Written by: Jeff Chambers
Release Date(s): June 16, 2017 (WW)
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Exclusive to the Nintendo Switch, ARMS is a unique fighting game built around every character having a set of extremely long, extendable arms that can be aimed and curved towards your opponent. The game also incorporates elements of a third person shooter with some of the arenas featuring obstructions that fighters can use as cover, adding a nice layer of strategy to the gameplay. Every fighter in the game starts with their own set of 3 interchangeable gloves attached to their arms. These gloves, referred to in-game as the titular ARMS, come in many different shapes and sizes and make up the core gameplay. Many of these ARMS also have special elemental attributes that can be used after charging your attacks to add extra damage and/or status ailments. All ARMS in the game are unlockable through the ARMS Getter, a target practice mini game that is only available to play through in-game currency. Unlike most fighting games that are built around character specific attacks, every character has the same basic set of moves. They can all punch with either arm, as well as jump, dash, grab and guard. While you would think this means every character plays largely the same, they each have their own unique traits to set them apart. For example, Master Mummy can heal while he guards and Spring Man has the ability to deflect incoming attacks when he charges up. Because of this, the characters still wind up feeling unique while the core gameplay has a beautiful simplicity to it. One of the big features of this game is the ability to use motion controls. The motion controls are fun and responsive but traditional button controls can also be used. Both control styles work well and are very responsive, making the game easy to get the hang of for new comers.
The main single player mode is the Grand Prix, which is basically a standard arcade mode you would find in nearly every fighting game. You face off against 10 opponents in a row with a final boss opponent on harsher difficulties. It feels like just about any other fighting game, which is disappointing given the distinctive visuals on display here. Even worse, there’s next to no story involved. This mode is also playable in a 2 player co-op mode, which is a fun addition to try with a friend. There are several versus modes and mini-games outside of the Grand Prix. You can set matches with up to 4 fighters, either as 2 on 2 teams or multi-man melees with every man fighting for himself. There are also basketball, volleyball and target practice mini-games that can serve as a fun distraction. With some these mini-game focusing on grabs and aiming your punches, they can be used as a training mode of sorts as well. These can be fun, short time wasters but you’re unlikely to spend a significant amount of time with any of them. There’s also a 1-on-100 mode, which serves as an endurance test where you take on 100 consecutive opponents with only a single life bar, the ARMS Test, which pits you in a series of fights that changes your set of ARMS in every round and the newly added Hedlok Scramble, which allows you to fight as the final boss of the Grand Prix. These modes are certainly meatier than the mini-games and serve as great training for the main game.
Where this game really shines is through its online multiplayer. In terms of online play, you have two options in Party Match and Ranked Match. In Party Match, you are thrust into a lobby with up to 20 players total, with opponents and modes rotated at random from one battle to the next. Ranked Match pits you in 1 on 1 fights against random opponents near your skill level. Party Match is great fun for casual players and Ranked Match is where skilled players will flock to. While items like health pickups and bombs drop in other modes, they are nowhere to be found in Ranked Match, making it much more of a contest of pure skill and strategy. The online modes are the best part of this game. There’s great fun, challenge and of course a little frustration to be had online but the fun far outweighs anything else. These modes run near flawlessly with little to no noticeable lag and very little wait time between matches. In fact, this game has some of the best and fastest matchmaking seen in a fighting game. It’s quite shocking and hopefully a sign of things to come with Nintendo’s upcoming online subscription service.
Now onto the flaws and there’s several here to take note of. A lack of story in single player is one thing but next to no story whatsoever? That’s near inexcusable. At the very least, we should’ve got some Street Fighter II style short ending cutscenes that explain the characters motivations and give a resolution to their story. We don’t even get that. Also, where the hell is Biff’s voice? In the Nintendo Directs leading up to the game’s release we were introduced to Biff, the charismatic ARMS commentator. Biff does appear in-game but instead of the memorable voice we heard in the Directs, he’s relegated to squealing, subtitled gibberish. It’s a letdown for sure. I’m not really a fan of how ARMS are unlocked, it’s very random and takes a considerable amount of time to unlock everything. I would prefer if there was at least an option to use in game currency to purchase specific ARMS. Skillshot, the versus target practice mini game, is a terrible mode that’s not very fun at all. Worse is that it’s forced on you periodically in The Grand Prix and Party Match. When using traditional controls, guarding is mapped to pressing in the left stick, with no option to change. It feels clumsy, awkward and un-natural. The game is certainly light on content. There were just 10 selectable characters at launch with more to be released as free DLC later. While I don’t have a huge problem with the limited roster, it certainly is off putting for many, especially when you consider this is a full priced title.
Still, flaws included, I love this game. It’s my favorite game released for the Switch so far and one of the more addicting and purely fun games I’ve played in a long time. That being said, it’s tough for me to give this one a full recommendation. It does seem to be a game that’s not going to click with everyone and there are obvious flaws that are holding it back from being something really special and a must own. I would definitely say if you own a Switch that this is certainly a game you need to at least give a shot to cause there’s a good chance you’ll be pleasantly surprised.