People often like to comment on how Nintendo tends to rely on their key franchises to get them through the life cycle of its latest hardware. The Japanese company is known for playing it safe, but it has started to experiment more with the release of original titles such as Splatoon on the Nintendo Wii U and now ARMS on the popular Nintendo Switch.
At a first glance, ARMS may seem like another simple brawler in the same style as Nintendo’s own Punch-Out, Yet there is more to ARMS than meets the eye. For starters most of the characters have arms that can not only be stretched far more than those firmly attached to the average human being, but they can also be bent in different directions and swapped to give characters different abilities. These characters are remarkable if nothing else and it certainly makes one wonder how they go about doing daily tasks – perhaps they just have normal looking arms that they can make use of.
The main attraction in ARMS comes in the form of Grand Prix mode where players needs to complete a certain number of levels to become the ARMS champion. Depending on the difficulty chosen, it can be easy to get stuck in a particular match, but yet it’s also satisfying since it’s necessary to learn the fighting styles for some of the trickier opponents and use any possible weaknesses against them. For example, some of the characters really like to make use of a grabbing ability, which can leave them at the mercy of the other fighter, when dodging it with the right timing.
Not all of ARMS is about two or more characters fighting it out in an arena. Not only are there mini-game style matches to face at different of the Grand Prix, but they also make an appearance as playable modes in other areas of the title. Now winning these in Grand Prix is definitely a challenge on higher difficulty settings. Each one makes use of truly inspiring ideas to transform typical sports such as basketball into the extraordinary. Where else would characters use each other as basketballs by grabbing them or even use bombs as volleyballs? There is a nice variety of mini-games that perfectly compliment the main fighting sport that most will associate with the title.
Given how challenging it can be, it’s definitely a good design feature to make it possible to save and continue the Grand Prix mode at any moment. Although it’s frustrating to not see a retry/restart option for when it’s clear that there is no chance of winning.
Regardless of the mode, ARMS consists of picking two of the same arms or a mixture of two and then getting down to the actual fighting. Each arm has an unique ability that makes it suitable to take on different opponents and challenges. Although some seem less useful than others, there’s no denying that it results in making characters seem more complex. It’s even possible to have different play styles for each combination of arms. More of these can be unlocked in a mini-game by making use of currency earned by playing the title, which is a clever way of extending the life cycle of a title such as this.
The fights themselves almost seem like a fancy high society dance, or even preys stalking each other, in the hopes of seeing who breaks first and makes a costly mistake. You see, making use of an arm relentlessly will more often than not result in failing to hit anything and being left wide open for some serious punishment. The characters can also jump and evade and even attack whilst in the air, although it’s often not worth it, given how easily it is to be left wide open for attacks such as a grab. One of the best aspects of fighting in ARMS is the ability to change the direction of each arm, since it makes it harder for opponents to know exactly where each arm will go until they are launched.
For a title that seems simple on the surface, there is a lot to learn about its many abilities and how to make the most of them. Yet, it’s fascinating to find that the controls that Nintendo has been making the most use out of when showcasing the title are not exactly the most suitable to use in fights. At best the motion controls feel unwieldy and like they are stubborn beasts that refuse to be tamed. Both the Joy-Con controllers need to be held upright to ensure that the motion controls are used to move the characters, but this becomes quite tricky when they are also used for attacks. The whole process is cumbersome and it’s far easier to play with the traditional controls that make use of buttons for the different attacks.
Now it’s fascinating how the online modes work for this title. The casual online mode in fact is much more interesting than the ranked online mode. It consists of getting matched with a group of players and waiting in turn to participate in a wide variety of modes. Sometimes these fights even consist of more than two players fighting and temporary alliances can even be forged to quickly wipe out other players. Although it can feel unfair to be ganged up on by two other players. Once sworn enemies can end up working together to take on a tough boss. It’s great to see a mixture of both cooperative and competitive modes to make it more unique compared to the typical online experience.
The online interface for casual matches invokes a feeling of community with an user interface that shows current matches and their outcome, along with icons to represent each player. In typical Nintendo fashion, there’s a rudimentary communication method using different animations for the icon of the chosen character, in the lobby.
For some reason, Nintendo thought that it would be a good idea to restrict ranked online fights to only players that won the Grand Prix mode with a certain difficulty setting. It doesn’t make sense why it doesn’t just let them go online to be trashed. Regardless, these consist of traditional fights. But the most important aspect of the online modes is that they work great and there was no sign of lag or other network issues during the various matches played.
Not only does ARMS come with a healthy variety of maps and locations, but each feels inspiring and unique. In fact, it’s a vibrant title full of colour and the different arms characters can use make for some aesthetically pleasing visuals. Those that had the pleasure of listening to the soundtrack no doubt had a hard time getting its catchy theme music track, and the various versions of it used for each character’s theme music track, out of their head.
ARMS manages to pleasantly surprise as a title that may seem lacking in depth, but that actually has more than a few tricks up its rather long sleeve.