Nintendo hasn’t established a new genre with ARMS, but like Super Smash Bros. before it, they have taken the fighting genre and made it accessible while flipping it on its head – or, in this case, by adding extendable weaponized ARMS. Instead of standing toe-to-toe with your opponents ala Punch-Out you have spring loaded fists in various styles to punch your foes at a distance. But this isn’t just a boxing match – you can jump and grab all while avoiding environmental hazards in a multitude of different arenas. There are only 10 fighters available at launch, but with the ability to mix and match ARMS while earning currency to unlock more there is a lot of depth.
On the surface ARMS is a pretty bare-bones fighter but the content that is there has a lot of replayability. Don’t let the whimsical nature of ARMS fool you: the combination of fighters and weaponry affords a surprising amount of depth. There are 10 fighters to choose from, each with their own amount of hit points, movement speed, recovery time and special abilities – such as Min-Min’s ability to kick away incoming punches and Ribbon Girl’s ability to jump up to a maximum of four times in mid-air. For the most part, each fighter feels significantly different. Characters have their own ARMS to start, but you can unlock more by collecting coins in-game and spending them on a sort of gallery shooting game that allows you to play for prizes – those prizes being new ARMS! If you really like Kid Cobra’s “slamamander” but prefer to play as Spring Man, with a bit of luck, skill, and time it’s possible.
The feature that most distinguishes ARMS from other fighting games are the eponymous spring-loaded fists. They come in all shapes and sizes with different functionality that add a ton of variety to playstyle. There are three sizes of ARMS with larger ARMS generally able to punch down and through smaller ones, others that are designed to curve around defenses, and some meant to confuse and distract. Each ARM also has an elemental power to further hurt or debuff your opponent. Electricity incapacitates your opponent’s ARMS, while Ice will slow your foe and prevent them from being able to jump, for example. These ARMS are initially hard to get used to – you can curve them mid-flight, and with your ARMS extended you are vulnerable. Learning to time your punches takes some skill, and the combination of skills required to play can be overwhelming to a newcomer. ARMS heavily encourages you to use motion controls, but they’re not necessary. The motion controls do feel responsive, are intuitive, and with practice they don’t feel like a handicap. On the other hand, using a more traditional controller feels great once the initial learning curve is overcome.
There are the standard fighting game modes present here: a single-player mode, a local versus battle to fight friends, training modes, and online multiplayer battles in the form of casual “party matches” or ranked matches for the competitively minded. Grand Prix serves as a sort of story mode as you fight your way through the roster at each of the fighter’s arenas – when you’re not playing mini-games. What little exposition is given through text and delivered by ARMS’ fist-haired announcer. If you’re hoping for a cinematic story you’ll be disappointed. You can play through the Grand Prix with a friend with local split screen, and even bring a friend into online party matches, but not into ranked matches. When you are fighting on the same side in a 2v2 encounter, you will be tethered to your partner. This creates an interesting dynamic as you can focus on one opponent or the other, or attempt to help your partner by blocking incoming attacks with your ARMS.
When you enter an online party match you are placed into a lobby and you are paired with an opponent or opponents. You can even be matched with a random player in a 2 vs 2 mode, or find yourself in a 3 player free-for-all. Occasionally in the online party mode and Grand Prix you’ll find yourself playing mini-games, of which there are 3: volleyball, basketball, and target punching. Basketball is not much different from regular bouts, but the volleyball and target minigames can be a good change of pace from back to back fighting. If you don’t have internet access, or playing against real opponents isn’t your preference, ARMS has quite challenging AI.
Nintendo has a way of bringing people games that would otherwise be overlooked. ARMS is a game solidly placed in the fighting genre, but requiring no knowledge of combos or special moves to be able to play. The motion controls help intuitively ease players into the mechanics of the game and are actually responsive while not being compulsory. ARMS is a solid fighting game, and can provide hours of enjoyment to those who want to play competitively against others or would rather just fight solo against a formidable AI. ARMS is available right now for the Nintendo Switch.