An exhilarating knock-out…
Nintendo has been knocking it out of the park as of late; through the release of the masterful Breath of the Wild and the forever endearing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Nintendo welcomes a new addition to the their collection of fantastic IPs and their ever growing lineup of excellent Switch games. I have to be honest with all of you, I was not impressed with ARMS when it was originally revealed back in January. Gimmicky motion-controls have never been my cup of tea, and the questionably marketed reveal trailer showcasing a man in business attire fighting against a Japanese school girl was laughable at best. However, after a few Nintendo Directs showcasing the game’s surprising amount of depth and a plentiful amount of hands-on time with the Global TestPunch, my perception of Nintendo’s newest IP took a sharp 180. The Global TestPunch proved that this bizarre complex fundamentally works and it’s ridiculously fun and addictive. While the TestPunch featured a considerable fraction of content, the final product adds an exceptional bevy of different modes and unlocks to keep this addictive experience vigorous and constantly on your mind. While its single-player portion is rather shallow and is undoubtedly a secondary point of concern, both online and local multiplayer are extremely robust and are the fundamental crux as to why ARMS is such a delight. The nuanced gameplay, robust catalogue and combination of different weaponry – which are called ARMS to little surprise – slew of varying idiosyncratic game modes, and a constant stream of new dedicated content within the coming months, ARMS is an absolute knock-out of a gem and is arguably the best motion controlled game I have ever played.
Now ARMS boasts a peculiar premise that simply does not have the required background lore to warrant the creation of compelling characters or a thoughtful story. In fact, there really is no story to be found here. If you enjoyed the enthralling cinematic quality of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Mortal Kombat, or Injustice, then ARMS’ pathetic attempt of a story is nothing more than a sad joke. Each character in ARMS simply strives to emerge victorious in the illustrious Grand Prix. That’s it. The end. While the story leaves much to be desired, characters at least deliver a competent level of consideration and notable detail. Their stories are still relatively shallow but provide a sense of context and motivation that at least propels the Grand Prix forward. Ribbon Girl is a pop singing idol, Min Min is the daughter of a ramen shop owner, Helix is an experiment cooked up in the ARMS Laboratories, and Twintelle is a rounded silver-screen celebrity who uses her extendable hair in place of other’s elongated ARMS, each character has their own sense of dazzling flair and a relatively primitive reason for entering the Grand Prix. As for why these characters have profound abilities that rival the DNA of Mr. Fantastic? According to ARMS producer, Kosuke Yabuki, the real answer is: because Nintendo. The creators are indeed preparing a proper background story for these abnormalities but for now, Yabuki’s in-depth answer is all we have. Just like Nintendo’s previous foray into genre rejuvenation, the excellent Splatoon on the underappreciated Wii U, ARMS boasts an infectious, albeit repetitive, soundtrack and an exquisitely vibrant colour palette that simply screams ‘Nintendo’.
At the heart of ARMS strengths, is its innovative approach to the fighter genre and its idiosyncratic gameplay. Implementing probably the best use of motion controls to date, ARMS combat appropriately responds to the correct action that you perform using the Joycon. Launch your right arm forward and your respective character will perform an elongated straight punch with their right arm, perform a left jab and your ARMS fighter will launch a left curved punch, or propel both arms forward for your fighter to perform a glorious grapple attack. It’s completely responsive and works exceptionally well. Tilting both Joycon left, right, forwards, and backwards instigates your fighter’s movement in the respective direction. Dishing out punches or taking consecutive damage will also fill your rush gauge, which will allow you to unleash a flurry of hard-hitting punches once filled and activated. Topped off with the imperative dashing and jumping abilities, appropriately tied to the L & R buttons respectively, and you have the formula for a relatively complex system that’s initially hard to swallow but quickly becomes adaptable and addictive through practice and tribulation. One of ARMS’ greatest strengths is its profound accessibility. Aside from the surprisingly intuitive motion controls, you can also use the Pro Controller, Joycon Grip, or single Joycon as your preferred method of play. Each ARMS fighter boasts a unique personality and imitable quality, and while fighters feel relatively similar in terms of control, each has his/her own notable abilities that relay a proper sense of distinction. Ribbon Girl is known as “The Airess” as she is able to jump up to four times, as opposed to the standardized two. Twintelle is able to hover mid-air and slow down incoming punches. Ninjara is able teleport with every dash or block, providing fantastic opportunities for counterattacks. My personal favourite fighter Min Min, is able to deflect incoming attacks when she performs a mid-air dash. She is also able to charge her left Arm permanently, that is until she is successfully knocked down. There are a plentiful amount of different ARMS to unlock and interesting combinations to unfold. Most ARMS are tied to a specific element – wind, fire, ice, electricity, etc. – which is unleashed when you successfully charge your ARMS, which can be done by blocking or hold the dash or jump button. ARMS’ superb sense of experimentation is exceptional, as each class of ARMS feels fundamentally different and cater to a multitude of different play styles. While some ARMS may provide an arced trajectory – which is extremely efficient against opponents who’re not aware of their surroundings – , others could propel at a noticeably slower pace but deal far more damage; topped off with their individual elemental charge, each Arm truly has a distinct and rewarding feel. Lastly, throughout the course of battle, there are four items that can come randomly into play and perhaps turn the tide; the HP bottle and Rush juice regenerates health and quickly fills the rush gauge of any fighter standing within its radius respectively, while the Shock Bomb and Fire Bomb are fairly self-explanatory.
