When ARMS was first announced back in January 2017, it was probably the strangest of all the titles Nintendo could have announced. And that included a Mario game where his hat now has a personality. People with spring-like arms fighting for the amusement of the crowd, which includes a ninja, a supermodel, and a glob of goo that somehow formed lips. It is a game that looks like an indie designer came up with, but instead, it's a first-year title for the Nintendo Switch from the company itself. We had the chance to play the game in advance of the June 16 release, so we strapped in the proverbial gloves and took a swing at it.
ARMS is a third-person fighting game where you fight as one of ten different characters with springing arms. Each fighter has their own personality traits and specialized gloves to wear at the end of their arms for the fight. You can choose from characters such as Master Mummy, Ribbon Girl, Min Min, Twintelle, Helix, Byte & Barq and more. You'll either use standard controls or the detached joy-cons with the additional attachments to box against opponents in highly contested 3D battles.
The controls are quirky at best, but not too hard to learn and overcome. The best way to approach the game is to play it on a pro-controller, simply because having the joy-cons detached and in your hands gives too much room for mistakes and loss of accuracy. The joy-cons use a combination of flight controls and punching mechanics to maneuver your character around the board and take punches in a variety of ways and angels. Considering the complexity of the game, you'll want a standard controller and only go to the punching method if you want to have some fun with the game and not trying to beat it. Each character comes with three different types of gloves to choose from that will help you in your fight, ranging from rockets to shields to distractions to body-seeking hits. Choosing which gloves could be the key to victory or spell your defeat, depending on how you use them.
One of the beautiful parts to ARMS is that there is no wrong way to play. Sure, there are ways to screw up and eventually lose, but none of the characters are designed in a way that leaved them flawed, and anyone can get the drop on anyone else if timed correctly. Meaning that a six-year-old kid can still get the advantage over someone in their 30's and vice versa. Experience helps, but beyond the cartoonish looks and 3D fighting and jumping aspect, it is still a boxing match. Meaning that any well-timed punch can lay your opponent out and give you the advantage. Once you get into the zone and figure out the pacing and moves, you'll be the spring version of Muhammad Ali in no time.
You'll find a lot of the ARMS combat relies on a Rock/Paper/Scissors method. Punches stop grabs, grabs break blocks, and blocks stop punches. You'll have to work a combination of dodging, blocking, jumping, punching and grabbing to make all of this work in your favor, but again, timing is everything. There's a slight drawback to learning how to fight as you'll see your arms take some time to return to you after you've thrown punches. It will become necessary for you to learn the timing and choose your attacks wisely so you're not left open for a grab or a power move from your opponent. It's a lot to get used to, especially since it's a new game with new mechanics you don't see in other fighters, but it's well worth learning.
There are several modes for you to compete in both alone and with others. First is the Grand Prix, which serves as the primary "story mode" for the game as you compete against other fighters to make it to the end and become champion. Versus mode puts you up against three other opponents in multiplayer fights or team battles. There's traditional fighting, team fight (where you're connected by a spring between two of you), V-Ball (their version of volleyball), Hoops (a basketball dunking contest), Skillshot (where you're fighting to hit targets), and 1-On-100 (where you face off against several drone characters).
Online you have Party Matches and Ranked Matches, where you go up against the best of the best online to see where you stand, or work together on challenges to earn credits in the game. That is, when you can connect, as we ran into several issues playing with fellow reviewers online while the servers tried playing ball with us. You can use those credits in a mode called "Get Arms" that will help you unlock gloves from certain fighters to use on different fighters. There's also the insane multiplayer battle where you can have up to 20 switch systems connected at once to fight in a battle royale, which I only wish I could have played with multiple people to test it out. Something to look forward to at PAX this year!
ARMS is the perfect example of a Nintendo game as we have known them throughout the company's history. An oddball premise that makes zero sense but plays beautifully. No different than a plumber fighting turtles with hammers, or a pink marshmallow that inhales enemies, or a fox who commands other animals to fight star battles. To me, this is one of the best games Nintendo has produced in the past few years, and we are still reeling from the glory that is Breath Of The Wild. This is going to be one of the definitive Nintendo fighting games for years to come. Not to mention an eSport that pretty much has the license to print money written all over it. Beyond the issues of connection and the learning curve for fighting, I can't think of many problems I have with the game, it is a must-buy for kids and adults alike.