Ever since it’s reveal at Nintendo’s 2017 presentation back in January, I’ve been totally sold on the idea of ARMS. It’s quirky imaginative take on the traditional fighter and roster of characters that ooze charisma had done well to win over fans well before it’s release. Stakes are high with ARMS being Nintendo’s a new IP, which given Nintendo’s history, is something we are still getting used to seeing. This being my first Switch title as well, I was very eager and excited to finally dive into this. Does it live up to it’s promise and potential that we saw in the initial reveal? Let’s find out!
ARMS is a unique take on the traditional fighter genre. You are pitted against an opponent, or several opponents. The twist is your main form of attack, is by using your left and right extendable arms to punch. That’s right, when you punch, your arm stretches out like a spring across the arena. As if this isn’t already a stretch (sorry for the pun), you can also control the direction of your punches, so your punch can extend and turn right to chase and hopefully land it’s mark on your opponent.
In addition to punching, you can also performs grabs and rush attacks. Grabs are unblockable attacks that when executed, show a short sequence of whoop ass being performed. It can range from one character doing a sequence of kicks and the last one sending your opponent flying across the stage, or can be a brutal smash sending your opponent crashing into the ground. Although they cannot be blocked, grabs can be countered by any oncoming punch. Rush attacks are the games form of special attacks, which throws a flurry of punches your opponents way. These can be blocked or dodged, but if you are caught in it’s path, you will take massive damage from each consecutive blow.
On the defensive side of things, you can perform blocks, and to maneuver, you have the ability to dash and jump. While performing any of these abilities and continuing the hold their respective button charges your arms. When charged, this adds extra abilities to whatever arm you have equipped. A standard glove may do regular damage but when charged, can freeze an opponent. Other arms launch mini type missiles, but when charged, they explode upon reaching their target. This all gives you a wealth of options to counter attack when dodging an incoming punches.
One of the key features shown off with ARMS well before release was motion controls. This immediately spurred negative reactions from all over, as such controls schemes in the past were typically presented as the only option for players and generally didn’t bode well. I’m glad to say ARMS pulls off some great motion controls. They are both accurate and intuitive. Although I still tend to use the joy-con grip as my preferred method of control, pulling off my favourite combos was never an issue when using the motion controls. In fact, this is how I learned all the basics and got accustomed to how ARMS played.
You use the motion controls by holding each joy-con up in the thumbs up grip, meaning you have access to press the triggers and shoulder buttons using your thumbs. Performing a punch with either arm is simply done by extending with whichever arm you wish to use, as if you were executing the punch yourself. Furthermore, steering your punch left or right is done my simply tilting the joy-cons in the desired direction. Doing things like extending both arms performs grabs, or titling the joy-cons inwards performs blocks. You can perform a dash by pressing the L shoulder button, and jump by pressing the R shoulder button. The only thing I found a little hard to get used to was moving my character, which is done by tilting both joy-cons in whichever direction you want to move. I find movement like this done without any analog feedback very tough to pull off. Overall, I did find the motion controls to be the most intuitive though, as each motion makes perfect sense in relation to what your character will execute.
What works best for ARMS is that there is a plethora of controls schemes to use. I’ve never had huge problems with motion controls in other games, but I do understand that some people simply can never be accustomed to them. Those types of games simply don’t cater to that audience. Well, Nintendo has finally listened to all that great feed back and instead of shoving things like motion controls down players throats, you can now choose to forego these nuances for a more traditional control scheme.
Using anything besides the motion controls also preserves the intuitive nature of ARMS. Having each arm mapped independently to specific gestures makes pulling off left and right punches a piece of cake. To do the equivalent with the standard controls simply requires the player the press B for a left punch, and A for a right punch. To perform a grab, you press A and B at the same time. Blocking is however done by clicking the left stick, which doesn’t make total sense as to why this button mapping is used. As a result, I find I end up forgetting to block, just because it’s not so intuitive. Another complaint is when using the single joy-con mode, changing targets in modes other than one versus one becomes a problem. The action to change targets is mapped to the trigger, which when using the single joy-con approach, makes pressing this by accident a common occurrence. I don’t understand why the trigger has to be the button for this, because in single joy-con mode, there are two shoulder buttons available and one isn’t being used at all.
One tip, that isn’t cited in the games control schemes for whatever reason, the left and right triggers when using the Joy-con grip or Pro Controller are also independently mapped to each arm. I find this is a much more intuitive approach to throwing punches, especially when executing a rush attack and you need to throw a flurry of punches very quickly. Using A and B for rushes to throw flurries of punches usually leads to missed opportunities for me, and ultimately, less damage dealt. I simply cannot quickly alternate pressing A and B fast enough. Using the triggers to throw punches during rushes guarantees I will be able to quickly throw as many punches as possible and deal maximum damage. There are no missed opportunities this way. What’s also handy is your thumb is free to only worry about two buttons for jumping and dashing, instead of adding an extra two set of buttons to perform each punch. It’s much more efficient this way.
