ARMS is Nintendo’s new fighting game for the Switch. It was developed by EPD, which is the merged EAD and SPD divisions. From what I’ve heard, many of the developers who worked on Arms also worked on Mario Kart 7 and 8. This game is probably the reason why MK8D was released on Switch soon after launch. We’re probably going to have to wait a while for Mario Kart 9.
ARMS is a completely new IP, unrelated to any other Nintendo characters. I’d say ARMS falls somewhere between Punch-Out!! and F-Zero in the Nintendo fantasy spectrum. The characters and stages are more realistic than most Nintendo franchises, but there is a science fiction element to it.
Much like in Street Fighter II, each stage is themed around one of the characters. There are 11 stages and characters in total, including Max Brass and his stage, which will become playable with the first free DLC pack. There’s a stage in front of a Ramen restaurant for Min Min, one on the campus of a Ninja College for Ninjara, and one on a concert stage inside a stadium for Ribbon Girl. All the stages have some kind of high ground, columns, or trampolines to mix things up. You can use columns to take cover and trampolines to juggle your opponents. I like most of the stages, but there is one I have to call out for how annoying it is. Kid Cobra’s stage, Snake Park, has futuristic skateboard disk things that allow you to move really fast around the arena. This sounds cool in concept, but what it actually does is throw all character movement and attack speed balance out the window. It reminds me of when Blizzard got vehicle happy in World of Warcraft during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. Forget about all of your character’s gear and spells and get in this stupid tank.
Nintendo has created a very colorful and diverse cast of characters for ARMS. For example, Min Min is a martial artist with Ramen noodle ARMS, Ninjara is a Ninja with chain ARMS, and Twintelle is a singer turned actress who has hair ARMS. Even though the basic gameplay is the same for every character, everyone feels unique. There are no clones or slightly different versions of the same character here. There’s fast and stylish characters, big slow characters, and weird characters that are harder to use. There’s something for pretty much everyone here.
Sadly, not a lot about this world and characters has been explained. I don’t really know why this ARMS tournament is taking place. I don’t even know what ARMS stands for. I just learned that it’s the masks that give the characters their ARMS powers from a developer interview today. That info is not in the game. There are some bios on the ARMS website, and the Grand Prix announcer, Biff, might make a quick mention of the relationship between two characters before a fight, but it goes by so quickly, you might not even have time to read it. I know there has been some story related stuff posted on the Japanese ARMS Twitter, but that doesn’t do us non-Japanese speakers much good. There are no cutscenes explaining any of the character's stories and the game doesn’t have a paper or digital manual to explain anything either. The developers recently said they’re working on story related stuff, but I’m not sure if that will actually make it in the game or just be something they’ll release on the Internet. I think the game could have greatly benefited from opening and ending cutscenes for each fighter in the GP mode, like Street Fighter IV had in Arcade mode.
Nintendo has mostly shown off this game with motion controls, but you can use pretty much any Switch controller configuration. You can’t really play with split JoyCons and buttons at the same time; though, because the game will constantly try to switch between motion and JoyCon grip controls if you move the JoyCons around too much. I tried to play with motion controls a few times, but I can’t do it. It feels way too slow and inaccurate after playing with the Pro Controller. I think the Pro controls are great. My only problem with them is that block is on L3 (Left stick button) and you can’t remap it, because the game has no options menu, just like Mario Kart 8. I wish I could put block on L instead.
ARMS is a fighting game distilled down to the fundamentals. There are no big combos or quarter circle motions here. The gameplay in ARMS is all about pokes, spacing, and timing. So, basically what I’m saying is, ARMS is all about the footsies. ARMS is sort of a cross between a 3D arena fighting game and a boxing game, like Punch-Out!!. You can walk, jump, dash, and air dash, but you're always facing your opponent. It’s a lot like Z-targetting something in a 3D Zelda game. The developers said that early prototypes had Link dual wielding hookshots, which makes perfect sense when you think about it. Attacks in ARMS are all punches and throws, but all the different kinds of ARMS make it look more like an anime mecha battle than a boxing match. There are traditional looking boxing gloves, and then there are lasers, missiles, shields, boomerangs, and even some whip-like ARMS. Most ARMS have different properties, such as ice, fire, and electricity. What these extra properties do is not explained in the game, but most are pretty easy to figure out. Ice slows people down, electricity shocks people, and fire burns. I’ve found out what the other properties do, but I had to look it up on a 3rd party ARMS website.
