ARMSJune 16th, 2017
A new fighting game being announced by Nintendo is a big deal. The company have played with many genres over the years, but aside from the convention-breaking Super Smash Bros., fighting games usually get the short end of the stick. That is, of course, until ARMS showed up on the scene. Announced along with the first wave of Switch titles, ARMS has since been a bit of an unknown quantity. On the one hand, footage of developers playing the game saw hints at high-level strategies and tactics. On the other hand, footage of people playing the game at events at times devolved into a Wii Sports Boxing-esque catastrophe of flailing limbs and motion controls. So, what is ARMS?
ARMS is a brand new, incredibly accessible fighter from the wizards at Nintendo. In ARMS we have all the classic staples of fighting games but boiled down to their most base elements; defense, offense, and movement. Characters in ARMS feature massive, erm, arms, and use them to do damage to their opponents at great range.
The lore in ARMS is… Questionable. According to Nintendo, some people in the world of ARMS suddenly just awoke one day with just, unnaturally long arms, and so the only natural choice for them was to become long-range boxers, I suppose. The cast is utterly charming and lovable - Ribbon Girl is a cute pop idol type, Spring Man is your well-rounded main character, Helix is a Flubber-like oddball, Master Mummy acts as a devastating tank, and more. Nintendo have obviously brought their design A-game to the table with ARMS – no character feels underdeveloped, and their personality bursts forth whenever they are on screen, constantly exuding their confident performer personas. Characters have unique abilities to use in battle too, such as Min Min’s dodge which deflects incoming ARMS, on Ribbon Girl’s double jump.
And in the ring, those personas are as important as those of WWE wrestlers. When it comes to doing battle, players flick their long arms at one another while jumping and dashing across stages, attempting to slam one another with their long punches. Punches can be curved, around your foes’ fists, or even around obstacles in the environment, turning stages into dynamic battle arenas where your positioning can give you a massive upper hand – using a Slapamander, which curves beautifully, while positioned behind a solid pillar is always a great tactic.
But tactics aren’t quite that open and shut thanks to a massive range of unlockable ARMS – that’s not just the name of the game, but also the name of your weaponised fists. There’s a variety of ARMS in the game, many of which travel in different ways when thrown as a punch, offering a pretty large variety of approaches players can take to battle. Helix’s Guardian can be used as a shield, while his punches can curve around it to assault his enemies. Min Min’s Dragon punches can charge and shoot long-range lasers, which players can use to catch foes on wake-up and more.
But of course, ARMS is still a fighting game, and it does a great job at being, despite being casual-friendly. Why this works so well is because, as I mentioned before, this is fighting game fundamentals boiled down to a base level. One of the core tactics of almost every fighting game, is anticipate, counter, attack, and in ARMS this is more fundamental than ever. In ARMS, to defend you must have both of your ARMS available to you – it does you no good if one of your ARMS is on the other side of the stage. This gives the player a large window to identify when your opponent is vulnerable and unable to guard, giving you plenty of time to counter attack, even if you’re not the most experienced fighting game player. This subtle but effective method of simplifying fighting games, without discarding any potential depth, is very attractive to new players, but won’t leave more experienced fans out in the cold.
It’s a shame, then, that ARMS is somewhat lacking in game modes. Unlike most fighters, ARMS is well suited to more casual game modes – Hoops and V-Ball, the Basketball and Volleyball clones, are both excellent game modes in their own right, with the first focusing on grabs (which will slam-dunk the player into a net) and the latter on keeping a floating ball on your opponent’s side of the stage. These games hone your punching abilities and movement, while also lending ARMS’ style of gameplay to some new competitive and casual game modes – but unfortunately, the gimmick wears off pretty quickly. Hoops is, after all, just competing against your opponent for grabs, and V-Ball rarely feels like a game type you’re truly in control of, more often than not flailing for victory. There are strategies and tactics to be used of course, but not with the kind of depth the core fighting offers.
Which brings me to what could be ARMS’ biggest issue – the depth in the game is all from strategy, not necessarily from ability, though the two do cross over. Ultimately, ARMS doesn’t really offer the sort of depth and mastery of the combat that games like Street Fighter, Tekken, and even Super Smash Bros., to a lesser extent, making repeat plays of matches and different game modes somewhat underwhelming – you’re not honing your skills here, like you might do in other fighting games. Instead, you’re simply… Playing. This is fine, and more casual players will love it, but it’s unlikely fighting game players will feel the same drive to keep playing a competing.
But despite my negativity, I actually love ARMS? Sure, most of the time it is Wii Sports Boxing, but with a bit more depth, but that’s fine. Depending on the opponent you go up against, tactics could vary from intense spacing and zoning to simple flail-to-win tactics – but that’s the point, it’s all up to the player to decide what level of mastery they want to achieve.
Experienced fighting game players might not find ARMS quite as entertaining and magical as the titans of the fighting game community, but ARMS is a welcome addition nonetheless. The game modes might be underwhelming, and the overall combat might not be the deepest, but the satisfaction you get when beating down an opponent of Ranked Mode cannot be understated – and that has to be the greatest test of any fighting game.
Review code provided by the publisher. You can buy ARMS via Amazon.
ARMS isn't the best fighting game, but it's a damn good one, and one of the most instantly enjoyable and accessible I've ever played. Probably not EVO material, but will be hours of fun with friends.
- Great fighting game fundamentals
- Surprisingly good online modes
- Up to 4 players local
- Can become repetitive
- Could use more game modes