The wide array of controls schemes available in ARMS make it accessible to just about anybody. Want to get online and play ranked mode and need all the precision you can get? You can use a Pro Controller. Want to call over some buddies and have a drunken ARMS punch fest? Strap on a few joy-cons and just pray no one makes a hole in your wall. Want to hand one of your joy-cons to your buddy for a quick one on one? Well, you can do that do, and it plays perfectly fine while still offering all the precision one would need to be competitive. I do find however that each control scheme does have some glaring problem, that otherwise hold the game back from overall controlling perfectly. These may seem like things I may be nit picking on, but for a game that is centered around being competitive, they do stand out, especially because controls cannot be customized to your liking.
There is a wealth of modes available in ARMS besides one on one matches. You can pit yourself against two or three other opponents. Some complain these modes are tough, as you end up getting ganged up on. However, the nature of such matches opens you up to such nuances. Coming from being a fan in the past of things like WWE, triple threat and battle royal matches are all fair game to me, and it’s just something you need to deal with. You can also partake in two on two matches, where you are tethered to your teammate by a rope. If you teammate is knocked back from an attack, you are pulled along with them.
Other modes include volley ball which requires played to juggle a ball using their punches. As the ball lands, it explodes, much like something out of Rocket League. Basketball works by having you grab your opponent, which leads to a throw or a dunk scoring two or three points depending on position. I love seeing dunks by character like Mummy Master, as they are quite ferocious and it’s awesome seeing your character stretch their arms insanely far back to slam them through the hoop, it’s a great touch! Lastly, there is a target practice mode which pits players on opposite ends of the arena, and has targets placed in between them. The objective is to hit as many targets as possible to score more points than your opponent.
All these modes can span across the games several stages. Each stage are slightly altered from one another to create unique fighting scenarios that players can take advantage of. Helix’s stage is a long corridor that features glass tubes along either side. Smart players can move behind and around the tubes to keep out of danger and pop out for a quick attack from time to time. Kid Cobra’s stage is loads of fun, as you can step on a circular platform that spins around a skate park like segment of the stage. Jumping and moving around feels like skateboarding almost. It creates some fast paced action that ends up being a constant affair of knocking your opponent of their pad and taking advantage of being on the higher vantage point.
Single player offers a Grand Prix mode, which pits you against all of the games other fighters. The objective is to defeat them in succession and ultimately win the world title belt. A couple of the matches in between have one of the other modes thrown in. Although basic, it’s more fun than it sounds. The mode is shown off like a TV broadcast presentation. There’s a cute little announcer who has a silly voice, something like you’d hear in Banjo and Kazooie. He introduces each fighter, and says some small blurb about them and hypes up the fight. Nothing ground breaking, but it’s a nice little touch. The Grand Prix is a great way to ease into the challenge of the game and how to take on each fighter, although it’s lasting appeal can be quite limited once you’ve seen everything it offers.
You can additionally unlock different arms for all the fighter. This is done through a series of target practice mini games. You have to spend the in games currency to be able to play these. Normally this wouldn’t be bad, but the in games currency is hard to come by. Playing any match earns you a small amount of coins each time, winning earns you a bit more, and not taking damage nets you even more income. Even with all these put together, accumulating coins can take a long time. But in the end, it’s well worth it. The more arms you have, the more you can customize each fighters offensive strategy to your liking.
Where most players will probably spend most of their times are the games online modes. You have party mode, which is where the casual fun is had. Here, you are grouped with several other players and partake in all the games different modes while being matched against different people in your group each time. You may start off playing one on one with one opponent, and as that’s done, you are taken back to the lobby, where you get a nice visual representation of all the matches going on while you wait. You can see who is taking damage and who has won their respective bouts. Once you’re up, you’ll be placed in another match with the next set of players in your group. It’s a very neat way to run online lobbies, and would love to see more of this kind of stuff in the future.
In addition to Party Mode, are the ranked matches. By default, ranked matches are not available from the get go. In order to unlock them, you must defeat the single player grand prix on the level 4 difficulty. This is a smart move, as ranked matches can be quite tough and victory is hard to come by. Requiring players to defeat the grand prix at a certain difficulty essentially ensures they are ready to take on tougher foes online. Defeating grand prix at this level is no easy task, as I quickly came to discover. Once you are in the thick and thin of the ranked matches though, you’ll run into very tough opponents who are quite skilled with their respective character. Being reckless and not carefully planning your attack will often lead to you getting pummeled. Of course, as you win, your rank will increase through an XP like bar. When you win, you earn a lot of XP, but your XP decreases a little bit with each loss as a consequence.
I found all the extra modes quite fun, although I still felt one on one was the best way to play. This is where the game feels most complete, and other modes, although fun, do tend to come off a bit shallow. Again though, the options don’t hurt and basically provide something for everyone, whether you want to mess around dunking your friends, or be a competitive master. Online is really where it’s at, however problems with playing online happen if your connection is being ever so finicky. The game suffers poorly because of this. Disconnections are quite rampant, where once I went through three character selections and the connection immediately dropped each time. Even if you do find a match, I find lag plays a big part. Often times I feel like punches, grabs and blocks I execute visually land their mark, but my attacks go through my opponent and they are left unharmed. It’s a shame this is a problem, because ARMS is a very deep fighter, and I’d love to be able to partake in the online mode more without feeling like the game is screwing me over each time. That’s not to say I never had any epic matches that went down to the last punch. It’s still fun overall despite the connections issues.
