“Before I fork over my cash for it,” I wrote in my hands-on preview, “I’m going to want to see a lot more characters, plenty more stages (each with a unique gimmick, preferably) and a solid single-player mode that goes beyond arcade-style ‘beat this fighter, then this one, and so on’ stuff.
“I like what I’ve seen so far, but I remain unconvinced at this point. It’s going to take a little more than this to disarm me. You’d think I’d be sorry for that joke. You’d be wrong.”
I’ve now spent the last week playing the game at home, and I’m happy that most of those concerns have been put to rest. I’ve even come to terms with calling it ARMS instead of Arms.
And I’m still not sorry for that joke.
For the uninitiated, ARMS is Nintendo’s latest new IP, which it hopes will do for fighting games what Splatoon did for online shooters. That is, make them more approachable to a wider audience while still providing something meaty for experienced gamers.
The gimmick is that each of the 10 playable characters has one thing in common: big stretchy arms like Dhalsim from Street Fighter, Inspector Gadget or Doctor Octopus.
Battles, then, tend to take place at a distance, with each fighter launching their lengthy limbs at their opponent while simultaneously dodging their own extendable extremities.
The result feels a bit like Sega’s Virtual On games (or, if you’d rather, Capcom’s Power Stone or Nintendo’s own Custom Robo Arena), in which patience and looking for an opening are keys to success.
This is certainly the case when playing against the AI. Raise their difficulty level to anything mid-range or above (there are 7 difficulty settings to choose from) and they will not hesitate to rip your bastard lungs out if you dare to get close to them for any lengthy period of time.
No, this is a game where you’re encouraged to keep your distance and let your arms do the talking. And it actually works better than I thought it would.
Oddly, the best way I can describe the feeling I get when I’m playing ARMS is this: it provides the satisfaction of throwing a fireball in Street Fighter, except the fireball is on a piece of elastic so you get to throw it over and over again. And you get to actually aim it.
It’s this last element that makes ARMS what it is. The ability to add a degree of ‘aftertouch’ to your punch so you can curve it mid-air makes the game a real treat. Without this, battles could have been frustrating affairs where players would just step left and right to avoid each other’s barrages of straight punches. By making it so punches can swerve, evading attacks requires a lot more effort.
This goes for either of the control methods on offer. Let’s face it: from the day it was announced, Nintendo has very much been pushing ARMS as a motion-controlled game.
It’s understandable, mind. The motion controls are pretty accurate, certainly more than in most other motion-only games. Gripping each Joy-Con vertically like a giant joystick, you tilt them both in the same direction to move around, thrust one out to throw a punch and twist your wrist to bend it.
More complex moves like jumps, dodges and triggering your special ‘Rush’ move can take a little bit longer to get used to, but that’s more down to learning the muscle memory needed for a new control system. The Switch may be a few months old now, but gripping both Joy-Cons vertically is a new way of playing and so the buttons will initially be in places that feel unnatural to reach, until you get used to it. Which you will, over time.
Crucially though, despite Nintendo’s promotion of ARMS’ motion-controlled goodness, it doesn’t have to be played that way. If you aren’t a fan of such gimmickry you’re more than welcome to instead play using traditional button controls, either using the JoyCon Grip, the Pro Controller or even just a single Joy-Con on its side.
Your own taste will vary, but personally I’m absolutely loving playing it with more traditional controls. The B and A buttons perform left and right punches, while Y and X allow for dodging and jumping respectively and the shoulder buttons trigger your ‘Rush’ ability, which gives you powerful moves when you fill your rush gauge.
You even still get to put a bend on your attacks by moving the analogue stick left or right after performing a punch, meaning you aren’t at any disadvantage by ditching the motion controls.
The only real issue I have is that blocking is a pain in the arse, regardless of which method you use. With motion controls you have to tilt both Joy-Con inwards to sort of form an ‘X’ shape, while with button controls you have to press in the left analogue stick (the L3 button, if you will). Both are a bit unwieldy and both tend to result in you not being able to pull off last-minute blocks in time.
(Incidentally, I’ve seen a couple of previews on other sites claiming it’s impossible to play a two-player game without buying extra controllers. This is baws: you can each use a single Joy-Con as in most other Switch games, and I’ve done so at work and it’s great fun so this is 100% legit).
So, that’s the basics, but what exactly do you get for your money? Well, the meat of the single-player experience is Grand Prix mode. Here you choose one of the 10 characters and fight your way through the rest of them one at a time.
These usually consist of straight one-on-one battles, but every few fights the game will mix it up a bit and throw a ‘Hoops’, ‘V-Ball’ or ‘Skillshot’ match at you instead.
Hoops and V-Ball are ARMS-based versions of basketball and volleyball, and they’re a little on the weak side. Volleyball does actually have some potential to be fun but – when encountered in Grand Prix or online at least – the default settings include an annoyingly short time limit which means it’s over before you get a chance to get into it.
