At times, ARMS is as good as Nintendo at its best. At others, it’s frustratingly average. ARMS is a fighting game and unashamedly a fighting game, albeit one with a Nintendo spin.
The high production values we’ve all come to expect from Nintendo are evident. The visuals are colourful, bright and crisp and the core concept is strong. Most of the time, ARMS is a deceptively good time. It’s a shame then that it’s let down by random difficulty spikes, cheating CPU opponents and a steep learning curve that will act as a barrier to some players.
Nintendo’s become known for games that hold your hand in recent years. Like Breath of the Wild, ARMS is different. It’s hard and it’s deliberately hard. When you first start out, it seems pretty simple; throw punches, block and beat your opponent. It quickly becomes apparent that the fighting is a whole lot deeper than that.
Why Do You Wanna Fight?
As with most Switch games, there are multiple control schemes, but in reality, there are only two. You can either use the Joy Cons separately to take advantage of the motion controls or you can use the Pro Controller, Joy Con Grip, Switch+Joy Cons to play using buttons.
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When you play with motion controls you punch with the left and right Joy Cons to punch the respective arms. You can block by pointing the Joy Cons at each other and you can dodge and jump by pressing L and R. The ZL and ZR buttons will trigger your super once you’ve filled the meter. The biggest downside to using motion controls is the lack of fidelity you have when it comes to positioning your fighter in the arena.
To move you need to tilt both Joy Cons in the direction you want to go. It’s slow and it’s a bit clunky and you never really get your fighter where you want them to be. When you use a controller though, you’re able to move around freely with the left stick.
Fight His Way Up From the Boxcar Did He?
The controls remain otherwise the same while using the controller, except you’re able to use B and A or L and R for left and right punches. Blocking is less useful and less easy with a controller though as you’ll need to click in the left stick and hold it to block. Unfortunately, there’s no way to customise the controls either. So, for now, we’re stuck. Hopefully, Nintendo patches it in soon.
The fighting in ARMS is different to other fighting games. Usually, you view the action from the side, but in ARMS you’re placed behind your fighter. [perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”ARMS is all about acting and reacting to your opponent” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””][/perfectpullquote]This is to facilitate the use of both arms as the entire battle focuses on punching with your left and right fists. There are no kicks, no special moves, no pre-built combos. ARMS is all about acting and reacting to your opponent and dealing more damage to them than they to you.
You use your fighter’s impossibly long, springy arms to take punches from a distance and from all angles. Because the arms of the fighters are so long, you’re able to curve a punch to come from the either side. With motion controls, you do this by tilting the controller, otherwise, you curve your punches with the analogue stick. When I first started playing, I found it relatively easy to fight my way through the AI enemies, but this was on a low difficulty setting. Once I ratcheted it up, things go very hard, very fast.
And You Know This, Man!
There’s a decent number of modes in ARMS including online and local play. To unlock online ranked matches, you need to complete the Grand Prix — ARMS’ story mode — at difficulty level 4. There are a total of seven difficulty levels starting at 1. Level 4 is smack bang in the middle and I’m not ashamed to admit that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to win at level 5 or above.
I don’t think I suck at ARMS, but getting through the Grand Prix at level 4 the first time was way, way harder than it needed to be. [perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”Ninjara is the worst offender” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””][/perfectpullquote] Since then, I’ve completed it at level 4 another five times. For the most part, I got through them fairly easily, there were still fights that were insanely hard. The difficulty spikes in ARMS are almost evil. They made me rage. To the point of yelling expletives at the top of my voice. Ninjara is the worst offender. Goddamn, I hate Ninjara.
In these moments, it felt like the AI was cheating. Like it knew what moves I was going to make and countering them at every turn. It feels unfair to be playing carefully and strategically and still having your arse handed to you. It was here that I realised that using motion controls was not viable for playing against the CPU. Motion controls are only good for playing against your friends in the same room. If you want to play against the AI or online, you’ll need to use the Pro Controller. If not, you’re going to lose.
Ready to Rumble?
Something else that is really important in gaining the edge on your opponent is your choice of arms. Arms are the object at the end of your fighter’s well…arms. There’s three per fighter to choose from and you can unlock more as you play. These different items vastly change the way you fight. There are punching gloves, electrified punching gloves, freezing punching gloves, boomerangs, umbrellas, party poppers and a whole lot more.
The best part is that you can set which three are assigned to each character from what you’ve unlocked. Before each round, you can select which item is on your left arm and which is on your right. You can have two of the same or two different. It really does make a huge difference in how you approach a fight. Boomerangs and other similar objects give you much more curve, where other may hit multiple times or explode.
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During fights, you’re able to charge your attacks too. By holding the dash button, blocking or jumping, you’ll briefly charge up your fists and gain an extra effect. Boomerangs will cause enemies to spin and fly in the direction of your punch. Electrified arms will disable your enemies arms for a moment and freezing arms will freeze them to the spot. There are so many more available, but I wouldn’t want to ruin the fun of discovery for you.
Down For the Count
Aside from Grand Prix, there are a wealth of other modes in ARMS. You can fight single matches against AI or friends, you can take part in tag-team matches with up to four players or you can try out the mini-games. There’s volleyball, basketball, score challenge, 1 vs 100 and a special score attack mode used to unlock new arms.
Each mode uses the same basic controls but with different rules. Volleyball requires you to punch a ball into your opponent’s side, where in basketball you need to throw your opponent into the hoop to score. Both score challenge modes see you trying to break targets and 1 vs 100 tasks you with defeating 100 consecutive enemies without regenerating any of your health.
The mini-games work really well with ARMS’ mechanics and provide a good distraction when the AI gets you tilted. As for multiplayer, you can play Party Mode which is essential casual online matches or ranked matches. You can search for a ranked match and take part in Grand Prix or any of the Versus modes and mini-games. You can also play locally. Nothing’s better than beating the person sitting next to you.
The Best Around
Although there’s lots of content and the fighting is devilish, I still have a love-hate relationship with ARMS. For every time I executed a perfect combo, there were others when I lost for reasons I didn’t even understand. Sometimes I was unstoppable; shepherding my opponent left with a right-hand swing and smacking them down with my waiting left hook. Others I was given a beating. It’s uneven. And the unfair, difficulty spikes really sour the experience.
That’s not to say I’ve given up on ARMS completely. Not at all. In fact, when you play with friends is when ARMS is at its best. Making games that bring people together is what Nintendo does best. In that regard, ARMS is a triumph. The times you don’t have friends around is when ARMS will get less mileage.
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I can guarantee that players are going to get insanely good at ARMS and the competitive scene will flourish too. I can’t wait for that, as ARMS will be incredibly good to watch live. Though after about two minutes the soundtrack gets very old. My advice is to turn down the music and play your own.
Right now, ARMS is good but not great. In time, with some patching, balance tweaks and the ability to customise controls, ARMS could become something truly special. I hope that it does. I had a great time with ARMS, but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s not quite there yet.
ARMS was reviewed using a pre-release digital download provided to PowerUp! by Nintendo.
Game Title: ARMS
Game Description: ARMS for Nintendo Switch lets you trade blows using extendable arms in a unique multiplayer fighting sport!
Boi Yoi Yoing - 8/10
Lots of Flailing - 6/10
Gonna Punch Lenny in the Back of the Head - 7/10