Nintendo has certainly had an interesting history with fighting games. Super Smash Brothers took off later on in the Nintendo 64’s life cycle and spawned three sequels that would go on to have a pretty large esports presence. Pokken Tournament took their beloved Pocket Monsters and threw them in a somewhat traditional fighting experience similar to titles like Tekken. Now Nintendo looks to shake up the fighting scene once again with their newest Switch game, ARMS.
ARMS switches up the perspective of most fighting games by placing the camera behind the player’s back. The opponents face each other and throw their fists down the field in an attempt to punch and grab the enemy. Players can also dodge, jump, and charge their fists. Each fist has a different element type that applies status effects when charged. Electric arms stun the opponent, whereas wind arms send the opponent flying. Arms can also be swapped out, meaning that players can select from a variety of arms to take to battle.
ARMS still upholds Nintendo’s most important game design mantra: easy to learn, hard to master. The initial controls are very accessible for gamers of all skill levels. Punching, blocking, and dashing are all simple to learn, as the inputs are even more user friendly than Smash Bros. The motion controls are fun as well, although movement isn’t quite as precise. That being said, many of the top players use motion controls, so it’s nice to see a fighting game that has made them valid in competitive play.
The controls aren’t perfect, however. Blocking is mapped to the L3 button with the standard control option, which can be quite awkward and not always accurate. This could have easily been mapped to the L1 or R1 buttons, as each of them activates the character’s rush mode. There is no need for both of those to be used for the rush mode, as only one of them is actually required when it comes to activating it. The motion controls also have some flaws. While punching and blocking both work fantastically, movement is less than stellar. Moving the character around the map is done by tilting both Joy-Cons in a direction at the same time. It’s not terrible, but it can certainly make for some accidental movements.
The characters themselves are fantastic. Nintendo’s newest IP is filled with likable characters that stand out from the crowd, especially when compared to other fighting games. The designs themselves are really charming, and it’s hard not to become particularly attached to certain members of the roster. The effect here is similar to games like Overwatch; even though there is no traditional story mode, the character designs are so well done that it makes the game feel alive.
When it comes to the gameplay, each character feels unique. Special abilities are assigned to each one to suit different types of playstyles. Defensive players might take a liking to Master Mummy, who can heal while blocking as well as taking reduced damage on non-charged attacks. Offensive players may gravitate towards Min Min, who can charge up her left arm to an even stronger level, resulting in increased damage. Trying each member of the roster is a blast, especially because of the ability to swap out arms.
Each battle will earn the player money which can be used in the Arm Getter mode (yes, that’s the actual name). Players will have to punch targets and prize boxes in order to get new arms for each of the characters. This is extremely important because each one only starts out with three arms. The real fun comes from trying out new arm combinations in order to suit the player’s offensive and defensive strategies. Standard arms like the Buffs act as normal boxing gloves, whereas unorthodox arms like the heat-seeking Homies add some serious variety to the gameplay.
Players will need to have a certain amount of patience with Nintendo’s latest fighter, as even though the controls are easy to learn, the single player mode is brutally challenging. New players will likely have trouble completing the game on difficulty 2, and since there are 7 difficulty levels total, it can be discouraging. Ranked Mode isn’t even accessible until difficulty 4 is completed, and while this may seem a bit harsh, it helps keep the online scene competitive. Losses should be embraced, however, because there is a moment where the gameplay just “clicks.” Players will go from spamming punches and grabs randomly to pacing out each attack and looking for openings. It really feels good once the controls begin to feel completely natural.
ARMS’ biggest issues stem from its lack of content. Solo players really won’t have much to do here, as there are really only two modes for them. Grand Prix will have gamers facing off against ten opponents culminating in a final boss fight (depending on the difficulty level). It’s essentially just an arcade mode, and while it certainly isn’t bad, it can get old relatively quickly. It can be played in cooperative mode though, which adds a whole new dimension of chaos. Versus mode is exactly as expected; players can select the amount of players (up to 4), set the rules, choose the fighters, and pick the stage. Other than that, gamers will likely spend most of their time in Party Mode and Ranked mode.
Party mode is essentially a lobby of online players that are thrown into random game modes ranging from standard versus matches to basketball and volleyball. It offers an excellent alternative for players not looking to get too competitive with the game. A second player can even join locally for some online action, which is an absolute blast. Ranked mode is your standard 1 versus 1 match-up with no items. The only issue is the stage selection, as the gimmick stages can still be selected. Because the stage is always set to random, this can cause some frustration for the more serious crowd.
While it certainly has its fair share of flaws, ARMS absolutely nails the fun-factor. It’s a simple game that offers so much depth for players willing to put in the work, and while the content is fairly limited, there is enough for both casual and hardcore audiences. The gameplay makes up for the lack of content to a certain degree, however, it doesn’t do enough for players that aren’t interested in local or online play. It remains to be seen whether or not ARMS will become a competitive esports game, but with Nintendo’s new focus on tournament play, things are looking promising. Some controller customization options would also go a long way as blocking on the standard layout needs to be fixed. Other than that, ARMS is a great addition to the Switch’s multiplayer focused library. Nintendo has once again proven that it can bring innovation to even the most tired genres.