After unleashing their creativity to produce Mario Kart, Pikmin and Splatoon, Nintendo has shown countless times that they would rather redefine genres than simply pander to what we have come to expect from them.
ARMS is their next spin of the wheel, an inventive, candy-coloured fighting-sports game with deceptive depth and layer of challenge that had first been shown to the world at the Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017.
Its hook is simple in that players must use extendable arms to do battle, the creative vision likening the experience to fusing boxing and shooting elements – in that you must strike your opponent with punches, but are required to aim at them in the distance before firing each limb to land your blow.
Punch or get punched, it doesn’t take long after you step up to fight before ARMS proves itself to be an unbeatable experience. That starts strong with the fighter roster, which ranks among some of the best-characterised creations that Nintendo has ever produced, and carries across to the stage design – that will constantly force you to approach battles differently thanks to cover, verticality and other surprises.
Each fighter has three ARMS that they can choose between in each round, and, as you continue to play, you will earn cash that can be spent to unlock more in the Get ARMS minigame. This sees you slam clocks to extend your time and boxes to unlock a new ARM, with more appearing as you rack up a higher score. Cash is thrown at you in every mode, so the rate of reward is steady.
What isn’t obvious at first but will soon impress, is the care and attention that Nintendo has taken in building the assorted ARMS that fighters can equip. Each ARM not only extends differently but their weight, speed and damage have all been taken into consideration. Heavier ARMS will knock lighter ones aside, ARMS can be charged up with elemental powers for more potent attacks, and you can temporarily disable an opponent’s ARMS with tactical punches. It won’t be long before strategies open up before you, soon choosing combinations that will help you secure victory rather than simply sticking with favourites.
Nintendo has even seen fit to provide every fighter with their own ability to lend even more strategy. Ribbon Girl can jump multiple times and dive-bomb in midair, Ninjara can warp to keep opponent’s guessing his location, Master Mummy can regenerate health while guarding, while Twintelle can slow down incoming punches when she’s charged up. And that’s just four examples.
Items are thrown into the mix, too. These will randomly appear in matches, with HP and Rush Juice either restoring your health or refilling your rush gauge once you move your fighter into the designated area. Fire and Shock Bombs are the more potent items, burning or electrocuting your opponent if they’re close enough to the blast.
Given how active the game keeps you, it isn’t a particular surprise that motion controls beat at its core. With a Joy-Con in each hand held in the thumbs-up grip, you punch forward to uncoil each ARM in your newfound rival’s direction – twisting your wrist left or right at the same time letting you provide curve on each attack.
Punching both Joy-Con forward at once will let you attempt to Grab your opponent to throw them across the stage, tilting each Joy-Con towards each other will let you Guard to catch your breath, and slamming the ZR Button will let you perform a Rush attack to let loose with a furious flurry of punches once the Rush gauge is full. Whereas moving your chosen fighter requires that you sway the Joy-Con in the same direction to strafe, with the L and R Buttons letting you Dash and Jump respectively.
It will certainly take time to adjust, which is understandable seeing as ARMS is unlike anything that you have played before, but the ARMS Global Testpunch will have allowed most to sneak some practice in. It is through familiarity that will allow the motion control input to click, and, once that’s happened, you’ll soon realise that there’s an intuitive simplicity to it all.
That being said, Nintendo is well aware that there are those with an aversion to motion controls. It will be a joy to their ears, then, that the Joy-Con Grip, Handheld Mode, sideways Joy-Con and Nintendo Switch Pro Controller are all supported, with button input control schemes that are easy to quickly grasp. Whatever your preference, Nintendo has you covered and this will also help you to get more players involved.
ARMS has plenty to keep you busy and Nintendo has nailed everything in terms of gameplay, but a question lingers around longevity. Away from the main Grand Prix mode that sees you look to win 10 fights to become champion, your only other options are to play against others locally or online. There is enough opportunity to get up to four players in on the action, resulting in even more frantic matches and heartier laughter as a result.
Those that conquer Grand Prix on level 4 difficulty or higher can unlock Ranked Matches that will let you prove your fighting prowess to the world, but, beyond that, it is only V-Ball, Hoops, Skillshot and 1-on-100 that allow some variety to creep in. These minigames are fun and help to hone your skill in ARMS, but there isn’t enough content here to keep you hooked beyond shorter play sessions.
The higher difficulty levels certainly present a particularly gruelling challenge, and Nintendo has promised to trickle out new content for free after launch in a similar way to Splatoon. We will have to wait and see what that brings.
With ARMS, it can certainly be said that Nintendo has taken strides with how they approach online. The Global Testpunch will have helped to iron out some kinks, but I haven’t encountered any issues at all – which is encouraging news for when the Nintendo Switch Online service comes into play.
ARMS can be seen as the boldest move that Nintendo has made in some time, and an absolute knockout experience to play.