Nintendo has finally released Arms, the fighting game they’ve been touting since the January presentation that gave us our first look at what was coming to the Switch. It’s incredible to see that the game still plays as fluidly as it did during launch. However, now that all the features are available to us, it’s time we gave this game its full review. How does the game stack up against other fighting games? Do the game modes do what they need to do? Is Arms going to survive in the competitive scene or even in the party gaming scene? So let’s dive in and answer some of these questions!
Gameplay and Mechanics
Diving right into the meatiest part of the game, we have the actual gameplay. Nintendo is known for games that make you want to play them more when you see someone else playing them. There’s no question that the same can be said for Arms. Like any fighting game, Arms can be fast and frantic, or slow and paced. How quickly the game moves depends on the players and by extension, their chosen characters.
Arms revolves heavily around a rock-paper-scissors mechanic seen in most fighting games. Grabs beat blocking. Blocking beats attacks. Attacks beat grabs. However, this isn’t as straightforward as it sounds, at first. Just because you punch doesn’t mean you won’t get grabbed, as blocking opponents can counter you by dashing with their guard up. Or perhaps an opponent in the air drops down just as you start to punch them, avoiding your fist and following with a grab.
Flow of Gameplay
This kind of complexity can lead to some stress on the part of newer players. Perhaps someone tried to punch through a grab only to get grabbed, anyways. They might feel they were punished despite reacting properly. However, they were baited, which leads me to a key point about this game. Arms allows you to moderate the time you have to react to what your opponent does without directly altering their options. That is, when you play up close and personal, the game becomes about making reads and the usual fighting game fare. However, when you fight from a distance, it gets more reactionary.
For this reason, many matches, when played defensively become a game of chicken. The first person to act will usually get hit. Then, with less health, they’re now pressured to get more aggressive or risk being timed out. This leads to them being reacted to some more, which ends poorly. The game is a slippery slope, in this way. Playing more aggressively against defensive opponents often ends poorly. However, if you play passively against a defensive opponent in the lead, they’ll happily run out the timer.
That’s not really a problem on its own, but it does mean that, at least for now, higher level play will be very defensive. This will inevitably rely on matches dragging on, which will push away a lot of competitive players. It’s hardly a death sentence, but will likely limit the game’s competitive appeal.
I honestly applaud Arms for using motion controls as its primary control scheme. This, more than anything, makes it stand apart from any other game out there. And as expected, Nintendo made sure you could play Arms with any controller available to the Switch. Since not everyone is fond of motion controls, this is nearly a necessity for the game to function for many.
On that note, however, the actual controls screen makes the game a little more confusing than necessary. That is, it doesn’t list what every button does. They only tell you to punch with A and B when honestly, the triggers feel more natural for this. Further, playing with two players, people are bound to notice that the second player has no control or options anywhere. In fact, throughout the entire game, the second player is always just an add-on. Nothing more.
Now, we already have an article giving the run down on a lot of this, which can be found here. It briefly goes over each of the basic gameplay modes. The main menu has the major categories set up: Grand Prix, Versus, Party Mode, Ranked Battles, play with Friends, and Local (LAN). Grand Prix is the closest this game has to a story. It’s somewhat bare bones, though, even for a fighting game. The main story is that your character has entered a tournament and you want to win. The only thing of interest that happens is at the end if you’re playing on a high enough level, but I won’t spoil that for you.
Suffice it to say, this game takes a lot of its direction from Super Smash Bros. The game modes kind of mirror what Smash on Wii U had available. A campaign, a For Fun mode, and some mini-games that could arguably feed into teaching the gameplay. However, while Smash was absolutely packed with content, Arms seems to give you what it thinks you NEED and not much more. It’s really a lot more like Splatoon, in that regard.
Also, there are currently ten characters available to play as and a secret character (not really a secret anymore) that will become playable whenever the first DLC drops. He even has three arms of his own, but we won’t get into that, here. Which yes, each character has three Arms that are particular to them, though you can use these Arms as any character, as long as you unlock them through the Get Arms mini-game. Pay in-game money to play a single player skill shot mini-game for a chance at some new weapons to play with.
