Within the last few years, Nintendo has made a little more effort to introduce new IPs to their hardware platforms after fans have been criticizing the gaming giant for simply delivering the same old franchises over and over again. Nintendo had a hit on their hands with Splatoon back in 2015, with the inkling kids being quickly welcomed by fans into Nintendo’s classic line up of endearing characters. Now with the launch of the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo has delivered another new IP in the form of Arms; a wacky fighting game full of stretchy arms and customizable fists. While the game isn’t perfect, Arms may be another hit franchise for Nintendo if they put the care into the game that it desperately needs.
In a nutshell, Arms is a one on one fighting game that resembles a cartoony game of boxing. The game includes a roster of ten characters along with two unplayable boss characters as well. Each combatant has two stretchy limbs that can extend far out and punch their opponents from a far distance. Each hand can be equipped with a different type of boxing glove that introduces different styles of attacks to each punch. The goal in Arms is to maneuver around the arena by dodging and jumping around while also directing punches at your opponent in hopes to knock them out and deplete their health. Grabs are also used to snatch an opponent up and deal a large amount of damage quickly. A rush meter is also included that fills up while the player is dealing and taking damage. Once full, the player can unleash a flurry of powerful punches that deal a devastating amount of damage if caught into it.
Each character has a different set of abilities that make one plays a little differently from the other. For example, Master Mummy can take punches better than most characters and can regain health while blocking attacks. Ninjara can teleport around the arena and will quickly appear in front of enemies once an attack is blocked. Byte & Barq has a robot dog companion that can randomly punch opponents while also blocking punches for Byte. Helix is a rubbery character that can duck under attacks and stretch his body around to help evade attacks. Min Min can spin kick attacks away from her while also unleashing a dragon from her arm after successful throws and dashes.
Choosing the right character requires the player to play through all of them and find the one that suits them best, similar to any fighting game really. All ten characters start out with different glove weapons than the other, but eventually with enough grinding, each character will eventually earn all of the weapons that the other characters possess too. I personally attached myself to Min Min (even though she’s a walking Asian stereotype) since I appreciate her spin kick that knocks away punches and her agility feels just right. Twintelle is another favorite of mine since she has an aura that can slow down enemy attacks and her style is feisty. I swear it’s not the booty… but you won’t see me complaining. I hated Helix since the rubbery feeling of his movements made him feel sluggish to me. All of the characters have their charms so no one should have an issue connecting with at least one of them. Too bad that the boss characters are not playable; although one of them, Max Brass, will be in the near future thanks to an upcoming patch.
At the start of each match, the player has the choice of swapping out a fist weapon on each arm. There are three to choose from at the start of the match, with each character possessing three unique weapons. These weapons range from electrified fists that can stun opponents or disabled an arm or two, fists that shoot rockets, boomerang-like gloves that can swing and hit opponents from behind, and snake-like fists that whip at players quickly. More glove weapons can be unlocked by playing the game and earning in-game currency (we’ll just call it “money” here) that can be spent on mini-games that allow the player a chance to earn new weapons. Money can be earned by participating in or winning matches, with more given by hitting winning streaks or defeating Grand Prix mode. Grinding for money can be time consuming and all weapons can eventually be earned by all characters, making each one a little less unique as a result. What sucks about this system is that every attempt to cash in money and earn more weapons can lead to earning little to nothing, which makes grinding for cash a little frustrating.
The most important part of Arms’ gameplay is maneuverability. Landing punches and throws are what wins the match, but being agile and outsmarting your opponent will ultimately put you ahead of your competition. Keeping an eye on your opponent’s tactics while dashing and jumping out of harm’s way will always trump a player who spams punches like they’re going into an epileptic seizure. This brings me to the game’s controls. Arms can be played with both motion controls or physical controls from the Joy-Con grip, handheld mode or Pro controller. While I appreciate the game’s plethora of options given to the player, each control method have their strengths and weaknesses that make neither one of them perfect.
Motion controls are surprisingly responsive and fun in Arms, which also feels like Nintendo’s recommended method of play since the motion controls are plastered all over the game’s marketing and loading screens. What’s great about the motion controls are how easily the player can curve punches in the direction you want. Swinging your fist in a left hook will curve the player’s punch towards the left and catch your opponent by surprise, while punching straight will send a punch right at the opposing player’s chin. Unfortunately, the motion controls take a LOT of practice when trying to maneuver around the arena since the player must tilt their hands left and right in order to move and use the trigger buttons on the Joy-Cons to jump and dodge.
Traditional controls, however, are the opposite. Moving, dodging and jumping are all controlled by physical buttons and simply tilting the left analog stick. This makes ducking around punches much easier than the motion controls since you’re not combining arm movements and button presses to move around. There’s a huge flaw with the physical controls though and that’s directing the punches where you want them to go. A button is mapped to each arm and and curving the punch requires the player to combine a button press with a direction on the analog stick. Seems simple, right? Well the problem is that you’re using the same analog stick to move around the arena too, so I find that most of my punches move in an unintentional direction because I’m trying to stay on my toes and not get caught in an attack. That’s a HUGE problem.