Although ARMS can be enjoyed in casual fun, there is much depth and strategy to fighting. As a fighter, you commit to each punch for the entire duration of it’s journey across the stage. Meaning, if you’re punch doesn’t land it’s mark, this opens you to a counter attack from your opponent. So even though recklessly throwing punches may seem like a fun idea, in the higher difficulties and online modes, you may not see much success for being overly aggressive as you’ll often make yourself wide open for counter attacks.
Being patient and having a good defensive game through blocking, dashing and jumping is key. Not only can you stop or get out of the way from incoming attacks, but the charge ability can provide a great counter attack strategy. You can dodge an incoming attack, charge your arms, throw an attack that freezes your opponent. While they are helplessly stuck in place, you can throw your second attack which then sends them flying in a whirlwind. It’s when you can make attacks connect in this manner where the game really starts to come together.
To add to the depth and strategy, each character in ARMS plays quite differently. There are certain perks and abilities that only certain characters are able to take advantage of. For example, Master Mummy has the ability to recharge health while blocking, and doesn’t flinch when hit. However he is slow and a big target. Other’s like Twintelle have the ability to slow down incoming attacks while charging. Ninjara has the ability to warp in mid air, and if successfully blocking an attack. Each have their strengths and weaknesses that becomes quite apparent when playing ranked matches against those who know how to exploit them.
Visually, ARMS looks great, both from a technical and artistic standpoint. Nintendo has done it once again in creating a memorable new universe chock full of interesting characters. I absolutely adore each and everyone one of them. From Max Brass’s big, cocky macho demeanor, to Helix’s hilarious wiggle, each character brings something charming to the table. It makes me want to be good at using each and every character. I’d compare the charisma brought from each character to something that you’d see from a game like Overwatch. Each character just teems with personality and are so darn interesting and great to look at.
The game performs great and never did I see a big hit in frame rates unless playing in split screen. The action otherwise stays smooth and snappy. Taking ARMS on the go in handheld mode also looks glorious. Everything is super crisp and easy to make out, that I never felt that I was at any disadvantage for playing things like ranked matches this way. Playing in table top mode with a friend is possible, although you’ll need to huddle in close to see most of the action. But never does it take away from the fun.
From an audio perspective, ARMS does quite well. I love the sound effects, and everything is very distinct and detailed. This helps differentiate all the different things going on at any given time. Punches make distinct shwooshy sounds, and if you hear carefully enough, there’s a neat little spring like sound behind each one. Landing clean punches also such a satisfying kick to them, combine the audio and visual queues together. It always feels good to lay waste to your opponents. Characters are all voiced uniquely and have some funny catch phrases thrown in here and there. I especially love hearing Kid Cobra say “COOOOOOBRAAAAA” upon winning a match, it’s great!
ARMS features one of the catchiest theme songs I’ve heard in a while. I simply can’t get it out of my head. It’s absolutely brilliant, that it’s amazing to see how fond people are of it and just love singing along with the intro sequence. It’s a very fun song, so fun that Nintendo decided to base the entire games sound track on this theme. Each stages song is a variant of the main ARMS theme and the familiar main melody can be heard when listening carefully. Amazingly it never sounds repetitive, and each of the many stage tracks sound distinct and lends to the excitement of each match. Take a listen below!
ARMS is an absolute blast. The game is very accessible to just about anyone, but tough to master. Finding the fighter that fits your bill and you can customize to your liking will take some time, as each character and what they can equip bring all sorts of different strategies to the table. The game features a plethora of ways to play it through it’s numerous control schemes. Although I appreciate the wealth of options for control, each do seem to have some glaring problem. Without the ability to customize controls, for a game that is centered around being competitive, these do stand out. Although, through the games many modes, there is a wealth of things to do initially, and quite a few things to unlock. Unfortunately due to the slow pace at which you can unlock arms for each character is a bit of a pain. However, in terms of the games content, I think there is enough to go around for now, especially given Nintendo’s promise to continue rolling our DLC after the games release. I’m sure over the next few months, there will be all sorts of new things to experience, whether it be new modes, characters or even arms. Having the right arms available can make all the difference when getting competitive in this game. As a result, the core of the game will center around it’s multiplayer modes, whether it be online or offline. Playing multiplayer overall is loads of fun, especially online when you are put against some tough opponents while competing for a higher rank. The only hindrance is the fidgety connection and performance issues that do plague the online scene. Having disconnections occur so frequently along with lag issues feel like the game is screwing you over sometimes and makes me think twice before getting online. All in all, despite these issues, ARMS is loads of fun, but I do find for the full retail price tag, it can be a tough sell for those who may not be committed to the competitive scene entirely. However if you are sold on playing entirely competitive, and being the best fighter out their, you will be rewarded by ARMS, as it offers a great amount of depth through it’s many fighters. Do be wary of the issues that do plague the online scene, however if Nintendo can sort these out in the near future, than it will have overcome it’s biggest hurdle.