Have you ever wondered what it would be like if your arms were replaced with slinkies with boxing gloves attached? We all know you have, no sense in pretending you haven’t imagined it before. Arms is a fighting game thought up by the drug-induced hazes of the creative folk at Nintendo, in which players twist and curve comically designed boxing gloves at one another in a manner that makes Punch Out!! look like a legitimate boxing simulator.
Arms is an interesting spin on the boxing/fighting game genre by introducing coiled spring projectiles into the mix, which turns the traditional fighting game concept of zoning (where you force an opponent into a specific distance or position) into an extremely important factor applied in 3D space. Since characters can jump, dash, and punch in basically any direction, learning how to throw a punch and curve it right toward your opponent is one of the most important factors in Arms- combine this with each character having their own special abilities, and each Arm curving differently from one another, and you have a game that is certainly easy enough to get into, but difficult to master.
Players of Arms have a variety of options in their control scheme, as you can use two joycons for motion controls, a joycon grip or pro controller (for a traditional experience), or a single joycon. Motion controls work by holding the two joycons vertically, with your thumbs over the L and R buttons. Tilting the two controllers slightly in a direction causes you to move in that direction- very similar to using two arcade joysticks like in the game Virtual O. A gentle jab or shake forward of either controller results in throwing a punch, and twisting the joycon left or right after punching results in curving the punch to better catch foes that are trying to dodge. The motion controls are sensitive, and, most importantly, work fantastically. If you tilt the controllers inward slightly, you will block- if you tilt to the left, you will move left.
As my hands are horribly incompetent in moving and throwing punches simultaneously, I opted to use my pro controller for playing the game, while the child of my next-door neighbor has been over each night for the last two weeks playing using motion controls exclusively. Each control scheme seems to have its own advantages and disadvantages: Pro controllers, for example, can’t curve punches as tightly as motion controls do nor can it perform grabs as wide as motion can. Motion controls, on the other hand, can’t perform actions out of shield while blocking as traditional controls allow, and maneuvering with jumps and dashes while punching is significantly more challenging. Not one of the control schemes is inherently superior to the other (at least not that is obvious this early into the game’s life), so players can truly pick up whichever they are most comfortable with and make their best attempts at besting the Arms League.
There are a variety of Arms for players to unlock, each with their own special properties, as well. A lot of different ideas were incorporated into this game, from a variety of boxing gloves, to boomerangs and chakrams, to missile launchers and floating hammers. Arms can have access to a variety of elements, like fire, cold, electric, wind, stun, and even an Arm that blinds attackers if it connects while charged. Fire Arms tend to deal more damage than others and have a strong knockdown effect (which can oftentimes prevent follow-ups as it downs opponents), while cold ones can be cracked open with the boys to slow down opponents and render dashes useless for several seconds. Electric Arms can leave an opponent completely helpless if they connect while charged, but the effect wears off quickly- to compensate for such a debilitating bonus, however, electric Arms tend to deal the least damage among all types of Arms.
As you could most likely tell, everything in Arms is about checks and balances, and that’s one of the things that makes it great. Understanding the wide variety of Arms and their varying special effects, damage, aim types, etc., is paramount to countering what your opponent may be able to use against you. You select three Arms for you to choose from during rounds, and you can always bring with you Arms that may shore up your weaker areas as a player. For example, if you have trouble with Ribbon Girl and her aerial maneuverability, it may be a good idea to bring along Hydras or other anti-air Arms to sink her like the Hindenburg.
While on the subject of Ribbon Girl bouncing through the air, on top of each Arm behaving differently, each character also offers their own advantages and disadvantages for players to utilize. Master Mummy, for example, may be a very slow-moving character, but he has the ability to shrug off most uncharged attacks without getting stunned, heals gradually while blocking, and has the strongest throw in the game. Each character has benefits like this: Twintelle can exude an aura that slows down incoming Arms, giving more room to respond to repeated enemy attacks, while Min-Min can deflect opponent’s Arms with a kick. Each character has their benefits that you can use to make people submit online in party mode with up to two players, solo in ranked mode, or in local play with up to four players.
The online lobbies work spectacularly, as well. Everyone connected can see each other person in the lobby through colorful character bubbles that bounce around and even show who may be winning or losing, what type of match everyone is playing, and more. The online connectivity is perfect, as lag of any kind of an extreme variety. As far as Arms’ netcode goes, it is fantastic, resulting in enjoyable times in party mode no matter if in the volleyball or basketball modes, or in the break-the-targets versus mode.
The only real downside to Arms, in its current iteration, is that its suffering from Splatoon Syndrome- the game is out, and there’s an extremely solid base, but the content is a little on the lacking side. While the characters are varied, there are only ten of them, and while the Arms are diverse and control differently from one another, there’s only 60 or so to collect (including the “+” level arms, though all of them need to be collected with each character. The differing modes help keep the game fresh, but those who have played for tens of hours may begin seeing the same characters online in party or ranked modes.
As far as the graphics go, visuals are spot-on: There is an overt self-confidence in its own ludicrousness, and all of the characters and arenas are extremely vibrant. Each character has a very unique design, with even the ‘basic’ ones like Spring Man (in comparison to the rest of the cast) having a ridiculous level of characterization that still allows you to clearly see where your character is even when volleys of electrified missiles are exploding all around the screen. Each stage has its own theme that differentiates one from all of the other arenas in the game, which helps players learn the ins and outs of each particular arena.
As far as the soundtrack goes, the music is similarly great- each stage has its own theme, with several being remarkably catchy. Many of the sound effects exhibit a very satisfying batch of audible feedback- from the notable, “Whap” of landing a boxing glove on an opponent’s head to the harsh, “Ting” sound of grazing an opponent’s Arm until it temporarily breaks, giving you an opening for attack. Audio and visual feedback in Arms is quite well done, with even young players learning to perform certain actions just from sound, alone.
Overall, Arms is an incredibly quirky but curiously deep game that has a wealth of variation and a high skill ceiling for players to enjoy. Gamers who enjoy fighting games that are easy to get into, but take a fair amount of investment to master, will greatly enjoy Arms. There’s currently not a significant amount of content, however- there are lots of Arms to collect, but with only ten characters the roster is actually on the light side and may lead to quick burn out. As what happened with Splatoon, loads of content over the next few months has been promised, but as it stands now some players may get bored with the number of characters in the game. Those willing to overlook such a thing, however, will enjoy an extremely solid base of one of the best new franchises to come out for the Nintendo Switch.