ARMS (Switch) Review

Nintendo’s Next Hit?

The 3D fighting game ARMS marks Nintendo’s first new major property since the team-based third-person shooter Splatoon. Both games serve as examples of genres that the Big N hasn’t dabbled with much until now. In ARMS’ case, Nintendo has given nearly a dozen colorful fighters stretchy arms. Though this sounds like a gimmicky callback to old “Stretch Armstrong” toys, a large slice of strategy and a helping of the company’s trademark charm go a long way in breathing vigor into this novel arena fighter.

Here is the Video Version for your viewing pleasure!

As in most fighting games, the most basic fight structure pits you against another pugilist in a 3D arena. A jab of either fist sends your respective stretchy arm flying towards your opponent. You can fight using one arm at a time or fire a quick one-two punch. Stretching both arms at the same time grabs your foe and throws them across the ring. Either of you can guard, blocking any potential damage. However, a grab completely bypasses a guard. Conversely, a well-timed punch can knock away your opponent’s grab attempt, creating a weapon triangle of sorts. Winning matches requires a careful balance of responding to the other fighter’s attacks while making powerful advances of your own when the time is right. In this way, ARMS plays out less like the furious frenzy of Wii Boxing and more like the careful reflex-based Punch-Out!!

ARMS Switch Review Fight Min Min.jpg
Ramen girl Min Min has noodle arms!

The intended way to play ARMS is by holding the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Con controllers in a thumbs-up grip, in which your thumbs hover over the shoulder triggers and the buttons face each other. For the most part, controls are responsive and provide a more immersive experience, allowing you to move around the entire arena by tilting the controllers in your desired direction. Dashing and jumping are mapped to the L and R shoulder buttons, which works perfectly with the thumbs-up grip.

Don’t be deceived by the motion controls; other than special rush attacks, in which you unleash a flurry of fists after filling your “rush gauge,” the game feels nothing like the wagglefests of the good old Wii days. Strategic fighting aside, the motion controls of the Joy-Con are more sophisticated, allowing you to curve your in-game arms as they stretch out. It’s very hard to perfect curving arms, though, as the gyroscope is very sensitive. The learning curve is indeed steep and practice is required, but the potential of what you can achieve with the motion is so high, it’s no surprise that Nintendo recommends it.

ARMS Switch Review Grab Ninjara.jpg
ARMS gets intense quickly!

For those who are tired of motion controls, Nintendo has included other ways to play. The Switch Pro Controller and Joy-Con Grip provide the most traditional controls, mapping each action to a button. In particular, controlling each arm with its respective shoulder trigger feels natural. I’m less fond of how you have to push the left control stick down to guard; it’s not at all comfortable and hard to reliably activate. I wish there was a way to configure controls, if only for that unintuitive design decision. My guess is that the developers wanted to standardize all traditional controls; and since you can play with a single Joy-Con on its side, sporting far less buttons, we’re left with an unfortunate control scheme for guarding. As much as I prefer using a regular controller, you can only curve one arm at a time with that scheme, putting trained motion users at an advantage – seemingly another result of standardizing controls for single Joy-Con use.

ARMS Switch Review Character Roster Spring Man.jpg
Who needs Summer when you have Spring Man? *rimshot*

Moving away from technical talk, ARMS is oozing with Nintendo charm. Each of the ten colorful characters have lots of personality and provide a lot of variety. The game’s poster boy, Spring Man, sports a toothpaste-like hairdo and supercharges his punches at low health. Meanwhile, the pop star Ribbon Girl can jump multiple times and dive dash down at her foes. I haven’t been so impressed with a franchise’s starting roster for a fighting game since Super Smash Bros. The characters’ designs speak louder than words, and each player is bound to find one they like, whether the heavy auto-healing Master Mummy, the gelatinous blob Helix, or my personal favorite, the ramen girl Min Min. The fighters are pretty well-balanced and you can theoretically master the game with any character. Although some have inherent advantages, such as Ninjara’s dash teleporting and Twintelle’s ability to slow down punches and float, the metagame is very early and the sky’s the limit for character potential.

The different characters would have been enough for me, but each can equip up to a couple dozen different Weapon Arms – for instance, boxing gloves, triple missiles, and even dragon laser beams. Each one has a base power, weight, and element, such as fire or electricity. By charging your Arms through guarding or holding jump/dash buttons, you can unleash a superpowered attack that can burn, freeze, or stun your opponent. As a result, there are many permutations you can achieve for your customized partner. Want a heavy electric shock for your light character? Done. A wind based whip instead of a fiery one? Easy. The only downside is that you must earn Arms for each character through a break-the-targets minigame that only gives you the chance to earn random Arms. The price to play is steep, costing in-game coins that take long to grind.

