ARMS Review: Spring into the Action
ARMS is a game that could have only come from Nintendo today. It’s bright, colorful, fun for all ages and turns the boxing genre on its head with splendid results, not unlike what Splatoon accomplished for the shooter genre. It offers players a fantastic set of characters, various unique modes, and gameplay that’s got more depth than first meets the eye. ARMS manages to surprise on multiple levels but true brilliance is just out of reach.
Having an appealing cast of fighters is important when building a fighting game, especially one you want to be embraced by casual and competitive players alike. It just so happens that the artists and designers at Nintendo know a thing or two about the subject. ARMS serves up a delightful roster of combatants, each with their own quirky charms. There’s not a lot of back story offered up for each fighter but the universe in which they’ve been dropped into is begging to be fleshed out more. ARMS emphasis is definitely on introducing players to its unique gameplay over story, and finding your go-to fighter will have less to do with appearance and attitude and everything to do with how they play. Thankfully, ARMS gives you plenty of opportunities to get a feel for the characters.
“Hoops is half-court basketball where you score by slam dunking your opponent with a grab attack and is easily my favorite of the quirky side modes.”
ARMS comes packing a bunch of game modes, the main of which are: Grand Prix, Versus, Party Match and Ranked Match. Grand Prix is your typical arcade style gauntlet, where you fight each character before confronting a final boss. I’ll admit I was expecting a little more from the Grand Prix mode, as in its current state, it’s pretty bare bones and feels a little under baked. There’s no proper cutscenes or character entrances, the voiceover work is limited and it lacks a cool reward for completing it, making multiple playthroughs with different characters a little pointless. You are required to play and beat the Grand Prix on medium difficulty if you want to participate in ranked matches, though. A hurdle I found unnecessary and a little frustrating given the A.I.’s near telepathic abilities at times.
Versus mode is where you find an assortment of play options. You can partake in solo or team fights or dabble in some of the more creative modes, such as Hoops, V-Ball, Skillshot or 1 on 100. Hoops is half-court basketball where you score by slam dunking your opponent with a grab attack and is easily my favorite of the quirky side modes as it’s just a blast to play. V-Ball is ARMS’ take on volleyball, with an explosive twist. Skillshot tasks you with destroying more targets than your opponent, with the added wrinkle of also punching your opponent to distract them. 1 on 100 is where you put all your skills to the test as you punch your way through a horde of goo and a final boss. Each of these activities smartly acts as a bit of training as well. Hoops = grab training, V-Ball = jump training and Skillshot = punch training. Even the three player 1v1v1 matches are a blast once you master switching between targets. The only mode I don’t enjoy is the 2 v 2 fights. In these matches you are tethered to your teammate by a 10-foot rubber band and being tugged and thrown against your will makes for an annoyingly chaotic experience.
If you’re wanting to immediately spring into the online action, then Party Match is the mode for you. Party Match brings a bunch of players into a lobby that mixes and matches everyone for quick battles across most of ARMS versus modes. All matches are just one round so things move at a brisk pace and I really enjoy the competitive but easy breezy feel Party Match provides. Also of note, the online functionality of ARMS is actually really slick with visually appealing lobbies that feature spectating in the most basic sense. Sure, there’s no voice chat right now but everything else is working great.
“Epic comebacks and exciting moments are a spectacle I think ARMS shines at, thanks to the deeper than anticipated mechanics and flashy nature of the game”
The smooth online functionality doesn’t end with Party Matches though. Ranked Matches are implemented in a cool way as it’s all done quietly in the background. While you wait to be matched up, you can mess around in other modes, warming up with some practice rounds and keeping downtime to an absolute minimum. Unlike party matches, though, ranked matches are best of three scenarios brimming with epic comebacks and upsets.
Epic comebacks and exciting moments are a spectacle I think ARMS shines at, thanks to the deeper than anticipated mechanics and flashy nature of the game. Jabs, hooks, jumps, dashes, and grabs, it all seems par for the course, but then you start to peel back the layers. There’s the classic triangle of punches-beat-throws-beat-blocks-beat-punches, of course, but heavy punches can also disable and power through lighter punches at the cost of being slower and more easily dodged. Different arms have different attributes as well, with the ice enhancement being one of the more useful as when charged up, it nearly freezes your enemy in place. There are 30 different variations of arms, opening up plenty of opportunities for experimentation.
While every character can ultimately unlock the same arms as each other – by spending earned credits on a skillshot minigame – it’s their unique abilities that really demonstrate their differences. Ninjara can quickly disappear and reappear in a puff of smoke, driving those unable to anticipate his movement nuts and Master Mummy replenishes health by blocking but is susceptible to grabs. Learning each character’s special move is key when preparing your arms load-out and it’s these often vastly differing mechanics that make learning new characters enjoyable.
Each arena offers its own form of advantageous ground and also affects how you’ll approach opponents. Use the springboards on Spring Man’s stage to drop blows from above or ride snakeboards for increased agility in Kid Cobra’s skate park themed stage. While action is taking place, bottles are dropped into the arenas and create rings that will slowly refill your health or your super meter. Controlling these rings adds another layer of strategy as they can often heavily sway the outcome of fights.
“While the motion controls work well, I unequivocally prefer using the pro controller. I felt much more competitive using it and was able to dash and punch not only faster but more accurately”
Whether playing with motion controls or with a Pro Controller, the gameplay on a whole is fairly well thought out and responsive. While the motion controls work well, I unequivocally prefer using the pro controller. I felt much more competitive using it and was able to dash and punch not only faster but more accurately; A requirement for higher level play. That said, I also believe there will be those that prefer motion controls and can kick some serious ass with them. They’re just not for me.
Visually, ARMS pops magnificently off the screen with a great range of vibrant colors, nice animations, and awesome characters models. You can see a seam here and there but all said, in typical Nintendo fashion, the game is very polished and little details can be seen everywhere. The way the crowd reacts and evolves based on the in-ring action is a nice touch and some of the textures are stellar. You can really see the difference in the “materials” that each fighter adorns. A big shout-out to what is easily one of the catchiest musical themes to grace a video game in ages as well.
Overall, ARMS is a great package, subverting and exceeding most of my expectations while offering modes of play that cater to a variety of players. The offline Grand Prix mode leaves much to be desired, and the 2 v 2 tethered fights are lame, but all that is made up for by an assortment of other entertaining modes, slick online lobbies and surprisingly deep and addictive gameplay. At the end of the day, it’s all about having fun, and ARMS provides that in spades.
*** ARMS digital code provided by the publisher ***
- Satisfying mechanics
- Tight controls
- Variety of modes
- Very polished
- Grand Prix mode a little underwhelming
- Team based tethered matches suck