ARMS Review- Greatness Within ARMS Reach.
System: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Nintendo EAD
ESRB Rating: E
Release Date: June 16th
Thank You Nintendo America for providing a review copy of this game.
ARMS is the latest IP from Nintendo and it seems as though they are trying to recapture the “Splatoon effect,” but with a fighting game this time. In this game, you go head to head against foes fighting with weapons known as ARMS in a arena style battle similar to the Dragon Ball and JoJo fighting games. So how does Nintendo fare for this first time into this fray? Well, all I can say is that this game will not leave you up in ARMS.
The gameplay for ARMS is very simple. You can pick from one of ten fighters, as each one them bring their own special ARMS and abilities to the fight. The controls for this game are surprisingly simple, yet can be extremely complex with what you can do with them once you get a grasp of things. Each arm is mapped to one button, (or joycon, depending how you play,) and you control the power your punch has by charging it up. The direction it goes is decided by how you move the joycon or left analog stick. The level of depth this has really depends on what ARMs you use. Some are pretty basic boxing gloves that are good if you don’t want any fancy gimmicks, while others can act as boomerangs where if they miss your foe on the way to them they may hit them on the trip back. Other ARMs can act as a laser beam where you have to time your punches with your enemies movements so they can get hit by them. And even then the beams can add a status ailment to them like being frozen. The depth you can go into with the different ARMs combinations seems to be pretty deep, and with the amount of play styles you can adapt, it’s enough to keep anyone on their toes.
When you delve deeper into this game’s mechanics, you discover that there is a lot to explore and build you strategy around. You can perform blocks, grabs, special moves and interesting combos depending on the arms that you are using. You can also use your arms to take advantage of different obstacles on stage, is there an enemy hiding behind a bunch of pillars? Use a boomerang ARM to knock them out from it. Your opponent just dodge your right hook? Use your ice beam to freeze them in their tracks. The different combos you can pull with your ARMS seems to be never ending. The only issue I have with the gameplay is the grab option, as the hit detection on what dictates a grab, or what dictates your ARMS being blocked seems to be inconsistent at times. There were many times I know I dodged out of (or in Minmin’s case, kicked) the way of the ARMS but was still grabbed. This added to a lot of frustration, but eventually I was able to learn how to avoid getting grabbed entirely.
ARMS offers a large variety of control options for players. You can play the game with motion controls with the two joycons, with the joycons in the grip, the Switch Pro controller for the same effect, or you can even play the game with the sideways joycon controller, so if you have a buddy you each can have one joycon. I often found myself gravitating towards the traditional control set up over the motion controls. When I got the motion controls to work the game was fun to play, but I often found it hard to play the game seriously with them. There are also at times where it was hard to get the motion controls to work the way I wanted them to. In order to move you must tilt the joycons in the direction you want to go, giving the game an “on-rails” kind of feel to it, and (at times) the joycons would have a hard time of reading “hey I want to move this way” and reading punches. With a game where you need to be constantly moving to avoid your enemies punches it just feels off. When playing the game locally as well, everyone who tried it always gravitated towards the traditional control set up as well. This is a bit unfortunate, seeing as motion controls have been the advertised way to play this game.
That said, outside of the motion controls, using the pro controller or even a single joycon brought on a more enjoyable experience. I was able to have more control over my movement, as well as when and how punches were thrown. With the pro controller you curve the left stick in the direction in which you want your punches to go instead of tilting the joycon. With this I found it was easier to land my punches at the cost of some precision. Another issue with the controls is that on the traditional layout, you are unable to map your button presses. I found this a bit disheartening because I wanted to have the ability to swap the punch buttons with the jump and dash buttons. While it is certainly not a deal breaker it would have been a nice addition to the games control schemes, because at the end of the day all of the ways to play are viable. The amount of different control options mean almost anyone can find their preferred method of playing, whether it’s with the traditional controls or flailing your arms around.
In terms of content, this is where I believe ARMS is lacking. While yes, the game does have ten playable fighters, each one with their own fighting style, class and ARM set providing countless combos to play them, the game itself lacks any real depth in the content department. What content it does have is pretty good though. You have your standard Grand Prix mode which acts as a bit of an arcade mode in which you fight through a gauntlet of all the fighters (this is the mode you will probably spend a lot of time in to improve your strategies.) Sadly, the Grand Prix mode doesn’t offer much of any story for the ARMs universe or the fighters outside of a brief intro at the start. I found this to be a bit disappointing because the more I played as the different fighters the more I wanted to know them better.