Controlling your fighter in Arms comes down to one of two options; do I want better maneuverability or better control of my punches? Neither option really do both particularly well, so I personally choose the traditional controls since that’s what feels more natural to me and I tend to keep moving around in Arms instead of staying put and getting the best attack in. Practice will ultimately make either control scheme serviceable for any player, but that fact alone makes the barrier of entry and accessibility of Arms harder, thus introducing a pretty hefty learning curve to the game. Once I found that I got past that learning curve, I began to enjoy myself much more.
Arms happens to be a little light on the content, especially if you’re here for a single player experience. Thankfully, like Splatoon before it, Arms will continue to be supported with free DLC in the near future, but none of that is here or now. What is here is a bit disappointing though. The gist of the single player content is in the form of Grand Prix mode, where players will go through a series of 10 fights against AI opponents to attempt to become the champion of Arms. A Versus mode full of mini games can be played solo against AI opponents or with other players via local play but most of them are not as fun unless actual live players are involved. Mini games include a basketball game where players grab and throw each other into a basketball hoop, a violent game of volleyball, target punching, team battles and more. All of them are fun diversions, and my favorite is the volleyball mode, but none of them have enough meat to them to constantly bring a single player gamer back.
Grand Prix mode has 10 difficulty modes (ranging from 1 to 10) that ramp up in challenge the higher you go. While this mode is fine, it contains one of the most infuriating AIs in recent memory. If you crank the difficulty up to 4, which is required to finish in order to unlocked multiplayer Ranked mode, the AI becomes frustratingly cheap and seems to read your inputs a lot. Not to mention the final boss on this difficulty is a character named Hedlok who has six arms and makes me want to drop kick a Joy-Con through my television. I wouldn’t mind this so much if the game didn’t require you to finish these harder difficulties in order to unlock Ranked mode. Understandably, Nintendo wants players to get their feet wet in higher skilled matches in order to join ranked games, but no online player I’ve encountered has been as difficult or as cheap as anything the AI throws at you at level four or higher in Grand Prix mode. Hopefully Nintendo patches this out, similar to Super Mario Maker’s timed unlocks back in 2015.
The bread and butter of Arms is the online Party mode, which allows up to 20 players to enter a lobby online and play together. What makes this mode stand out is that players are randomly grouped up into a variety of game modes that can consist of two to four players. Once a match ends, all of the players in the lobby will be randomly grouped up again for a new match. Party mode cycles through a lot of interesting gameplay modes, including all of the mini games found in Versus mode and more. One mode will pit four players against the final boss Hedlok while others include two-on-two team battles or four player free for alls. This mode is where I found myself throughout the majority of my play time and it’s where I always come back to when I sit down to play the game again since I love the variety and accessibility of it and it’s simply addictive and a joy to play. My only complaint is that I wish the mini-games were included in a separate online mode for those who just want to hop online and play volleyball or team battles against online players, giving us more options in general.
Arms has options for local system link players to connect wirelessly and play together as well as online friend matches. Nintendo does what they do best and walls off multiplayer to friends only like they always do. There isn’t any way to add friends to a lobby and jump in with random players online, which is annoying as it always is. However, if a friend is already in an online party, it is possible to join up with them and get pulled into the lobby with them. I just wish Nintendo would have made this a little easier for multiple players to set up and jump into without having to backdoor into it.
I can confidently say that Arms is one of the best looking games for the Nintendo Switch and a great gauge of what caliber of visuals the hardware is capable of. In docked mode, the game runs at 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second consistently. On handheld mode the game runs at 720p resolution at the same frame rate, as to be expected. Thanks to the buttery frame rate, Arms feels extremely smooth in motion and gameplay. The character models are very detailed as well as the stages. The variety in the stages, ranging from a movie theater parking lot full of cars to a test lab littered with test tubes, makes for some fun matches that play differently on each one. Nintendo crafted an interesting soundtrack with a great theme song that reminds me of Baltimora’s one hit wonder Tarzan Boy from the 80’s. During gameplay though, the music isn’t as unique and I found mostly forgettable. Overall I never feel like I’m playing a last generation game when punching dudes in Arms and that’s a big compliment coming from the hardware in question.
Arms is a great first stab at a new fighting game franchise from Nintendo. The game is very unique and creative. It feels like Punch Out mixed with Stretch Armstrong. I was surprised at the depth tucked into the game thanks to the character abilities mixed with the different weapons and curvature of punches that can catch an opponent off-guard. When placed in a good match, Arms can be a total blast to play. Sadly, Arms is very limited on content and not one control scheme is a perfect way to play, placing a hefty learning curve on the game. AI opponents are unforgiving and often frustrating to play against. If you’re looking for a fun single player experience, stay far away from Arms since there isn’t much for you here. Most, if not all, players will be sticking to ranked online battles and the addictive party mode, which are both a lot of fun. Unlocking items can be repetitive and grindy, but ultimately add more depth to the combat.
Is Arms the next big franchise from Nintendo? It’s really hard to tell at this point in time. I’m curious as to what Nintendo will add to the game in the future and I think that content will ultimately make or break the longevity of this title. I think Arms is a great first step for Nintendo to deliver an accessible online fighting game but a lot of work will need to be done in a sequel to get me to purchase another one. Personally, I can see myself popping Arms in every once and awhile just to enjoy the Party mode online, similar to Mario Kart 8. Regardless, it’s hard to recommend Arms at a $60 price point for now but ask me again six months time and we’ll see what state the game is in during the Holiday season. Arms is a stretch at $60… see what I did there?