(Reviewer’s Note: If you’re interested in the different play-style’s of each character in the game, be sure to check out our preview article here.)
When Nintendo first unveiled Splatoon back at E3 2014, many people were surprised by this brand new, online multiplayer-centered IP, and luckily it would go on to see great success. Flash forward to June 2017, and the big N is throwing their hat into the ring once again with their latest creation, ARMS, a third-person fighting game developed by the team behind Mario Kart. Hoping to capture the imaginations of gamers as Splatoon did, ARMS puts you in control of one of 10 fighters as you launch your fists at your opponent via your abnormally stretchy limbs in what feels like a boxing match combined with a third person shooter. For such a bizarre concept, the gameplay is fast-paced and engaging, and seeing the game in action is truly a sight to behold.
For the presentation, ARMS is packed full of vibrant colors and beautiful animations. The way characters fluidly punch and dash across the screen is really captivating, and you’ll definitely be making use of the share button to show off some of your flashier moves. The game even has a fairly extensive replay mode where you can pause, rewind, and advance a fight frame by frame in order to capture the perfect screenshot. The combatant’s themselves are full of personality, from their overall design down to their catchphrases and victory poses. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself growing attached to your preferred fighter.
When it comes to the various arenas your matches take place in, they can be a mixed bag. They all have a fun theme and are full of fans dressed as the fighter they are rooting for, but the maps are not as interactive as you’d like them to be. Riding around on spinning discs in the snake park stage is probably the biggest highlight, and besides a few stages with obstacles to navigate around or objects to break, there isn’t too much in your environment for you to use against your opponent. Despite this, each stage does a great job encapsulating the personality of the fighter it belongs to, and they are a lot of fun.
While the music in ARMS is upbeat and well-made, the song that will probably get stuck in your head the most is the main title theme, which is incredibly catchy and has a couple of remixes in various parts of the game. Some characters have spoken dialogue as well, like Kid Cobra who hisses every word with the letter S in it, while others have simple grunts or shouts. It may not be advanced voice acting, but it is endearing in its own way. From the sound design to the visuals, ARMS definitely goes all out in the looks department.
The controls for ARMS is relatively simple, and although you can play the game with a pro controller or docked Joy-Cons in portable mode, using the motion controls is the preferred method of play as they feel responsive and natural. The L button allows you to dash, while R lets you jump, and tilting the controllers in tandem in the direction you wish to move will get your fighter in motion. Launching your ARMS is as simple as punching the left or right Joy-Con forward, and by tilting the controller, you can add a curve to your punch as it travels towards your opponent. Tilting the Joy-Cons inward allows you to block and charge up your ARMS elemental capabilities, and the ZR and ZL buttons let you unleash your special attack. The great thing about the motion controls is the more time you spend with them, the more natural it feels, to the point where you’ll notice a decrease in your skill when trying to transition to a traditional controller. If this is a game you see yourself wanting to play locally with a group of friends, you might want to consider picking up a second pair of Joy-Cons even though the game supports two players each using a single Joy-Con.
As for the game modes, ARMS offers a variety of ways to play the game alone or with your friends. For the single-player and local multiplayer experience, Grand Prix serves as the “story mode” of the game. After choosing a fighter, you’ll compete in the ARMS Grand Prix Tournament as you fight to reach your way to the top and claim the championship belt. Each fight is in a best two out of three rounds format, and there are ten stages altogether. Two out of the ten stages will mix things up by giving you a different challenge like competing in a game of hoops or V-Ball, for example. While this helps keep things from getting stale, Grand Prix feels more like a warm up mode rather than a fully fleshed out single player experience. You can crank up the difficulty of the fighters though, and the top difficulty is extremely challenging.
