If victory in the console wars was decided, not by units sold, but on sheer quirk, Nintendo would win it by a comfortable margin.
From botched nostalgia releases to dogged adherence to motion control (when everyone else has abandoned it) to some of the slickest marketing we’ve seen in a while, Nintendo can be relied upon to be the most eccentric of the three major publishers. It is by turns frustrating, amazing and just plain weird.
The qualities above can easily be applied to Arms, Nintendo’s new fighting game for the Switch console. It’s weird. It’s amazing. It’s frustrating at times. It’s pretty hard to quantify. Perhaps the only aspect everyone can agree on is that its colourful exuberance is completely at odds with its plonkingly bland title.
Arms Review – Rock, Paper, Scissors
At its core, Arms is a third-person over-the-shoulder combat game that is mechanically more sound than its chaotic veneer may suggest. Essentially it’s a rock, paper, scissors affair in which players block punches, grab blocks and punch grabs. On top of that, players have the ability to curve punches and kit out their fighter with ‘gloves’ that offer different attacks.
The characters are decently varied; some are light and spritely, but can be knocked over with one punch and others are a little slower and can bash through attacks. Every one of them has some sort of unique ability; Ninjara, for example has an air-dash while Ribbon Girl can double jump. Each character also has a charged attack; once a meter is filled, players can unleash a flurry of punches and, depending on when they deploy this attack, they could just clinch a match.
So, as one would assume from the above description, Arms is a doddle to pick up and play. That having been said, though, don’t be fooled into thinking this game is a simplistic button-mashing free-for-all. Rather, success depends on a more tactical approach; players are encouraged to keep their distance from opponents and watch for openings and tells, which telegraph the type of attack that’s coming.
Arms Review – Better controls please
Since this is a Nintendo game, there are two control schemes for it – motion controls and the more standard set up. Unfortunately, both of them have issues.
The traditional set-up (both Joy-Cons in a control dock) is slightly problematic seeing as the punch-curl mechanic and the character’s movement are both mapped to the same analogue stick. This isn’t a deal-breaker when you’re pounding the stuffing out of the AI on the easier settings, but against human opponents, the inability to move and curl a punch at the same time is frustrating. It also becomes a pretty obvious tell after a while.
The motion controls don’t fare much better. While holding a Joy-Con in each hand and mimicking boxing moves does feel more intuitive, the controls are too imprecise. Punching and curling swats feels fine, but movement feels sluggish and blocking is just out and out finicky. As has been mentioned, this is fine for casual players, but fighting fans looking to master a game may become annoyed before too long.
Arms Review – Welcome to the Grand Prix
Players will likely get to grips with Arms in the Grand Prix, a 10-level mode that’s pretty much the same every time one plays it, regardless of which character they pick. The only changes one can make here is to tackle the mode with a mate and to toggle a difficulty setting that runs the gamut from ‘hilariously easily’ to ‘rather challenging indeed’.
Aside from giving players a really good feel for the different characters, Grand Prix allows them to grind for in-game currency, which they’ll use to unlock more ‘gloves’ for their fighters. It also introduces them to V-Ball and Hoops, two mini-games in Arms that ape volleyball and basketball respectively. Players who complete Grand Prix on level 4 difficulty can unlock Ranked mode, allowing them to challenge strangers to matches.
Oddly, there’s no real story underpinning Grand Prix and given how colourful the game’s world and characters are, this feels like a massive missed opportunity.
Arms Review: Party Army
Arms really comes alive once players leave off battling the AI and turn on each other. Hardcore fighter fans may find the chaotic nature of the 2v2 co-op or 4-player free-for-all bust-ups imprecise, but for the rest of us it’s enjoyable knock-around fun. Of course, 2v2 will require more than one set of Joy-Cons so you may have to dig into your wallet to get the benefit of that. It may be worth it, though, because due to its pick-up-and-play nature, Arms is likely to be a hit with the party game crowd.
Arms Review: Verdict
So Arms is a rather strange beast. It feels fresh and unique is some respects while undercooked and thin in others. It’s frustrating, weird and, at times, amazing. Just like its developer, then…
- Arms was reviewed on Nintendo Switch. A retail copy was provided by the publisher.