ARMS is more than just a new Nintendo IP. It represents the big N’s natural ability to do something fresh and innovative within an established norm. In this case, it’s the fighter genre. ARMS is heralded as the “first fighting game of its kind” and we’ll see just how true that statement is.
ARMS is one of those “small package, big replay value” kind of games. Similar to the Mario Kart and Mario Party series, the premise of ARMS is simple. No story mode is attached to the game, at least I wouldn’t call Grand Prix mode that. Grand Prix is basically Street Fighter 5’s single player at launch: bare boned. It’s a tour de force of 10 combatants duking it out to come out on top. After every two or three fights there’s a fun minigame ranging from punching out targets with your extendable arms, throwing your opponent through basketball hoops, and even an explosive version of volleyball.
The only other single player experience is in Versus Mode, where you can design a game to your own specifications. If you want to make a two vs. two match without any items, or a game solely about playing volleyball, then you can customize that game as you wish.
ARMS Getter is part minigame – part shop where you can exchange the game’s currency for the opportunity to earn more types of ARMS for use in single player and multiplayer. I like the balance of earning gear. You can choose any character to play the minigame. Although that character takes precedence in earning upgrades, you can still earn ARMS for the game’s other characters.
Speaking of which, at launch, ARMS features 10 playable characters, each of whom have distinct abilities that set them apart from others. For example, when Spring Man reaches 25% health, his ARMS remain permanently charged for stronger damage output. Ribbon Girl can jump in midair up to four times. Master Mummy won’t flinch from non-charged and some charged attacks while he’s jumping, punching, or dashing. Each character can charge their ARMS before throwing a punch for extra damage, and can unleash a flurry of punches when their super meter is full.
This is where ARMS gets its big replay value. Its characters are colorful and are definitely memorable, but it’s how you play as these characters that makes it all worthwhile. There’s a play style for all types of gamers. Something fast, something defensive, there’s tank characters, and characters with a balanced blend of many qualities. That’s not counting the actual ARMS accessories. Each character has coiled arms whose fists end in a multitude of possible combinations.
Seekies are homing missile type ARMS. Crackers are powerful popping party favors you see at a kid’s birthday party. The Slapamander is a fast moving whip. The Toaster is a fire type boxing glove. The Dragon ARMS takes the shape of the mystical creature and fires focused laser beams.To couple this with the unique fighting style of every character is a staggering feat. I can’t omit the fact that many ARMS also have elemental properties. There are fire, ice, explosive, electric, wind, and stun features in the game. Chaining together ideal combos depends on your loadout. You can freeze and opponent in place with an Ice Dragon and immediately follow up with a Toaster to the face. There’s a strategy for everything, and ARMS to help you implement that strategy. Training mode then acts as a perfect proving ground to test your mettle.
ARMS may bear a resemblance to the beloved Punch-Out! Series, but it plays so unlike it. Often I had to get into the mentality that I don’t have to be stationary to win. In fact, there’s no winning in ARMS if you’re rooted to the ground. You absolutely need to jump, dash, and throw, even combine the three, if you hope to stand a chance.
ARMS also bears another admirable quality. It’s a game that’s easy to learn but difficult to master. From the beginning I started playing in “thumbs-up grip”, AKA playing with a Joy-Con in each hand to simulate boxing. The motion controls felt a little awkward at first. You have to tilt the Joy-Con in the direction you want to move on screen. After getting familiar and comfortable with the game’s basics, I immediately headed into a Level 4 difficulty Grand Prix. My hubris had never been so pulverized by a game in my entire life. I was far from ready. I felt the CPU was throwing every cheap trick at me, until I realized that the key to victory was not in the typical 1-2 combo. This is Wii Boxing with a vengeance. I was failing every fight horribly. The true final boss, Hedlok, is no joke. I spent over an hour trying again and again to defeat him. But I did it. Alone. And it was worth it.
You need to pace yourself when it comes to this game. Take the time to learn what you’re doing and a fun time will be had with ARMS. That being said, I still feel nervous when playing with the Joy-Con. However, I played a lot of the game in Handheld Mode and with a Pro Controller. That steep learning curve smoothed out because of it. I find it much more approachable this way but you can’t deny the charm of thrusting your own arms out there like you’re in it to win it.
Because there’s only so much you can do as a single player in ARMS, it’s multiplayer where the game shines, specifically in Party Match. Lobbies of up to 20 people can play together. It’s styled in a way that players are randomly paired with others for a one-on-one fight, or even two-on-two. The single player’s V-Ball, Skill Shot, and Hoops modes make a welcome appearance. All fun, and no worries about ranking or statistics. However, for those who have that itch, ARMS has a Ranked Mode that’ll scratch it. My one reservation about this mode is in matches involving free-for-alls or two vs. two. The camera has this annoying habit to automatically lock-onto the nearest target. It would’ve been great to switch opponents by the push of a button or flick of a stick, to help alleviate your teammate. I frustratingly lost several matches because the camera took on a mind of its own.
Like I mentioned, ARMS has a simple premise like Mario Kart and Mario Party. While it may look like slim pickings from the view of a single player, ARMS gets a somewhat helpful shot in the arm from its online offerings. That’s definitely where you’ll get the most enjoyment out of your time. But you’ll want to at least spend a few hours in training or the single player modes until you get a feel for the finer qualities of the ARMS peripherals and the game’s diverse set of characters.
ARMS is a great addition to the Nintendo pantheon of character driven gaming. Its extendable arm boxing is such a catchy draw. At even medium difficulty, ARMS is demanding. Despite the headaches that may initially come with fighting the game’s own learning curve, once those punches start flying – weaving in and out of danger, and juggling your opponent in midair, ARMS certainly makes you feel like a fighting champion.