Each character starts off with their 3 signature ARMS and you can unlock the rest of the ARMS for them by playing a target breaking minigame. You get coins to buy time playing the minigame by playing every other mode in the game. Unlocking all of the ARMS for every character takes a lot of time, though. I’ve been playing for a whole week now and I just finished unlocking all of them for Min Min. You get loot boxes for every character while playing the target breaking minigame, but most of them will be for the character you’re playing as. This unlocking system is fine, but I think amiibo support would have made a lot of sense here. It would be cool if I could scan a few amiibos to get random loot boxes each day. The game does not support amiibos at all right now, which I find kind of crazy. Nearly every Nintendo game released after Super Smash Bros 3DS/Wii U has had some kind of amiibo support.
ARMS has a bunch of modes to play online, in local multiplayer, and against the CPU. There’s Grand Prix, Versus, Party Match, Ranked Match, Friends, and Local. I have not played Local, but I know Friends allows you to make custom private online lobbies.
Grand Prix is basically the arcade mode. In it you play 10 matches against the AI, including minigames, and fight a boss at the end. If you play on difficulty level 4 or higher, you fight an 11th match against an even harder boss. It reminds me a lot of Street Fighter II in its structure. This mode is pretty barebones and could have used some story cutscenes to flesh out the world of ARMS. Right now, it’s just a bunch of matches with some text from the announcer in between them.
In Versus you can play all the different types of matches, minigames, tutorials, and have a training match. There’s 1 on 1, team, and free for all fights, and target breaking, volleyball, and basketball minigames. 1-on100 is a single player survival mode/time trial, and ARMS Test is a mode in which you play an endless stream of matches with a random selection of ARMS. You can play against the CPU or with up to 4 players in split-screen in all the fight modes and minigames, except for Hoops, which is always 1 on 1.
There are a few tutorials to get you started under “Training” in Versus. These are separate from the usual training match against AI with infinite time and health. You can set up a training match by changing the rules in “Fight”. The tutorials have you fighting against AI with specific behaviours, like one that constantly tries to throw you and one that won’t stop jumping. These are just here to teach you the basics. They’re better than nothing, but could have been better. The only explanation for these tutorials is a few sentences from the announcer before the fight. The only one that walks you through the match is the first one.
Party Match puts you in an online lobby with up to 8 players and matches you up for random types of matches. You can be put in 1v1, 2v2, 4 way and 3 way free for all matches, V-Ball, Hoops, and Skillshot games. Sometimes the final boss, Hedlock, will show up and you can fight him with 2 or 3 people. Hedlock is a head with 6 ARMS who takes over the body of one of the ARMS characters. He kind of looks like a Terminator skull with 6 ARMS. I’ve probably spent most of my time playing Party Match, but I don’t like the 3 and 4 player fights at all. The 3 and 4 way matches always end up with someone getting ganged up on and the game changes your target whenever you do a certain amount of damage to someone or someone does a lot of damage to you. It’s very annoying to have your target changed while you’re trying to fight someone and then having to manually change it back. This also happens in the 2v2 matches. The 2v2 matches are the worst type of match in the game. You’re tethered to your teammate by a giant rubber band, so you can’t dodge anything in one direction, and if your teammate get’s thrown, you go flying too. Another annoying thing about Party Match is that you get bonuses when you lose and penalties when you win. If you go on a losing streak, you might get to start the next match with a full Rush meter, and if you go on a winning streak, you’ll start getting your health reduced by 25% until you’re starting matches with ¼ of your max health.
Ranked mode is all 1 on 1 matches against people around your skill level. You actually have to unlock the ability to play this mode by beating the GP on level 4 difficulty, so no noobs allowed. When you win a fight, you gain experience and level up when you fill an XP bar. The bar doesn’t have any text on it, so I don’t know how many points you need to level up. I know you gain XP when you win and get XP taken away when you lose. This mode is kind of stressful for me. This is the mode in which the game stops being fun and starts becoming homework. I made it to rank 8 and I think I’ll stop there.
I think this is a fun game, but it’s lacking in a few key areas. It makes me think of pre-videogames Nintendo toys and weird Japanese arcade games that never come to the US. The gameplay is fun, exciting, and easy to pick up. I think it has a great art style and cool looking characters that I want to know more about. The biggest flaw I see is that the game is missing the thing that ties everything together. Right now, ARMS is basically just the gameplay. This world is begging to be fleshed out. The game is severely lacking in the presentation department. It needs a story, cutscenes, and voice acting for the announcer. There are new characters, stages, and modes coming as free DLC in the future, but I don’t know if that includes an improved story. I hope it does, because I really want to know more about the world of ARMS.