If it wasn’t for the stigma that the Wii imparted on motion controls, a fighting game controlled by actual punches would have been an easy sell. However, gamers have seen what motion controls were at the height of their popularity, and, thanks to how unreliable Wii Remotes were at picking up motion, most view it as something they are glad to see fade away.
Despite its flaws, people still found a lot to love with certain motion controlled titles; Wii Sports in particular. It’s no doubt that the love its Boxing game received was a starting point for what would become ARMS. And while ARMS looks like a boxing game with a twist, it has less in common than you might expect. Instead of throwing jabs and uppercuts, you launch and veer your fighter’s fists across the playfield as if they were projectiles. While ARMS won’t be the game that tests the accuracy of small quick movements, it does capture the motions necessary to ensure that every punch feels controlled. Add to that the ease at which you can jump, dodge, and throw your opponent and you suddenly have a very capable fighter on your HANDS.
The game is all about reading your opponent; knowing what punches they’re throwing, looking for openings, and making your counter attack. Equally sized fists cancel each other out, while larger fists will knock smaller ones away and continue past for a hopeful hit. Throws – initiated by punching with both fists at the same time – can be bypassed with a single fist, and blocks can either be broken by a multitude of punches, or ignored completely by landing a throw. If you can’t read your opponent, or go ARMS blazing without a thought, you’re going to have a hard time coming away with anything resembling enjoyment.
One thing you need to know about ARMS is that it’s hard. Incredibly hard. And this time, it’s not due to the motion controls. To unlock online ranked matches, you need to beat the Grand Prix Mode: a 10-round battle to gain the championship belt. Not only that, but you need to beat it on the fourth difficulty or higher (of the seven available). Don’t be surprised when you struggle to beat the first opponent and must reset the game to a lower difficulty.
While much of this mode is 1-on-1 fights, there is the occasional mini-game found in the online Party Mode. Whether you’re simply throwing punches, or trying your darndest to dunk your opponent through a basketball hoop, each round’s success feels earned. None more-so than the final round of Grand Prix. The final boss fight is one to be remembered; the kind that takes 20 failed attempts, another 20 close-calls, and one final moment of joy as you win the championship with an adrenaline high.
With that, Ranked Mode is unlocked and anyone you fight there has been through everything you have, if not more. It almost feels like an honour to earn the ability to fight here, and had the game already been released I’d have been able to test just how well the online matches were. Sadly, I was only able to find one opponent in all my time of searching (you can leave it searching while playing Grand Prix mode, and it just interrupts your session when found), and the experience was flawless. It’s only one example though, so hopefully it’s an indication of what to expect.
I can’t speak much on Party Mode, as no one was online to play with, but it mirrors that seen in the multiple test punches Nintendo ran in the lead up to its launch. You’re placed in a lobby with others, and matched into various scenarios ranging from the typical 1-on-1 arena, to 2-on-2, explosive volleyball, battle basketball, and others. Those who find it difficult to unlock Ranked Mode, or who aren’t in it for the competition, may find their fun here.
And fun is what ARMS is all about. The love and dedication to the design is damn near flawless. Characters look like they’ve fallen out of a high budget animated film, and each have their own quirks and styles to master in battle. Stages reflect each of their owners, and have things unique to them. While mastering your favourite fighter on your favourite stage might sound like enough, you’ll also need to start mastering which fists to use.
Each character has their own unique set of ARMS, with their own pros and cons. Some have the size and power to bust down smaller punches and land devastating electric attacks when charged, but a dodged punch means that heavy punch is going to leave you open much longer than a smaller, faster ARM. As you can see your opponent before a match begins, choosing the right ARMS becomes a game in itself, and after winning your first few rounds you’ll be able to spend credits to unlock other character’s ARMS.
Out of the box ARMS has 10 unique playable characters, with 3 sets of ARMS available for each. Once you’ve unlocked everything, each character will have a full set of 30 ARMS to choose from. Customisation is key, and nothing speaks customisation better than the Switch. Surprisingly, ARMS offers a wide selection of ways to play, from motion controls to button presses on a single JoyCon, and they all work relatively well.
It’s great to see Nintendo so invested in creating a gorgeous new IP, and while it’s too early to see how this goes on the competitive scene, it’s definitely going to win a lot of hearts. The high difficulty will ruin the enjoyment for some, but it’s an incredibly special game for those it clicks with. I personally can’t wait to see more of this franchise in the future.
Reagan received a digital copy of ARMS from Nintendo for review.