ARMS is fresh take on the 3D fighting genre. Offering an easy to pick up title with strategy and depth to boot. A strong declaration of independence for the Switch.
With the Nintendo Switch Nintendo is banking heavily on versatility. Not only in that you can play it on the go on at home on your TV but also in all the various ways in which you can control your games. One of those ways is motion controls, something they pushed heavily with the Wii but more or less ignored on the WiiU. The Switch, however, sports full motion control options through the in-box joy-con and ARMS is the first game to really use them.
Motion controls are a sensitive topic so let me start by saying that Nintendo isn’t pushing motion controls as the only option for the game. You can also play using buttons in various ways including the Pro Controller. So for anyone who doesn’t even want to try motion controls, you don’t have to. For me, this is an important step for Nintendo by no longer trying to force a control scheme on its users but instead giving them a choice.
With that out of the way let delve into the game itself. ARMS is Nintendo latest take on the (3D) fighting genre. You control a fighter with separately controllable extensible arms. This means you can try and punch your opponent from a distance with either your left or your right fist. While this may sound trivial the added distance and the time it takes for a fist to reach its target are key to how ARMS works. Because when your arm is traveling your are left (partially) exposed. While you can block, this requires both arms. But all hope isn’t lost because you can also use punches to block incoming attacks. In doing so, the weight of your arm plays a role because heavier arms will beat lighter ones. You can also grab your opponent pulling them towards you for a powerful punch doing significant damage. While moving around you can also dash and jump. Two factors that – as the game points out on its loading screens – are key to victory. Finally, there is combo meter that will enable you to unleash a flurry of punches when full.
The basics of ARMS are fairly simple. But ARMS firmly resides in the “easy to learn, hard to master” category. Something I learned the hard way. The game offers various modes including a ranked battle mode. But this ranked battle mode is unlocked when you beat the game offline Grand Prix mode on level 4 or higher. Wanting to try ranked battles I started a Grand Prix on level 4 only to have my behind handed to me repeatedly. While this is very frustrating the solution was fairly obvious and probably deliberate. I started on level 1 and tried to win there. Luckily, I fared a lot better on the beginner level. After clearing level 1 I moved onto the nest level and so forth. For me, this learning curve proved to be just right. While I didn’t experience any significant opposition during my playthroughs I was gradually improving. By the time I had cleared level 3 competing in level 4 was a lot more enjoyable and besting it didn’t take much time at all. Even better, after having cleared level 4 I was a lot more prepared to take the fight online. The difficulty curve was a solid fit for me so I highly recommend starting at the bottom and fighting your way up.
While motion controls aren’t mandatory it is fairly obvious that the game was designed with them in mind. As a fan of good motion controls they are easily my preferred method of control (just like I prefer motion controlled steering in Mario Kart 8). Nintendo doesn’t exactly have a good track record with providing a motion based fighting experience. Before ARMS there was Wii Sports boxing and even in the updated WiiU version – where you could use two Wii remotes – the controls were ‘meh’ at best. It lacked any real sense of control and most boxing bouts ended up being about a whole lot of swinging the controllers around. In ARMS this is a completely different story.Punching is handled as you’d expect and grabs are executed by punching with both hands simultaneously. Punches register well, and because of the travel of the ARMS, there is enough visual feedback to see what you did. Grabs can be hit or miss but I’m convinced this is my own fault and not the controls. Also, there is no need to wave you ARMS around like a madman, you can if you want to but in general small flicks of the wrists are enough. Dashing and jumping are handled by the L and R buttons respectively and combo (called a rush) is triggered by either the ZR & ZL buttons. The shape of the Joy-Con really works for me here as they fit nicely in my hands with my thumbs resting on the L & R buttons. Only real issue I have is that switching opponents is handled by pressing “up” on either Joy-Con. It’s ok-ish on the right Joy-Con but a real pain on the left.