While Grand Prix is little more than an ‘arcade mode’ in which – the occasional gimmick match aside – you’re just fighting your way through each of the game’s characters, there are at least some incentives to play.
For starters, on a purely collectaphile basis, each of the 10 characters gets a little trophy over their head if you complete Grand Prix mode with them, and when you choose a difficulty level these too have trophies. This alone has made me keen to beat it on Level 7 with every character so I’ve got every trophy.
It’s also a clever little carrot to dangle to force the player to explore the roster. By working my way through Grand Prix mode with each character I’ve learned each of their unique skills and properties as a result, whereas I would’ve previously been happy enough to stick with the awesome Spring Man and Ribbon Girl.
The other incentive is the in-game currency. You get coins for most of the things you do in ARMS but you get a fuckload more by playing through Grand Prix mode. These coins are then spent on time in the ‘Get ARMS’ mini-game, where you smash targets and collect new types of arm to attach to your character.
Each character starts with three arm types exclusive to them, but by spending coins on the Get ARMS mini-game you can unlock the arms used by other characters. Essentially, then, the game hasn’t been completed 100% until every character has a level 7 Grand Prix trophy and a full repertoire of 30 arms.
CAPTURED GAMEPLAY FOOTAGE (INCLUDING A RIDICULOUSLY AWESOME LAST-SECOND COMEBACK VICTORY IN THE LAST CLIP):
Other little extras include the two multi-character modes. Team Fight lets you do two-on-two battles, with two, three or four human players getting involved (the screen splitting into two or four accordingly). It’s fun if a little chaotic, as you can see in part of my video above.
1-on-100 mode, meanwhile, is another solo-only affair in which you choose a character and then have to defeat 100 enemies in a row (each with a single punch, don’t worry). It’s a lot more difficult than it sounds, especially when later waves are more keen to attack you at will and you have to keep your wits about you as you switch between targets.
Pick a character in this mode and you can only choose to do a 1-on-100 battle on their own stage until you can score the full 100. Then the next stage is unlocked, and the next and so on. Technically, then, there are 100 of these battles available for you to beat (all 10 stages for all 10 characters), so single-player gamers will be at this for fucking hours.
Admittedly, online is still a bit of an unknown for me, because naturally there are very few people playing it just now. I managed to have one ‘Party Match’ with a fellow journalist: this throws a series of fights and mini-games at you until one player reaches 20 coins.
This was fun, but the scoring system was a little off. You get 3 coins for a win but still get 1 for a loss (presumably so bad players can still build currency). Theoretically, then – though I didn’t get to test this – this means if you’re 18-13 down you can no longer win, because even if you won the next two you’d lose 20-19.
I wasn’t able to test the Ranked Matches, partly because of the aforementioned lack of players and partly because Ranked Matches are locked until you complete Grand Prix on at least Level 4 difficulty, making the possible pool of opponents even smaller (I’d done it, of course, because I’m ace as fuck).
One would hope the Ranked Matches have a different scoring system to Party Mode. I’ll update this paragraph nearer to launch once I (hopefully) manage to find an opponent. On the bright side, if the game does happen to end up being a little quiet online after launch fever dies down, you can play Grand Prix mode on your own while the game searches for an online opponent in the background.
I’m enjoying ARMS so much more than I thought I would. Any reservations I had about the game’s single-player lifespan are gone because I’ve got ten level 7 Grand Prix cups to win, 300 arms to collect and a hundred 1-on-100 matches to clear before I even touch the online side of things.
What’s more, the game has a real character to it that reminds me of the fighting games of the mid-90s. Games like ClayFighter, Eternal Champions and Killer Instinct may not have been perfect fighting games, but each of their characters were so wildly different that every player was drawn to a different one for reasons other than just which one was best to play as.
Ninjara is a cool as fuck ninja guy who can teleport. Mechanica is a young lassie in a giant mech. Helix is a big wobbly mutant thing with DNA for arms. And yes, it would be remiss to ignore the fact that half of Twitter is obsessed with Twintelle’s arse. The struggle for equality continues.
This level of character extends to every other element of the game too. Each arena is beautifully designed to reflect the fighters they represent, from Spring Man’s Spring Stadium with its bouncy walls, to the speedy Kid Cobra’s Snake Park, complete with floating ridable platforms that completely change the mechanics of the game. There’s just so much love that’s been put into this game.
ARMS won’t be to everyone’s tastes. It originally wasn’t to mine but having given it a chance it’s really taken me by surprise. I’ve got a flight to Canada coming up next month and I’m now certain I’m going to be spending much of it playing ARMS instead of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
After spending time with it, I’m pretty comfortable in suggesting ARMS is one of the best original games Nintendo’s released in the past decade. No (bad joke alert), I don’t think saying that is too much of a stretch at all.
ARMS is available on 16 June, priced £49.99 / $59.99 on the Switch eShop. You can also buy the physical version from Amazon UK.
In order that I could write this review, I received a free copy of the game from a PR. The content of my review and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this.
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