Unlike Grand Prix Mode which only supports up to two local players, Versus Mode can be played with four players via local multiplayer. Versus mode includes the traditional fight mode, (You do have the option to customize the rules) but you also have the options to play Team Fight, V-Ball, Hoops, Skill Shot, and 1-on-100 Mode. In Team Fight, you can team up with a second player or computer in a two vs two match. You and your partner will be tethered together so you’ll have to be mindful of each other’s movements, so teamwork is needed to succeed here. It may not be too different from a traditional fight, but a lot of chaotic fun can be had here.
V-Ball plays like a traditional volleyball game, where the first to five points wins. If you manage to hit the ball onto your opponent’s side of the net and it touches the ground, the ball will explode and you’ll earn a point. If you take too long trying to score, eventually the timer in the ball will go off and explode, awarding a point to whoever got rid of the ball from their side before it exploded. This is a fun twist on traditional volley ball, and it feels really satisfying to spike the ball over to your opponent’s side and watch them get hit with the explosion.
In Hoops Mode, the game plays like a slam dunk contest in basketball. The winner is decided by who gets to ten points first, and the only way to score a point is to launch or dunk your foe into the basket using a grapple. Like basketball, the further away you are from the net when you make your shot, the more points you’ll receive, with the max being three. Although you can miss your shots, this is by far the most fun, non-traditional fight mode to play, as the dunks your characters perform are stylish and they feel great to pull off.
For Skill Shot, the object of the game is to break as many targets as possible within the time limit, and the highest score at the end wins. With each player situated at opposite ends of the arena, movement is locked to strafing left or right. You can score points by breaking targets or landing a hit on your opponent, and trying to dodge attacks while aiming for the targets is fun and challenging.
The last option, 1-on-100, pits you against hordes of Helix clones as you fight to defeat them all. After defeating ten enemies, you’ll be rewarded with a healing item as the next wave of foes spawns in. Making it all the way to the end leads to something surprising, and this mode can be quite the challenge to survive in.
Of course, the big draw of ARMS is the online multiplayer features, and this is where the bulk of your time with the game will be spent. Party Match, which lets you play online for fun, supports up to two local players, and you and a friend can easily hop into a lobby to take on other players around the globe. Being able to play online with a friend makes this a great party game to have in your Switch library, and taking your system over to a buddy’s house to play online will be tons of fun. You also have the option to create your own lobby and fight against people you have on your friends list, and the local option lets you take on nearby players.
Ranked Matches are where you’ll compete to increase your rank, and you will be paired up with people of a similar rank as you. This mode is locked until you complete the Grand Prix Mode on level 4 difficulty or higher, so depending on your skill level with the game, it may or may not be a challenge to unlock. Regardless, expect to see high levels of competitive play here as people begin to master the unique play-styles of each fighter.
It’s always exciting to get a new IP, and based on my time with the game, ARMS seems like it will definitely fit in with the rest of the Nintendo family. The game isn’t perfect, as the lack of interactivity within the stages is slightly disappointing, and the few items you’ll get during a match are healing or special move charges and the occasional bomb. Besides the online Ranked Matches, the only things you’ll be unlocking are additional ARMS attachments in the ARMS Getter Mode, and this is basically a re-skin of the Skill Shot Mode.
Yet, despite feeling light on the single-player elements, there is so much potential and replayability in the local and online multiplayer. Each of the ten fighters have a unique fighting style to master, and the variety of ways to check and counter the multitude of attacks you’ll face is surprisingly deep and fun to implement. Customizing your favorite character with the different elemental abilities that the ARMS attachments have lets you develop your own personal strategy, and this makes your victories online that much more fulfilling. Even if you don’t plan on subscribing to Nintendo’s online plan in 2018, as a party game that you can take to a friend’s house, you’re sure to have a good time. If you’re looking for a game that doubles as a competitive online experience and an easily accessible party game, ARMS does a great job delivering that experience, and you should consider adding it to your Switch library.
Review: ARMS (Nintendo Switch)
Fantastic Party Game
Although the single-player experience feels light on the content, ARMS is a great and easily accessible game filled with deep strategy that has plenty of replay value with friends or via online multiplayer.