ARMS Switch Review Skillshot Minigame Ribbon Girl
In Smash Announcer voice: Break the Targets!

The arenas are well-designed, each hosting simple stage hazards related to their host character, such as bouncing platforms surrounding Spring Man’s stage and parked cars littered all over Twintelle’s movie theater lot. A few duds make the game unfairly advantageous for at least one player – such as Kid Cobra’s skate park, which features skateboard platforms offering speed and height to a character, and Ninjara’s staircase arena which randomly gives one player the higher ground.

ARMS comes with quite a few modes, but it has a clear multiplayer bias, which is typical of fighting games. The sole single-player attraction, Grand Prix, is a simple arcade mode that pits you against every other fighter one by one. There isn’t any real story and the lore is mostly relegated to short monologues by the tournament announcer, making the experience feel empty. It should be noted that you must complete difficulty level four (out of seven) to unlock Ranked online mode. It’s a great idea to gate off ranked mode, as the computer opponents in Grand Prix put up a very tough challenge, even in level four!

ARMS Switch Review Local Splitscreen Versus.jpg
ARMS’ legs are in its multiplayer. Har har har.

Ranked online is just as it sounds, letting you face other pros to rise the ranks. Aside from that, there is also local Versus and an online Party mode. Versus has multiple modes: the traditional fight; a 2v2 variant that tethers teammates together, so if one character goes flying, the other follows; and 3- and 4-player free-for-alls. While the battle royales can be fun, they tend to be unfair; some players might just hang back and watch everyone else whittle their health, and others may gang up on a single character. Essentially, it’s hard to keep track of everyone in those matches.

There are also some minigames. V-Ball is a fun take on volleyball, and is surprisingly compatible with the stretchy arms. On the other hand, Hoops is a watered-down version of basketball, in which grabbing your opponent is sufficient for slam dunks. Meanwhile, Skillshot is an effective training mode for target practice, and 1-on-100 tests your mettle against multiple enemies at once.

ARMS Switch Review Party Mode.jpg
No party like an ARMS party!

Party mode, despite its casual-sounding name, is the primary area for online play. You are placed in a lobby and randomly assigned matches with others in the room. They’re usually fights, but you may occasionally play other minigames like V-Ball or participate in a group effort against a single enemy fighter. It’s fun to see others in the lobby and form rivalries with them, sometimes facing them in battle then suddenly teaming up with them in a team match. You can also make friend lobbies with custom rules like prohibiting certain stages or removing random bomb-items. My online experience has been mostly smooth, with only a few occasional hiccups and dropouts, depending on Wi-Fi signal strength. It’s not a surprise, considering the similar online infrastructure to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

The game manages to run consistently smoothly at 60 fps, only dropping in 3- and 4-player splitscreen matches. The wonderfully designed characters and stages stand out both in docked and handheld mode and are a delight to the eyes. Finally, the main theme of ARMS is one of the catchiest songs in recent game memory. Each song is a variant of the theme, and yet it somehow never gets old.

ARMS Switch Review Wallpaper.jpg
I’d hang out with them… I think.

Conclusion

I’ll admit that I wasn’t onboard the ARMS hype train until Nintendo held its Global Testpunch demos. It’s a shame that there is no longer such a demo, since this is a game where you have to try it to understand it. The motion controls may not sound appealing at first, but they provide an effective experience that deviates from the Wii’s typical offerings. As fun as this game is, it’s not for everyone. Either control scheme has its pros and cons. And like any fighting game, replayability is reliant on how deep you get into the mechanics. With its content-light single-player, you’ll be dependent on multiplayer to enjoy the game. If you’re a hardcore fan of Street Fighter, Pokkén Tournament, and the like, don’t pass this up. You’ll be surprised by ARMS’ stretchy potential.

Score: 8/10

What are your thoughts of ARMS? Who are your favorite and least favorite characters? What are your favorite fighting games on the Nintendo Switch so far? Please share any thoughts you have in the comments section below! Thank you for reading and watching!

