a brand new Nintendo franchise that reinvents the traditional 3D fighting game. It introduces us to 10 combatants from around the world, all possessing stretchy arms capable of extending across battle arenas. From Spring Man’s slinky arms to Min Min’s ramen noodle arms, it’s a wacky ensemble possessing that unmistakable Nintendo charm. Question is — does the game have an “arm” up on the competition? Let’s take a look!
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
While Nintendo has experience making boxing games (Punch Out!!) and fighters (Super Smash Bros.), ARMS represents something entirely new. It’s a methodical and highly strategic arena fighter where battles are fought, at a distance, using characters with elongated arms.
All 10 combatant have bright, colourful appearances and unique designs, making them stand out in a crowded genre. Spring Man and Ribbon Girl are the closest thing ARMS has to being mascots, and both have fresh, fun presentations. That unique sense of style permeates the roster, including the bandage-wrapped Master Mummy and Hollywood A-Lister, Twintelle. Their looks are all cartoony, sure, but underneath their soft exteriors lies a group of tough-as-nails brawlers.
What I like most about these characters, though, is how all their arms are made from different materials. For instance, Ninjara the teleporting ninja wields chain link arms, while the slithering Kid Cobra has snakes for arms. Likewise, Master Mummy’s limbs are made from gauze, and Twintelle actually attacks with her hair, not her arms. Nintendo has done a phenomenal job bringing these limber warriors to life, easily the game’s biggest attraction.
Highly strategic combat
From the get-go Nintendo has focused on the game’s motion controls, touting its fun and accessible nature. And yes, it’s true ARMS does offer highly intuitive gameplay, but it’s also extremely deep at the same time. While your first few hours are mainly practicing when to punch or block, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Once you’re ready for more advanced moves — like dashing and jumping — the game gets much more interesting. Using these techniques you can evade incoming punches and launch counter strikes while your opponent is exposed. Furthermore, held dashes and jumps will charge up your fists, adding extra power and sometimes elemental properties.
As an example, the Sparky ARMS get infused with electricity that can shock and stun opponents, leaving them vulnerable. There are seven different attributes ARMS can possess, ranging from fire, lightning, wind, or ice. Each affects opponents in different ways (e.g. ice slows them down) adding layers of strategy on top of basic fighting.
Attack triangle, Rush, and Items
Like most fighting games (and Nintendo’s own Fire Emblem series), ARMS features an attack triangle that governs the gameplay. Here’s how it works: punches will deflect throws, throws go through block, and block nullifies punches. In the heat of battle it’s important to keep this rock-paper-scissors system in mind to counter your opponent.
ARMS also contains a super move mechanic, called your Rush Attack. As you battle your Rush Meter will build up, and when full you can unleash a massive barrage of punches. Rush attacks will also deflect any incoming punches, making them even more potent.
As if that weren’t enough, periodically during matches items will randomly drop, both helpful and harmful. Good items include HP and Rush Juice, which creates a small recharge zone refilling your health and Rush Meter, respectively. On the flip side, Fire and Shock Bombs can singe or shock you if you’re near their explosive range. As you can see, ARMS contains many different gameplay mechanics all adding up to one deep fighting game.
Different types of ARMS
Of course, the most important game mechanic are the titular ARMS themselves. Every character begins with a set of three, two of which you can equip per round. Between rounds you have the option of swapping ARMS, if you so choose. With 10 characters and three ARMS each, that’s a total of 30 different ARMS in the game.
What’s great about these ARMS is each one attacks in a different way. Some are traditional boxing gloves with elemental properties, while others — like the Boomerang — have arcing trajectories. They’re joined by ARMS that can fire lasers, shoot tri-shots, and there’s even a shield-like one for defense. Experimenting with the various ARMS is tremendous fun, and they all offer unique capabilities for many types of strategies.
Modes, Modes, Modes
In terms of modes, ARMS offers quite a few. For starters, Grand Prix is your basic arcade mode and has you challenge all 10 fighters, plus a secret end boss. It offers seven different difficulty levels, giving players of all skill levels a chance to play.
Next, there’s the local Versus mode for 1-4 players. Here you can participate in numerous game types, including ARMS takes on volleyball (V-Ball) and basketball. In V-Ball, you’re given an explosive bomb-ball and whoever drops it first (or lets too much time pass) gets exploded. Meanwhile, in Basketball your goal is to grab and physically toss (or dunk) your opponent into the net.
When it comes time to test your skills, ARMS offers two modes for that: Skillshot and 1-on-100. For Skillshot you’ll be need to smash targets, some moving and some stationary, and go for a top score. Or, try your luck at 1-on-100 where, as the name implies, you need to defeat 100 enemies. While it is a super tough challenge, between enemy waves HP Juice is tossed into the arena letting you restore a bit of health.
Of course, ARMS also features online modes including Party Match for 1-2 players, and the ability to battle friends. From my experience thus far, the net code for ARMS is very good and lag/disconnections have been extremely rare.
Many control types
Another great aspect of ARMS is how it’s fully playable using motion controls or a traditional controller set-up. Usually I go straight for Nintendo Switch’s Pro Controller for maximum precision, but found the Joy-Cons just as playable. From swinging my arms to punch, to moving them inwards to block, it all felt quite nature. The only issue I had was property curving punches, though I have gotten a little better with practice.
In addition to the motion controls and Pro Controller, ARMS offers a few more ways to play. One way is inserting the Joy-Con Controllers into its grip (which feels similar to the Pro Controller.) You can also attach the Joy-Cons to the console and play ARMS in handheld mode. Finally, by holding single Joy-Con Controllers sideways up to two players can play. Yes, that means ARMS is 2-players right out of the box.
With five different control schemes possible, no matter how you prefer to game, ARMS has you covered.
ARMS is a unique fighting game with a wonderful roster and surprisingly deep gameplay. Experimenting with the many different ARMS is a joy, as is mastering them in battle. The action is a fast 60fps, and online battles were entirely lag-free from my experience. Overall, an exciting new entry in the fighting genre and one Switch fans shouldn’t hesitate to try.
+ Creative and fun roster
+ Colourful graphics
+ Great controls — motion and traditional
+ Lots of modes
+ Deep gameplay
+ Highly competitive
– Roster is a bit small
– Curving punches can be a challenge
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4/5