Nintendo has a winner with Arms. What many (including myself) initially pegged as Wii Boxing’s newer, prettier sibling is really nothing of the sort. Arms exudes confidence, introducing a universe bursting with colour, memorable characters, and excellent fighting. Its motion controls – which, in this day and age, are something many of us would rather forget – feel accurate, and are almost pivotal to fully appreciating what the game is and represents. With a bit more tweaking and some additional content, Arms could well be Nintendo’s next big IP.
Arms is comprised of a handful of modes, with Grand Prix – a single-player tournament made up of 10 varied fights – the main attraction for solo players. Versus, Party Match, and Ranked Match are also included for players wanting to jump online and play multiplayer matches, with the former also open for solo play.
Versus includes everything Arms has to offer in terms of game modes, with a varied range of traditional fighting modes alongside a few little deviations. Customisation options are rife in Versus, allowing players to set time limits, health limits, and how many players are facing one another (or teaming up) in fights. Those not keen on fighting can jump into a handful of mini-games, including a volleyball/hot potato style mode, a basketball-themed mode in which you ‘dunk’ your opponent by grabbing them, and one where you and another player attempt to hit moving targets to score the most points. Each of these mini-games nicely changes up the experience, though they aren't particularly memorable.
Party Match, the game’s unranked multiplayer mode, sees all of the aforementioned mini-games added into online play. Arms does something pretty wonderful with its lobby system: each lobby is comprised of up to 20 players competing on a maximum of 10 Switch consoles. Players then battle one another in rotating match types that include the aforementioned mini-games, 1v1v1, and 1v1v1v1. Nothing ever feels the same here thanks to the variety of game types available, and I had the most fun here after I finished up with Grand Prix.
Ranked Match rounds out the game’s offerings, and is only unlocked after you beat Grand Prix mode on level four difficulty or higher. There are seven levels of difficulty, but I’ve only managed to beat Grand Prix on level three so far, as it’s really not as simple as I’d initially anticipated. Movement and dodging is critical, Arms selection is key, and blocking is pivotal to success in the higher difficulty levels.
If you put the game down after a couple of matches and never come back to it, you’ll probably never realise that hidden beneath the simplistic gameplay of Arms is a fighting system that is as deep as it is enjoyable. The game’s arms come in all different shapes, weights, and sizes, and each offers up different types of elemental damage and reach distance, meaning experimentation is very much encouraged.
There are 10 fighters to learn and master. Some, like the cloth-clad Master Mummy, are slow but don’t flinch when taking hits. Others are agile fighters, like the starry-haired Ninjara, who moves effortlessly around the game’s character-themed arenas. His agility and quickness suited me best.
Each character in Arms also has an exclusive ability. Ninjara, for instance, disappears and reappears out of thin air when he dashes and blocks, while Ribbon Girl has a handful of extra jumps in the air that she can use whenever she wants. Putting these abilities to good use is key to winning consistently in Arms, and I found that when I started to come to grips with how to best pair these abilities with arms that do adequate amounts of close and long-range damage, the game finally started to click with me.
While a majority of players appear to dislike the game’s motion controls, I reckon they're fairly good. The Joy-Cons do a mostly fantastic job of tracking your motion and understanding what you want to do, whether it’s curving a left punch in, dodging to the right, or going for a grab. You don’t tend to notice how well they’re tracking until they start messing up, which tends to happen a bit too consistently for my liking. More times than not, I’d go to move backwards, and instead my character elected to block, leaving me wide open for a grab. It’s situations like these that left me frustrated with Arms, especially against real players or on higher difficulty settings, where fights were extremely tight.
Swapping to standard controls or a Pro Controller eliminates this problem, but there are still some annoyances. The first is that button mapping can’t be changed, and having block mapped to the left stick can take some time to get used to. Alongside that is the fact that the curving of punches is a little bit more tricky, because the left thumbstick handles both your character’s movements and their punches, meaning you often find yourself in a bit of a standstill when throwing your fists, which inevitably leaves you wide open for a counter attack.
So, neither control scheme is perfect. I definitely preferred the traditional controls in the end, and I think if Arms is to truly make waves in the competitive scene, they will be the focus.
As the Switch’s first major exclusive developed from the ground up for the system, Arms does many things right. It's packed with a good number of varied fighters, a plethora of arms to unlock, and a fantastic multiplayer system – there’s a lot to love about the package. Even so, it still feels a tad light on content, especially for solo players. Grand Prix pits you against the same 10 fighters over and over again, and doesn't mix up the gameplay enough to make repeated runs at championship glory truly worth it, and if you grow tired of the multiplayer, you’re really left with nothing more than a few fun matches here and there with friends.
In that regard, the situation at launch for Arms is akin to that Splatoon faced in 2015, although Nintendo has promised that free extra content is on the way. It's whether you’re happy with a bit of a light serving at launch or something truly meaty that will really determine how much you get out of Arms. At the very least, it’s worth the price of admission thanks to a great concept, fun gameplay, and excellent multiplayer.