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30 thoughts on “ARMS (Switch) Review

  1. Excellent review! I’m much more inclined toward RPGs than fighting games, so I was kinda nervous dabbling in Arms during the Global Testpunch. It took some practice, but now I feel more comfortable springing into the ring. I prefer using the Joy-Con motion controls. There’s just something natural about moving my actual arms to punch. I love the different characters, their art style, and their unique abilities. My favorites are Ribbon Girl and Twintelle. I do wish that each character had more backstory or that the game followed some basic plot structure. The V-ball and Hoops minigames are a fun addition. Arms does get pretty repetitive on the Grand Prix track. Online is really where it’s at, though my skill level is not quite up to snuff to handle online opponents. Overall, I really like the concept of colorful characters with springy arms, and the design of the weapon arms themselves is very clever. This is great for anyone who enjoys fighting games.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Crystal Dragon! 😀 I’m glad you’re enjoying the game, and that we can play this together! I figured you’d like motion controls more, which is great since that’s what Nintendo is pushing with this game. At least they work pretty well, compared to the likes of Wii Boxing, even the Wii U version of it! Although I love Min Min a lot, I actually mostly use Ribbon Girl, thanks to her jump ability and air game. I like Twintelle a lot too for similar reasons. More backstory would be nice, but at least they have lore outside of the game. We should definitely practice more in 2-player Grand Prix! OH OH OH OHHH OH OH OH OH! That’s me singing the ARMS theme. ;)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “ARMS legs are in the multiplayer” is an excellent quote!
    I like the look of this, but I doubt I’d ever pick it up. The cost of additional joycons (plus having to buy a Switch in the first place!) for local multiplayer puts me off. Well done Nintendo for trying something new though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Cheap Boss Attack also liked my Twitter tag line – “Who needs Summer when you have Spring Man?” I should just write tag lines and quotes from here on out, hahaha!!

      When I first watched the trailer back during the January Switch presentation, I wasn’t impressed. It took the Global Testpunch demos to convince me this was worth purchasing. Even now, although I like the game a lot, it really isn’t for everyone. That said, Nintendo is branching out and making new original IPs, and that’s an accomplishment! Next Step: make controllers affordable, haha. Thanks a lot for your great comments!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Miketendo64! The Place To Go For Anything Nintendo and commented:

    Hi everyone! Mr. Panda here, with a review of ARMS for the Nintendo Switch! Nintendo takes on the 3D fighting genre with a new game where you use motion controls to punch others with stretchy limbs. I’m really excited about this one because it’s Nintendo’s first original series in a while! Is this Nintendo’s next hit? Find out my thoughts in my review!

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  4. I am trying my best to be good at this game, but it has been awhile since I have picked it up. I’m sure that I have lost any and all skill that I have gained, however I have been missing it and think I’m going to pick it back up. So far I have been enjoying playing as Ninjara. I feel like he is just the easiest to use and master. Great Review guys!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a lot for your kind words! Ninjara is great, so awesome choice there! I want to practice getting good with him too! As far as skill goes, I think you should be able to get back even after a while. I’m sure it’s like riding a bike. Plus, I feel like the entire metagame is in a training phase right now, so we’re all kind of getting used to it. I’d love to play with you sometime! 🙂 Are we friends on Switch yet?

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      1. Haha, I still can’t believe we’re back to that system. With all of the updates to finding friends though, it hasn’t been that bad. I’ll add you later today if you haven’t added me already! 🙂

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  5. I never expected this game to get as good a reception as it has, at all. I guess it’s proven me wrong, though. I’ll definitely have to see what all the fuss is about if I get the chance to play it.
    Reuben

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t expect this game to be good from the moment they showed it at the January presentation. But wow! What stands out the most are the depth of combat and colorful roster. Those elements really did a one-two punch on me. I think it’s worth a try, but again, reception will vary based on how much you like multiplayer fighting games, particularly ones dependent on motion. Thanks for your comments!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a lot! Yea, I’m glad we’re seeing some more fighting representation in Nintendo’s stable of brands. Let’s not forget one of Nintendo’s first classic fighting games though: Urban Champion! 😉

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    1. Awesome! And funny enough, Ribbon Girl is actually my main, even though I like Min Min most. It’s why a lot of my video footage ended up being of Ribbon Girl, haha!

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    1. Cool! I think the game’s selling well, so perhaps one day ARMS will be in a Player’s Choice or Nintendo Selects line, which would make it cheaper. Joy-Cons will always be expensive though, haha.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I really didn’t expect to like this game (and I was so bad with the joy-cons during the first testpunch session lol) but after I tried it with the pro controller, I was sold 🙂

    Twintelle is my fave! Though I was surprised by one of the CPUs in Grand Prix. I thought I was pretty good at Skillshot when playing in party mode, but I had to try like 5+ times to beat Barq & Byte at even level 1 lol…sooo frustrating!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your great comments! Twintelle is a fabulous character! I wish I were better with her, as well as with some of the characters I like such as Min Min. I’m better with traditional controls right now, but my goal is to master motion. It just seems like there’s so much more that I could do with it. I just have to practice! Don’t feel bad because the CPU is really hard, and I have trouble sometimes around level 2! In a way, I like the difficulty because it forces you to get better.

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