Look, I don’t know how many more times I can talk about how much fun the Nintendo Switch is. It’s great. You can play on your TV, you can take it with you, it doesn’t have a huge glut of games but what it’s got is great…it’s just a nice little piece of hardware that’s worth owning. More games for the Switch are always welcome, of course, so let’s take a look at ARMS, the console’s flagship fighting game and first entry in yet another new Nintendo franchise.
In a world much like our own, some people are born with crazy extendable arms. It just happens, don’t worry about why. There’s like a one in a hundred thousand chance that you’ve got wacky wild stretchy arms and that’s just how it is. If that’s the case, or if you’re really into the idea and got some technical know-how in order to build artificial crazy arms, then you might want to join up with the ARMS Grand Prix, a worldwide fighting tournament where stretchy-armed folks put on weaponized boxing gloves and beat the crap out of each other for the amusement of the public.
ARMS features ten fighters, each with their own gimmicks and starting array of weaponry stuck on their ARMS. Spring Man is your everyman, for instance, a solid beginner choice thanks to his strong comeback abilities, while more technical fighters might prefer Flubber-esque Helix or defense-oriented mech driver Mechanica. Once you’ve picked a fighter, you then choose their weapons; each character starts with three different weapons, ranging from standard boxing gloves to wacky ranged weapons to laser turrets to shields. You can choose three weapons to take into the battlefield, then mix and match equipment options on your two hands before the match begins.
When the fight starts, it comes down to one stretchy-armed brawler vs. the other…well, sometimes. Other times, it’s a 1v1v1 fight, or a 4-player battle royale, or you’ll just play volleyball or basketball instead of fighting. Choosing the right fighter and weapons for the situation is key to success; combining a shield with a punching weapon is a great plan for regular fights, for instance, but it tends to be less effective during volleyball or when there’s another opponent working to get past your guard. There’s also a degree of counter-picking involved in making sure you have the best gear ready to deal with whatever your opponent’s packing.
As for controlling the combat, you’ve got several options with their own ups and downs. The “official” way of playing seems to be the game’s motion control option. This entails using a Joy-Con in each hand, held vertically as if you’re making a fist. You then control the game in a manner somewhat reminiscent of classic mech games like Virtual On, using the Joy-Cons as wireless joysticks to move around and physically punching to throw jabs. Curving your hand as you swing will result in your character’s strikes curving right along with you; this is a vital technique for overcoming enemy defenses and mastering it is a continuing process for as long as you play ARMS.
If you’re less into the idea of throwing imaginary punches with your game-wands in hand, you can also use one of several more standard control schemes. These include hooking the Joy-Cons up to their controller-dock rig, playing with a Pro Controller, playing with the Switch in handheld mode or even using a single Joycon. The game plays a bit more like a standard fighter in this case; I found movement and dodging to be much easier using standard controls, while you have much more precision in your punches with motion controls, so you’ll need to try both to see what works best for you.
No matter how you choose to play the game there’s plenty of fighting ahead. You’ve got your Grand Prix mode, for instance, which is ARMS’ take on the story or arcade mode from most fighters. You can also play online in both ranked and unranked matches, with or without friends; one interesting note is that ranked fights are locked until you complete the vs-CPU Grand Prix mode on a certain difficulty level. It’s interesting because not only do most fighting games not lock their ranked mode, but ARMS’ CPU opponents are absolute terrors, dodging and flinging punches like trained stretchy martial artists. That means that when you do unlocked ranked mode, you’re dealing with a certain level of competence from your opponents and the fights tend to be heated right from the start. Finally, all of this fighting will earn you coins that can be spent in the Get ARMS score attack mode; this allows you to unlock new weapons for all your fighters for further customization.
As you’d expect from a first-party Nintendo title, ARMS looks, sounds and plays amazingly well. The graphics go for the typical Nintendo stylized look, ensuring that they look fantastic despite the Switch’s relative lack of power; it continues to look great with the Switch in handheld mode, naturally. When it comes to sound, you probably won’t remember the characters’ little voice blurbs, but the game’s percussion-heavy theme (which is remixed for the rest of the music) is certainly an earworm. As for online play, I had few issues once I ensured my Switch’s wireless was properly set up; it’s worth noting, though, that I play right near my wireless router and the Switch’s wifi capability can be a bit questionable, so keep that in mind if you’re buying this one primarily to play online.
The Switch has always hurt for games since it came out; Zelda’s great, of course, and I unreservedly recommend Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but there’s nothing wrong with wanting more. Well, here’s more; ARMS is a fantastic fighter and would fit well on any console, but the motion controls native to the Switch are unique and absolutely worth checking out. Even if you end up playing with standard controls, ARMS is still a great, accessible fighter that’s worth a look for fighting fans and newbies alike.