Luckily ARMS provides a slew of different modes to dive into, with each most certainly feeling distinct and exuding a specific cadence for variance. Traditional 1 on 1 fights are insanely addicting and showcase the greatest elements of ARMS’ mechanics and its unadulterated sense of fun. These free-for-all matches translate interestingly when up four players battle against one another. It’s undoubtedly chaotic and it’s relatively difficult to keep track of who’s who, but it’s a pure hectic ball of euphoric joy. You can also partake in team battles for a more levelled and collected experience, but each team is tethered to their partner creating a questionable sense of restriction. It’s a bizarre implementation but having frantic team battles is an exhilarating blast nonetheless. Other game types Nintendo throw into the mix are Skill Shot, V-Ball, Hoops, and the 1v100. Skill Shot has two players or two teams stand on opposite ends of the stage and try to simultaneously hit as many target points as possible in a given amount of time. V-Ball is ARMS’ take on the traditional sport, with two players or teams trying to get the explosive ball to land on the opponent’s side of the court. Hoops is a 1 on 1 battle that requires players to throw each other into a large basketball hoop. 1v100 is a horde-like mode that pits one player against 100 Helix-esque enemies. All of these various game types welcome additions as fluctuate the gameplay efficiently but compared to the addictive and heated nature of traditional fights and team battles, they’re rendered to nothing more than distractions for gameplay variance. Luckily all of these engaging modes can be enjoyed both locally via split-screen and online. While the screen resolution and frame-rate drop is noticeable when playing locally, the unadulterated euphoria of playing with friends and/or family on one screen outweighs every minute technical discrepancy. ARMS is another excellent addition to exhilarating local play the Nintendo Switch offers; my family, friends, and I will definitely alternate between Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and ARMS as our go-to multiplayer experience for a long, long time. Online play, which is equally as excellent, consists of Party Match, Ranked Match, and Friends. Party Match is a casual online mode featuring a lobby of up to 12 players, all of which are matched accordingly and compete in one of the aforementioned versus modes. Players can also go online with local partner, who will alternate between fights except in the case of a team battle. While Party Mode provides a novel sense of variance and diversity, its matchmaking system is questionably flawed when you have a party of two. There were so many instances where my sister and I could easily have been matched with another party of two for a team battle of sorts, but instead it would have one person from each party compete in a 1 on 1 match or have one complete party of two and one person from the other party cooperatively fight an AI controlled boss, while the fourth person would have to sit and watch. Despite the questionable intricacies of the matchmaking system, Party Match is an absolute blast and its inclusion of local play make it a personal favourite of mine. Ranked Match and Friends is pretty self-explanatory; Ranked Matches have players of equal level square of against on another in a fluctuating chain of hierarchy, while Friends allows players to create and/or join lobbies and compete in the various game modes with individuals on your friends list. Regardless of your game mode of choice, you will be constantly rewarded with ARMS coins. You can spend this currency to unlock new ARMS in the derivatively named mini-game, ‘Get ARMS. This mode is similar to Skill Shot, in which you must clear wave after wave of target points. ARM boxes will eventually appear at random and the player must knock them down to unlock the specified ARM. On top of the target points and random ARM boxes, timers will also appear which will extend the duration of the mini-game if you knock them down. The ARMS unlock system is completely random which is relatively disappointing but its interactive nature is rather novel and the mode is enjoyable nonetheless.
ARMS is yet another excellent entry on Nintendo’s latest console, one that defied expectations. It’s a surprisingly robust game from a mechanical standpoint, given the amount of various input controls, and Nintendo’s promised dedication and stream of new content will hopefully provide the added longevity this new IP deserves. Its novel form of gameplay, intense aura of competition, slew of varying game types, excellent local and online multiplayer suites, and diverse selection of fighters, ARMS is a deep fighting experience with unparalleled levels novelty and quality. An in-depth single-player experience, similar to that of NetherRealms’ repertoire, would’ve been preferred over the uninspired Grand Prix and the frustrating matchmaking system leaves much to be desired. Online matches provide their fair share of latency and connectivity issues, and given the fact that ARMS’ is first and foremost a fighting game, the unpredictable nature of online connectivity nearly breaks the enjoyment of online matches. However, seeing how this problem truly resides on the player’s internet connection and bandwidth speed, it would be unfair to fault ARMS for such an unsteady variable. Just like how they reinvigorated the modern conventions of the online shooter genre with Splatoon and the open-world genre with Breath of the Wild, Nintendo’s iconic flair and idiosyncratic touch of personality simply redesigns the structure and my perception of the fighting genre. It doesn’t incorporate immense complexities and genre staples such as combos or finishers, but what you have here is an innovative new way to experience an established genre, and perhaps introduce its beauty to those who’d normally look the other way.