Nintendo has been criticized in the past about their reluctance to change. We’ve seen countless franchises stuck in similar designs, all for the sake of consistency and the rejection of trying something new. In contrast to this idea though, Nintendo has recently been putting out incredibly unique games, expanding their cast of colorful characters and creations. While we got the excellent Splatoon on Wii U, with a sequel coming soon to Switch, Nintendo proves once again that they still have plenty of creativity to burn with their new title ARMS.
ARMS is a mix between a fighting game and a shooter in the weirdest way. Players choose a fighter, each with spring like arms, and duke it out against their opponents in varied arenas with spring loaded punches. While traditional fighting game mechanics like timing and knowing when to execute special attacks is key, accuracy also plays a huge role in ARMS. Played either with one of the many ways to control the game or through the Switch’s oddly functional motion controls, ARMS is a demonstration of clever mechanics that remain simple, but deeply engaging.
Initially, I had little interest in ARMS, only really getting what everyone was so excited about after I played in the Global Test Punch demo. Getting my hands on the title showed what made the game special. I’m usually all for games with a plethora of content, like various modes, unlockables, and the like often being the hinge on what makes a good fighting game for me. Soul Calibur 3 is usually my favorite example of this, with its tons of things to find and many challenges to attempt. ARMS is fairly devoid of these extra goodies, but the combat core is so different feeling and challenging that I can see myself enjoying this title for several months.
One mechanic I did feel negatively towards though was the throw. Fighters can toss out this easy-to-land move frequently enough that those spamming it can often turn the tide of the match without a lot of effort. I also found that higher levels of computer controlled opponents have a tendency to use throws way more often than I feel they should. It took quite some time for me to even defeat rank four, let alone anything higher than that. Smart thinking and knowing how to mix up attacks can make being thrown easier to manage, but when it does happen in succession, it can be extremely frustrating.
Luckily, between friends, ARMS remains to be an absolute blast of a game. Each character is fun to learn, with each having their own clever nuances to keep in mind. I found myself gravitating towards Twintelle and no it wasn’t because of her fine assets. Her ability to slow down incoming punches for more time to react was a key strategy for how I took on tougher opponents. It was a nice buffer for me as I was learning how to be better at the game. I do genuinely enjoy the design of the entire cast and they’re varied enough that just about everyone will find someone to enjoy playing as.
Each character also has their stages, many of which have unique mechanics to keep in mind while dodging springy fists. My personal favorite is Kid Cobra’s stage, which is basically a Beyblade arena where fighters can ride on spinning tops. These stages offer up a few different ways to approach combat, with a common strategy being getting the high ground, which is also a common thing to do in many shooters. Throughout the fight, various items will also drop, either creating a resource to fight over or a hazard to use. It’s never a dull moment in an ARMS match. The speed of each fight can be a little intimidating at first, but learning how to play is immensely rewarding.
Not only do characters and stages have things to keep in mind, but each character can also equip various gloves for even more strategy. These weaponized fists do all sorts of things, like come in at an angle or neglect light attacks. Each character has three arms that they start out with, but by earning coins, even more arms can be unlocked. Finding a proper loadout is just another thing to keep in mind and offers tons of replayability. Elemental bonuses are also attached to each weapon, adding even more strategy when using charged attacks. Personally, I enjoy using ice weapons, as they root my opponent and limit their options.
Various modes are included in ARMS, many of them kind of hidden in the Versus tab. Fighters can dunk their opponents in a hoop, punch targets to see who can score the most points, play some volleyball, or take on one hundred foes in a race against time and stamina. These modes are fun little distractions to the main combat of the game. All of them are fun little variations and I’d love to see Nintendo continue to experiment with the framework of ARMS for even more content. Even with these extra things to do, the game feels a little light on the content side of things.
Even before launch, I had little trouble finding a match online. I also noticed that even in three person brawls, if a player disconnects, there is only a brief pause in the action. This is something I hope to see more often in online competitive games, as its a brilliant answer to a fairly common problem. There are casual ways to play, which puts fighters in multiple different styles of play in a single lobby, as well as ranked matches to truly test the skills of players. Unfortunately, ranked play is locked until Grand Prix is beat on at least level four, which is pretty rough to get through. I wish this wasn’t the case, as some of the AI can feel unfair, but getting through it is an awesome feeling.
Really the Grand Prix is one of the only places in the game I wish there had been more effort put into. We do get little snippets of character details between matches, but there is almost no story to be found, which is a feature many fighting game players look forward to going through. Maybe if ARMS sells well, we will see this expanded upon in a sequel or DLC, but for now, know that is pretty sparse. If anything, even little character bios would have been nice to see or a gallery of artwork and music. Of course, there may be features hidden in the game I’ve yet to find, but from what I’ve seen there is little here to really develop these well designed fighters.
ARMS is an excellent example of a mechanically excellent title, focusing mostly on the actual gameplay more than anything else. Competitive players will have a lot to look forward to, as there is plenty of depth in this seemingly simple combat system. I look forward to see how Nintendo treats the tournament scene if one develops behind this game, as it seems like they are finally putting forth more effort into supporting these die-hard players.
ARMS is available on June 16th for Nintendo Switch. For more information, check out the official Nintendo listing.