So, this mode is actually locked when you first get the game. They want you to play through Grand Prix on level 4 or higher before you can start joining in on ranked matches. This is possibly one of my biggest gripes with the game. I understand that this is too keep ranked from being flooded with try-hards that don’t understand the core gameplay. However, I don’t think making them fight AI opponents is an elegant solution.
Any fighting game pro will tell you that AI is either a joke or unfair, and sometimes both. AI, no matter how well-programmed, never fights like a human being. There’s a level of unpredictability it just can’t reach without RNG, which just makes things unfair, at best. AI also has some ungodly reaction speed (think Lvl 9 Lucina counters in Smash). While you can artificially slow this reaction speed, it’s still going to feel very different from a real player.
Overall, I think a party mode quota or leveling system similar to Splatoon would have been a more reasonable solution. Build up to fighting good players by fighting anyone that joins in Party Mode.
Regardless, once Ranked Matches are unlocked, they work pretty well, I think. The game sets you up to search for a ranked match while you go on and do anything you want to do. If a challenger approaches, you’ll find yourself pulled from whatever you’re already doing to face them. This does seem a little unnecessary, as at least for now, you’ll almost never have trouble finding an opponent, but in the future, this could be very useful.
Overall Arms Gameplay Impressions
Overall, I think the game and controls work intuitively. It’s clear they tried to cover their bases, though as of launch, that seems to be all they did. I don’t have any problems with the core mechanics, though I could see competitive groups complaining that it’s too reactionary. Still, I think the game is a lot of fun and it can lean heavily on its core mechanics and the upcoming content. Free DLC will likely help out the content end of things, but for now, I can’t say there’s too much to do, yet.
Of course, Arms relies heavily on online multiplayer to keep players occupied, and thankfully, this works well. There’s party mode, which gives a more varied gameplay experience and ranked matches for competitive players. If nothing else, the game definitely covers its bases on the online gameplay.
Visuals and Soundtrack
I don’t think I can gush enough about this aspect of the game, however. For whatever flaws the UI and content (as of launch) might have, Arms looks and sounds incredible. From the intro theme, you already know you’re in for something unique. The soundtrack opts to use bongos and a choir as its main s0und. The whole thing is upbeat and really gets you pumped for the game, itself. Each character has a stage and theme song to themselves, and while they all use the same motif from the main theme, each one still sounds entirely unique.
Speaking of unique, between the eleven characters currently in the game (including the new character coming in the DLC), none of them could every really be mistaken for one another. Each character has a central theme that defines them and guides their design, which is then accented with bright colors. Everyone’s looks tell you a lot about their personality. You can tell a lot of love and care went into the character design and original soundtrack. This part of the game is nearly flawless as almost every aspect oozes appeal. Even if I decided I didn’t like the game and wanted to spot playing, I’d likely keep my eyes on it just to see what new characters, stages, arms, and music they roll out with.
Final Thoughts on Arms
Arms is a game with lots of appeal covering up it’s light content. Customizing your character and arm choices is a great feature but the game modes still just cover their bases. It’s just enough to let you decide whether to take the game seriously or play for fun. It’s enough to let you play on your own, with friends at home, or with anyone online. Arms does what it needs to do and not much else.
Of course, this will be fixed via free updates, offering more content. Splatoon had a similar issue at launch, so it’s hard to argue that really hurts the game overall. The competitive mechanics are in play to make sure that Arms takes some skill, but the randomness exists to ensure no one gets shut out. That may make some matches feel really unfair. However, ranked battles exist solely to scratch that itch for a fair fight.
To top it off, the game looks and sounds amazing. The only issues I really have are a few things it fails to mention and a couple decisions that don’t really feel like they hit the nail on the head. Player two has no control or options in the main menu. The controls aren’t fully explained. Ranked Battles being locked behind Grand Prix seems questionable. Arms was clearly intend for a single player to go online, but at least it offers options just in case.
Overall, I think Arms is a decent game with good potential and not enough content, yet, to see it through. My opinion will likely improve over time, but it’s going to be a very interesting game to keep track of for the future.
–Special thanks to Nintendo for sending us a review copy of Arms for Nintendo Switch.