The game offers three novelty modes outside of the traditional fighting; volleyball, basketball and target smash. In Volleyball, you basically use your ARMs to play volleyball with a giant bomb. If the ball touches the ground, or is in the air too long, it explodes, awarding the point to the side with no explosion. Basketball is a bit different. Instead of shooting balls into hoops you need to shoot your opponent into it. You can do this by landing a grab, landing a special move, or comboing them into the basket. Finally, there is target smash where you and an opponent try to rack up the highest combos by breaking targets.
The more targets you break in a row, the higher the combo you wrack up. At the end of the day all three of these game modes are a lot of fun and add quite a bit of variety when playing with friends. My only criticism of these modes is that volleyball favors heavy set fighters, while basketball favors faster and more nimble fighters. This becomes an issue because if you pick a character outside of this. as it feels like a losing battle at times because with volleyball a larger character can easily spike the ball harder on your side of the court against a smaller one. Then with basketball bigger characters are easier to land grabs on and combo into the basket. While this may create a form of breaking a player’s comfort zone I feel like the modes could have been balanced more to accommodate all of the fighters.
The game also offers different variants of the said game modes as well. You can do a free for all battle with multiple friends, or have some two vs two action. While this is a good way to add more variety to the battles, none of the ARMs maps feel like they fit a two vs two environment, and don’t get me started on free for all battles. Those really boiled down to how long can I get away without being targeted. I feel like if there were dedicated maps for matches with more than two players these modes would have gotten a long way, other than that all of the maps are perfectly fine for traditional one v one action.
The next bit is probably where a lot of people who play online will spend most of their time, and that is Ranked Mode. In order to unlock ranked mode, you must complete the Grand Prix at level four or higher, and for good reason, as here you will be battling the best of the best in ARMS to make a name for yourself around the world. This is where I believe most of ARMS staying power will be in the grand scheme of things outside of casual play. Also the best part of it is, while you are waiting for the game to put you in a match you are able to leave the lobby and play other game modes until you are matched up with someone.
The last bit of content that ARMS has is a special game mode where you play target smash in an attempt to unlock more ARMS. The more targets you break, the more ARMS appear. However this mode is on a time limit, and you have to pay with in game currency to use it. You gain these coins through participating in online battles or the different offline modes such as Grand Prix. The ARMS you unlock are totally at random, but the game seems to prioritize the fighter you currently have selected. All of the ARMS you unlock are completely through RNG, so duplicates will happen from time to time; thankfully, the game remedies that by allowing the duplicates to add attributes to the said ARM you already own.
The visual style for ARMS is pretty good. While the game does have a cartoony look to it, it fits the over the top fighting action of this game. All of the maps are well crafted as well, with each one having their own stage gimmick for fighters to use to their advantage in battle, and each stage is crafted to fit each fighter too to make a wonderful looking stage. The only downside to this is the game’s soundtrack. For the most part ARMS just uses different remixes of it’s main theme to fit each stage or event. While the main theme is pretty good, it is disappointing that there are no dedicated tracks for each fighter or for each stage.
Probably one of the best things about ARMS is it’s performance. In standard 1v1 battles, the game has no problem maintaining sixty frames per second. During this I never noticed any real frame drops no matter how hectic things got on screen. This is very assuring to see that no matter how crazy things get, the game will keep right up with everything. The only time you will notice any difference is if you decide to play with more than two people. Once you bring in three or four fighters, the game scales down to a locked thirty frames per second. While in those modes I never noticed any drips in performance, but it was a bit hard to play after spending so much time in a solid smooth sixty frames per second. Alas that is the price you must play for four player insane action.
The online mode is also quite fluid, while this may be the fact I am playing with a select pool of people at the moment, never did I notice too many issues with the games online. The online interface is also pretty cool as well where you can see different lobbies around the world to pick and chose from.
At the end of the day ARMS is an extremely well rounded arena fighter brought to us from Nintendo, and is looking to do what Splatoon did with third person shooters (but with fighting games.) ARMS is nothing but pure chaos in the best way possible. I found myself having a blast playing with friends locally and with others online. Every loss and every win gave me new ways to improve my game and find different ways to surprise my foes. That said, for a full retail priced game, ARMS is lacking quite a bit in the content department. For those of you who will be spending most of their time online then this game may have enough to offer you, but in terms of the single player component the game feels like it is lacking. Despite this and a few control issues the game has, ARMS is looking to join the ranks of Nintendo’s amazing IPs, and with the promise of free DLC in the future I see myself coming back to this game for years to come.