ARMS Game Review
Brilliant motion controls result in a genuinely fresh fighting experience
The best online game Nintendo has ever released up today
It looks great
Surprising amount of depth to the combat
Traditional controls don't feel great
Lack of single-player content may leave some feeling cold
Annoying arms-unlock system
About The Game
ARMS proves that the Switch Joy-Cons are capable of infinitely more subtlety. In fact, after spending quite a couple of hours brawling away, this is a colorful fighter makes one of the best cases for motion-controlled gaming.
In a nutshell, ARMS sees Nintendo doing to the fighter what Splatoon did to the shooter and taking the genre apart and reassembling it into something new. With up to four fighters duking it out in fully 3D arenas, players use motion controls to both move their character and aim the punches from their ludicrously long arms.
While on paper this control scheme sounds like it can be a complete disaster, the bizarre setup quickly became second nature. Rather than pointing the Joy-Cons towards the TV, as you would a Wiimote, this colorful fighter demands that you just hold it in what Nintendo calls the thumbs grip. This setup seems you resting each Joy-Con in your palms and clutching the controller in a fist, leaving your thumbs free to access the two other buttons. It’s definitely odd, but once it clicks, it opens up some pretty interesting motion-controlled gameplay possibilities.
Firstly, moving without punching is infuriating, but once it clicked, seamlessly dodging and aiming with subtle flicks of the wrists worked like a dream. With fighters like the Naruto-esque Ninja able to teleport in mid-air, much of the challenge in ARMS comes simply from predicting wherever your target will move and curving your wrists accordingly.
Thankfully, though, there’s more to ARMS than simply punching and dodging. Nintendo has seen fit to borrow two other crucial fighting game mechanics: throws and blocks. Like most fighting games, ARMS operates a rock-paper-scissors methodology, where guards beat punches and grabs beat guards. Here, extending both arms together grabs your opponent, and turning your thumbs inward to face each other initiates your guard. Grabs are a sure path to victory, since once you’ve wrapped your stringy appendages around your opponent, they’re left entirely helpless.
The catch is that in the event you reach for a grab and miss, your arms are left dangling and leaving you completely defenseless. Only, they are all fairly simplistic mechanics, but thanks to careful balancing and also the ability to unleash game-changing special attacks, everything comes together to create a surprisingly complex meta game.
Speaking of the meta, the rest of ARMS depth lies in how you decide to combine your chosen character as well as their arms. Each fighter in the game starts with a selection of three default arms, and wears their own custom ability. With characters ranging from the hovering Twintelle to the sluggish Master Mummy who heals himself by blocking, it is surprisingly at precisely how much depth there was in combining characters and arms.
Arms range between standard, straight-punching boxing gloves, to blade-shaped discs that curve and weave around your foes. Of the 30 different ones available, there’s an almost overwhelming number of different ways to fight. And as well as you contend with your enemies, random stage items that heal and disrupt players also add an element of unpredictability to every match.
Unfortunately, how you go about unlocking arms is incredibly frustrating. While each of the games 10 fighters starts out with three unique arms, it’s necessary for you to go through a mini-game to be able to unlock the rest of their arsenal. As you win in Grand Prix and pummel your foes in online bouts, you’ll earn a few coins from a win, with a minimum of 30 needed to compete in the arms-unlocking mini-game.
Annoyingly, once you win an arm, it’s only for that individual character. This implies that to be able to unlock your favorite combination of arms for each and every fighter you’ll need to put in a ton of hours.
Unlike Wii Boxing, the key to victory in ARMS lies in mastering its subtle movements. Extending an arm out in front of you delivers a forward-facing blow with your fighter’s corresponding arm.
Yet the real test of skill lies in curving your blows. When you add a slight twist of the wrist to your punch, your character’s spaghetti-like appendage curves in the same direction. Although it is not perfect, time and time again you will be impressed by just how accurate the Joy-Con controllers were in picking up all the movements, allowing to unleash winding punches at exactly the right angle and direction.
The challenge, despite, comes from landing those tricky punches while also keeping your character moving. Here, tilting the Joy-Cons without extending your arms makes your fighter move in the desired direction, and also a tap of either L or R allows you to dash or jump around the arena.
As a purely single-player experience, ARMS leaves a lot to be desired. While there’s definitely fun to be found in the seven offline modes on offer, most consist of self-contained 99-second matches. This is perfect for getting a quick fix when you fancy just letting your fists fly, but for players who are looking for lone modes to sink their teeth into, there are only really two that fit the bill.
Grand Prix is the first, and is essentially your bog-standard arcade mode. After picking a fighter, you select a difficulty rating between 1 and 7 and then face 10 randomly selected opponents, before going head to head with two hard-as-nails final bosses.
Nintendo has opted to let players save their Grand Prix progress, meaning that in the event you end up stuck on a particular battle, you can try again another day without to start from scratch.
Given the regular criticism of Nintendo’s approach to online gaming, it’s interesting that networked matches are where ARMS really shines. Borrowing the ranked matchmaking system from Street Fighter IV, players are able to carry on playing solo and local matches while they wait for an online opponent to match with them. Each win fills up your experience bar, helping you swiftly climb the ranks.
Outside of ranked matches, players can compete for all those precious coins online in the more laid-back party mode. Throwing players into a nicely designed lobby, the game matches you with a bunch of strangers, chucking you into a round-robin series of random game modes.
There are also team fights, the target-punching Skill Shot mode, and co-op battles that see you teaming up to defeat the Grand Prix boss. The variety on offer here is fun, and like Mario Kart 8 before it, it’s nice to see that you could hop on party matches using a local multiplayer.
ARMS is a unique-feeling brawler with a surprising amount of depth. It also looks great, combining a colorful flair with some of the most realistic environments and characters. Its motion controls are also a resounding success.
Yet, despite everything it does right, this won’t be a game for everyone. Lacking the meaty single-player component of a game, for example, Splatoon, ARMS lives and dies on local and online multiplayer.
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