For a company that’s often criticized for failing to build upon its existing range of intellectual properties, there was certainly a mixed reception when Nintendo first showed off its newest title, ARMS. A fighting game that emphasized motion controls over tactile inputs weren’t all that appealing of a leg to start the Nintendo Switch off on, but it was clear that the publisher had faith in its latest property. As it turns out it was right to. Beneath that initial and gimmicky exterior that was placed so prominently at the forefront of its marketing campaign lies a concrete and innovative fight title that’s well worth exploring – albeit a little light on content as of this writing.
Those unsure of what ARMS is should know that it’s similar to standard fighting games in the sense that it makes use of a tried and true rock-paper-scissors system of punch beats grab, grab beats block, block beats punch. Outside of that, Nintendo’s latest software changes things up dramatically by making use of a third-person, over-the-shoulder camera in order to better deliver its killer right hook – long-distance punching via stretchable arms. This mechanic may be made obvious through the game’s name, but the pinpoint accuracy and fast-paced action of the title deliver in what amounts to a very promising debut.
To clarify, fights can unfold at a distance or players can move in to lay a barrage of punches on a foe in order to end the match quickly. Whatever tactics are utilized, a player that becomes somewhat competent with the game’s controls will be dashing and jump to avoid incoming attacks, blocking everything from heat-seeking fists to bouncing goo balls, awaiting openings from poorly thrown punches and delivering devastating slams through well-timed grapples. It’s an exhilarating experience once the controls are understood, and Nintendo had the foresight to include a number of different control options to help lessen the learning curve.
Every player is going to have a preferred controller option, but ultimately it will come down to two classes: dual Joy-Con motion controls or standard, Remote-based controls. Each has its own advantage, but for practicality’s sake, the standard controls (through either docked Joy-Con or the Switch’s Pro Controller) are sure to become a favorite. Those that have the room in their house or the simple desire to make split-screen matches a little more physical can opt for the motion controls, but this method of play ultimately sacrifices precise movements for the ability to throw real-world punches into the void. In that regard, the tradeoff isn’t that sound.
Fortunately, there’s a little bit more to ARMS than just churning out wacky boxing matches, as the developers behind the fighting game opted to include several different modes to help change up the style of play. Intertwined with standard battles in the title’s Grand Prix are a trio of modes that will appear at random: a take on basketball called Hoops that requires players to throw each other through a massive hoop; a rendition of volleyball referred to as V-Ball that utilizes an explosive; and a crossfire-filled target test called Skillshot. These do well at putting a different spin on the action, but they are ultimately just fillers that help to add variety to the final product.
As for the Grand Prix feature that houses these modes, it’s a short-lived affair that can make for some of the most truly challenging encounters in recent memory. Taking on at least 10 other fighters in a hodgepodge of best-of-two battles, and a pair of the aforementioned mini-games, is a rewarding experience when some of the high difficulties have been bested, but there’s not much incentive outside of in-game currency to continue playing through this offering once all of the characters have completed it and the Ranked multiplayer mode has been unlocked.
To Nintendo’s credit, the online multiplayer functions smoothly, although that’s bearing in mind that my experience with it has been all pre-launch. Provided the servers hold up as well as they did during my time with it, then there’s no question the fans will lose countless hours teeing up the competition. Of course, there are also local multiplayer options for those looking to battle friends within the same living room, and doing so brings into focus just how many fun ARMS really is. The heated fights that can take place with up to four people simultaneously ensure that the battle never has to be restricted to just two users.
Further technical depth comes to the surface during heated battles, as players bob, weave, block, and utilize character-specific moves to get the upper hand on their opponent. This is deepened even further through the wide variety of Arms (read: boxing gloves, hammers, missiles, lasers, etc.) that can be unlocked and equipped to a fighter. Even with this apparent depth, there’s an ease of use associated so heavily with the game’s design that it’s completely accessible to aspiring veterans and newbies alike. It’s competitive without being inclusive, and that’s no easy feat in a genre that’s been done to death.
The only thing that’s ultimately holding this fighting game back is the lack of content available out of the gate. While models like the Grand Prix give players something to do through a means of earning coins, unlockables, and simply upping their game when on the go or sans a buddy, there’s a noticeable lack of fighters and stages that would’ve kept solo users entertained for a while longer. Nintendo has promised that content is en route and will be free for ARMS players in the future – via a similar structure to Splatoon – but it’s a little light as is. Again, this will be addressed with DLC as gratis in the future, although just how in-depth and long term this support will end up being is still up in the air.
The only really problem is the lack of content at launch, and the vagueness of how Nintendo plans on doing this makes it harder to determine what’s coming outside of “new fighters, new stages, and new Arms.” Even then, this is an innovation within the genre that will firmly establish the IP as a “party” fighting game. This may be a divisive monicker within the fighting game community, but that doesn’t mean others that have been branded as such haven’t been able to find an audience – such as the Super Smash Bros.series.
In order to conduct this symphony of fisticuffs, Nintendo opted to go off the beaten path and establish a brand new way of play. In that sense, ARMS is a success that will rope players in for hours through its multiplayer and online modes but will only garner interest from solo consumers for a short amount of time. At its core, ARMS isn’t a flawless technical fighting game, but that’s never what Nintendo wanted it to be. It’s accessible without feeling primitive, and the layers of depth that are present are easy for fight aficionados to get lost in.
ARMS arrives exclusively for the Nintendo Switch on June 16, 2017. Nintendo provided a digital copy of the game to Game Rant for review purposes.