Arms Review – It May Not Be a Knockout, But Nintendo’s ARMS Still Lands Clean

When Nintendo revealed that the Switch would have motion control potential, they chose an unexpected title to serve as the first demonstration. It wasn’t a Mario spinoff or some Wii Sports-esque game, but instead, a brand new property with a hilariously simple name, and gameplay that raised more than a few eyebrows.

At a glance, ARMS was this bright, colorful fighter where the combat looked like a bunch of Stretch Armstrong characters engaged in boxing matches. A lot of gamers weren’t quite sure what to make of it.

Those who had reservations about ARMS will be pleasantly surprised that the game sufficiently backs up its rampant quirkiness–so long as you use the right control scheme.

In a twist of fate, ARMS’ motion controls make for a miserable experience. The motion controls are far too sensitive and too often inaccurate to be satisfactory for a fighting game, where precision is of the utmost importance. With merely the Joy-Cons in hand, most of ARMS’ game modes border on being unplayable.

When you take hold of a traditional controller, however, such as the comfort grip, the Switch Pro Controller, or the Joy-Cons on the Switch tablet, a whole new game begins.

You’ve never played a fighter like this, certainly not one where the each character is like Inspector Gadget who knows boxing and martial arts. The name of the game is reach in ARMS.  Since each of your strikes can extend across the ring, there isn’t much room for maintaining a “safe distance”. If you want to avoid being pummeled, judicious use of blocking and timely evasions are your means to keep your health bar up.

It’s rare that you’ll find yourself in your opponent’s face. The majority of your time duking it out will be spent with a sizable gap between you and your opponent as you both hurl punches from afar. This ability to attack from a distance comes with a price as the gap increases, however. The longer your fist is sitting out in the open after failing to make contact, the longer that side of your character is ripe for a counterpunch, or, worse, a grab-attack, which is a key maneuver to master if you want to be anything more than competent at the game.

The fighting system is pretty simple, and thus, very easy to grasp. Anyone who played in the Global Testpunch demos will have no trouble diving right into the game, and those picking it up for the first time will only need a couple of matches to get a grasp on the mechanics.

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They might be a little too simple for their own good, especially for anyone searching for a deep, technical fighter—ARMS is not that. There is a very limited arsenal of attacks, and the small character roster doesn’t leave you with a bevy of options, like most fighting games. This means that you won’t see a great deal of variation between fighting styles, and even less should you be using the same character as your opponent. There are dozens of different arm-types which you can equip to your character, but for the most part, they simply change the status effect of your blows, not so much your attacks or methods.

How much value you get out of ARMS will be determined by how much you find yourself enjoying those one-on-one, competitive battles. There is a wide variety of game modes to partake in, but most are best suited to when you have a few people around for local multiplayer experiences. The Grand Prix is your typical gauntlet, taking you through every fighter on the roster, and since it does nothing to elaborate on the setting—such as why the game’s characters have extending limbs, and why they utilize them for a combat sport—it won’t hold your attention for more than one or two playthroughs. The same can be said for the game’s selection of party modes, which can be played against computer opponents.

Now, should you have a buddy nearby, those party modes become a lot more fun. Variations of volleyball and basketball, and especially the target shooting mode all seamlessly blend the game’s mechanics into their rules. Competitive battles, whether be one-on-one, three way, four-way, or tag-team are also a raucous time when there’s a gathering in the same room. A casual setting may even be able to temporarily make the motion controls tolerable, at least for a laugh or two among friends. 

With Party Match, you can play some of those minigames online, along with regular one-on-one battles and free-for-alls. Party Match is a just-for-fun mode, as it doesn’t concern itself with keep records of your outcomes, which is a good thing given how chaotic multi-man battles before. The stages were all clearly designed with two combatants in mind, so tossing in an extra character or two makes things very cramped very quickly.

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For a more serious contest, Ranked Match has you covered with one-on-one battles (sans those pesky random items) and a level system based on your wins and losses. Like the rest of the game, the online options may not be plentiful, but they’re no hassle to get into, and, at least in the case of Ranked matches, waiting times to find an opponent are practically nonexistent.

Taken altogether, some will say that ARMS’ content shouldn’t carry a $60 pricetag. Nintendo intends to support the game with free DLC as time goes on, similar to what they did with Splatoon on the Wii U, but it remains to be seen how extensive the additional content is.

Where ARMS’ certainly justifies full price is in its production values. Its imaginative combat is complimented by a setting and characters that are loaded with charm across every screen. The game’s vibrant art direction lays atop sleek, crisp textures, all of which is positively fluid when in motion. Animations are as clean as you would find in any big budget fighting title, even when you hop online. In fact, ARMS has some of the smoothest online gameplay you’ll find in any fighter, with lag hardly—if at all—ever rearing its ugly head.

FINAL SCORE — 7.5/10

ARMS doesn’t pack enough punch to vault into the upper echelon of the genre, but it’s a fun, charming little title in its own right that deserves a look from Switch owners. With inventive game mechanics and a host of multiplayer options, ARMS offers a unique fighting alternative that boasts all of the usual color and imagination that Nintendo is renowned for. Nintendo stands to gain from occasionally coming up with new IPs to join their classic franchises, and ARMS will stand as a successful result of that experimentation.

+ A charming art direction that is supported by clean in-game textures and animation

+ All manner of different game modes that help make multiplayer (online and local) a riot

+ Easy to pick up game mechanics that are unlike anything you’ve ever played in a fighter

— Said game mechanics aren’t particularly deep

— Single player options are lacking, especially in the offline sphere

— The stages aren’t well-suited to holding 3-4 players at once, making multi-person battles messy

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Have you played ARMS? Are you looking forward to it? Are you not going there? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.

Jeff Pawlak is the Nintendo expert on the Geekiverse. He considers himself to be a formidable foe in ARMS, where he uses Kid Cobra as his main, and occasionally brings the fight with Ninjara. You can add him as a friend on Switch to challenge him online with his Friend Code SW-1774-4999-4185. You can also find him on Twitter @JeffreyPavs where he’s often sharing his thoughts on the wacky world of Nintendo.

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  1. The motion controls work perfectly. You can’t just say they are miserable for everyone outright like that. You are just garbage at the game and the fact that you made such a blanket statement because of your lack of skill shows you’re a garbage reviewer too.

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