While I applaud Nintendo for not making motion controls mandatory I must say I do think they could have implemented a better button scheme. I was expecting to use (Z)L & (Z)R for punching but instead they opted for using the face buttons. Even dashing and jumping are implemented on the face buttons. The shoulder buttons are only used for activating the combo. It didn’t really feel intuitive and I can’t shake the feeling that this was done intentionally to nudge users towards the motion controls.
The game modes in ARMS heavily lean towards multiplayer action, which isn’t surprising for a fighting game. The good thing here is that there are options for both on- and offline multiplayer The game’s closest thing to a campaign is the Grand Prix mode I talked about earlier. Basically, this is 10 rounds of battle where you need to end up on top. If that sounds daunting, don’t worry, because if you lose a match you can retry as much as you like. The various rounds aren’t all straight battles but alternate with the game’s other modes. You can partake with one or two players.
After Grand Prix it’s mainly a selection of modes where you can pick what type of battle you want and how many players you want to compete with. Out of these options party mode is my favorite. This is the online mode that was shown during the game’s ‘test-punch’ beta. Here you are joined by various other users in a lobby that puts everyone together in different combinations in various types of battle.
As I’ve mentioned the game also has some other modes apart from straight up fighting. It also has things you might expect like an endurance and training mode but more interesting are the basketball, volleyball and shooting range modes dubbed Hoops, V-ball and Skillshot. In Hoops you not only play against your opponent but with them as well. This is because there is no ball to play with, so you have grab and punch your opponent to either dunk of shoot him through the basket. With V-Ball you need to keep a ball with a bomb inside from touching the ground on your end of the court. Punching it will keep it in the air and hitting it with a grab will set it up for a smash. But don’t too long because when time runs out the ball will pop and the bomb inside will drop straight down! Skillshot has players lining up on two sides of a range where targets pop up at a certain interval. The objective is to destroy those targets as quickly as possible. Destroying multiple targets with a single punch will greatly increase the points earned. You can also hit and grab the opposition but that will only disable them and not bank you any points.
These additional modes aren’t just fun and a welcome variation but for me, they also serve as a form of targeted training. Hoops can be used to get the timing for grabs down, while V-Ball helps you master alternating arms. Skillshot helps you aiming and curving skills.
A variation of the Skillshot game is also used as a mini-game to unlock new ARMS. Entry requires you to pay coins that you earn in practically every other mode in the game. While this is a fun way to unlock more ARMS I never like it when it’s as random as it is here (same goes for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe btw).
All of the features above combine into a very varied fighting game. And I haven’t even mentioned the fighter selection nor their ARMS. They add flair and even more variation to the mix. Trying out and finding out your preferred player with the right (combination of) ARMS is a game all on its own. Especially since unlocking all ARMS for all players can take a good while.
Playing ARMS is best when playing 1v1 matching in my opinion. Other types of battle include 1v1v1, 2v2 and 1v1v1v1. These party type modes can become very chaotic. Especially in 2v2 battles (where you are tethered to your team mate) things can become confusing very quickly as the game has a tendency to switch the opponent your targeting. You can change this yourself but like I said this isn’t as easy to do as I’d like. Being able to curve your ARMS is a neat feature but something I haven’t really used outside of Skillshot games.
With ARMS Nintendo is launching another solid game outside of their established IP, much like they did with Splatoon a few years back. It shows Nintendo is still able to surprise and able to move beyond what it known for. It’s also good for the Switch to have something fresh and unique to help it further distinguish itself from the competition (which to an extent includes the WiiU).
ARMS is a solid fighting game with well-implemented motion controls. It’s easy to pick up but not as easy to master. Luckily the game gives you everything you need to help you compete. The game fully uses everything the Switch has to offer from several multiplayer options to a colorful cast of fighters to full controller support. It is the best reason to invest in a second pair of Joy-Con yet and definitely something to check out.
ARMS is out now on Nintendo Switch.