Arms Review

By Blair Nokes on August 3, 2017

Early this year, during the Nintendo Switch presentation, fans were teased with a brief viewing of ARMS, an upcoming fighting game for the Switch. Boasting incredibly accurate motion controls, it sparked a cult following with each new character announced. Those that did get to playtest the game during Nintendo's Switch Events were also given the opportunity to get a taste of how ARMS worked. I happened to be one of those fortunate individuals, and even during its early stages it felt exceptionally good. To add a bit of context, I was a big fan of PunchOut! for the Wii, despite the fact that it didn't utilize the WiiMotion Plus. I had always wondered how a more accurate version of PunchOut! would look and feel, and it seems as though ARMS was Nintendo's intention of delivering just that.

ARMS at its core is an arena style fighting game. Players can use one of the ten characters available at launch, with the eleventh released shortly after. Each character has a unique look, and distinct fighting style about them, so that no two players feel the same. Byte & Barq are a robotic duo consisting of a Police Officer and Dog, and Ninjara can disappear in mid-air, and throw curved, unsuspecting punches. There's a lot to be said about the diversity of the roster, and I hope Nintendo continues to include more post-launch.

Holding the two Joy Con controllers act as your left and right fists so that your thumbs can rest on the L and R shoulder bumpers. Holding them upright and tilting them left and right will have your character move from side to side. Moving both inward to resemble an 'A' will initiate your character's block, and you can jump and dash with L and R, respectively. By pushing out with both Joy Cons simultaneously, you can grab your opponents. Finally, with regards to the actual punches, I was pleasantly surprised at the level of depth about the way in which you can punch and hit opponents. Straight punches will land as such. You can also give slight twists to arc your punch into a wider swipe. Well placed shots can actually stall an opponents' glove if you land it directly, weakening their defenses and forcing an opening.

Elevating this basic combat is the multitude of different types of gloves. There are gloves that shoot projectiles, defensive gloves, and straight up beaters. Each character has access to a unique set that you can map to your left and right hands, offering an added layer of depth; one hand can prioritize defense while the other attacks from a range, and so on. If that wasn't enough, each weapon has an associated element, which can be used strategically against an opposing element.

Putting all of this together makes for a fighting game with a surprisingly deep learning curve, which is fantastic given its roots as a Rock-Paper-Scissors styled game. In short, punching beats throws but loses to blocks, blocks beat punches and loses to throws, and throws beats blocks but loses to punches. A very simple triangle at its core, but when you factor in everything else you need to keep track of, ARMS presents itself as a highly strategic fighting game. And even if you were very against motion controls, the game can still be played four alternative ways: using the Switch undocked, using the Joy Con Grip, using the Left Joy Con, and using the Pro Controller. They're all perfectly viable ways in playing the game, I was more accustomed to the motion controls.

Online consists of player lobbies that host paired 2v2 or 1v1 fights, along with the gimmicky mini-games like a Basketball or Volleyball variant. As a mode, it feels rather limited, but to be fair so does the rest of the game's modes. Unfortunately, despite such an alluring combat system, the core game is fairly basic in what it offers. What's more, the game locks online and forces you to complete the Grand Prix mode before hopping on to face others. Part of me feels put-off by the notion of locking content, but at the same time I can understand the idea of making sure players at least develop a good sense of the mechanics before taking their skills online. Even still, it's an odd presumption that I as a new player can only be ready to face other players online, by besting an AI at a certain difficulty level. This would be like locking Call of Duty's online until players finish the Single Player Campaign. While ARMS' Grand Prix mode certainly offered a formidable learning curve up until the last boss, it never really felt that completing this made me more ready for online.

The visuals for ARMS have its ups and downs. Characters themselves are impressively detailed, and a lot of creativity went into their designs. The levels are fairly basic in layout, but at least offer a variety. Some take place in a sports-themed arena, whereas others are on a Movie Set with prop cars in the way. But what is arguably the most important aspect of a competitive genre, especially fighting games, is how it performs. And thankfully, ARMS performs quite well. Running smoothly at 60 frames per second in all types of playstyles is definitely where this game needs to be, as we're trying to counter telegraphed moves, and any kind of framerate stuttering would definitely hamper that. Unfortunately the framerate will lock itself at 30 frames when you're playing with 4 players in order to maintain a good playing flow.

Final Thoughts

Overall, ARMS definitely didn't disappoint as a title within the first quarter of the Switch's launch. While the character roster is definitely limited, the characters themselves are a blast to play and the gameplay system in matching different types of gloves makes for a myriad of strategies that I feel I've barely even touched upon. It's not a perfect game, with its lack of modes and the odd choice in locking off what little it has by forcing players to beat the Grand Prix mode in order to get access to Online, but it's worth noting that what is present, is done quite well. I hope Nintendo continues on with the ARMS brand, or at the very least continues to support it post-launch.

A wonderfully diverse cast of characters, each with their own distinct feel and fighting style to them.
Combat is simple in its Rock-Paper-Scissors Triangle, yet wields an impressive amount of depth thanks to the angular motion and needed accuracy with each hit.
Motion controls aren't always accurate, but this is infrequent.
It seems weird to have the entirety of the online mode locked off until you beat the game. But to be fair, it's probably to ensure some degree of skill is developed before playing with others competitively.
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