NS Review – ARMS (Switch)

Nintendo have had a fantastic year so far. Between proving even my own doubts about the Switch to be misplaced, and releasing fantastic games for the console month after month (and this isn’t even including the other fantastic games that have come through, it’s been a return to form for the Big N. Now, they have released into the wild another instance of Nintendo taking an existing genre and altering it into something with their feel to it, much like they achieved successfully with Splatoon for the Wii U; ARMS.

ARMS is a 3D arena fighter, the likes of which haven’t really been seen in the mainstream gaming industry for a while, but with the twist that every character can hit each other from absurd differences owing to having wildly extendable appendages. This isn’t the only differing mechanic from normal, however, in fact it’s clear that Nintendo have put a tremendous amount of thought into almost every aspect of this game.

The story of the game is non-existent if truth be told, although I hear that the outer game lore building and explanations of certain things have been incredible in a very “Splatoon” vein. Essentially you pick your chosen Stretch Armstrong oddity then venture out in either the single player or multiplayer modes to duke it out, earn new ARMS for use by the characters and develop your skills with the game. Furthermore, almost everything that you do in the game earns what I’m going to refer as A-$ to spend on gaining additional ARMS to use in the various modes (but more on that a little later).

Mechanically, ARMS is simple, only utilising a small amount of buttons for an arguably vast and in depth gameplay variety. My chosen playstyle is using traditional button controls with the Switch in handheld mode, but there are the options to play with motion controls (thrusting forward the JoyCons to make the chosen arm attack), on a single JoyCon, or using the Pro Controller. In all of these the buttons are as simple as a button/movement for each fist, a dodge, a jump, a guard and a special input. This might not sound like much but the depth of gameplay that can be brought out of this is quite incredible.

This can be isolated to the way you prefer to play, or how the characters and their own abilities alter the game too. Each character has a special ability that can be used indefinitely and makes every one feel entirely unique. For instance, I play quite aerially, so I use Ninjara, who has the ability to teleport a short distance in air by using a dodge after a jump. Then, even this can have more added to it by the selection of ARMS you choose. As different ARMS have different weights (with the heavier being able to power through the lighter) and some have elemental properties (such as Ice ARMS that can freeze the opponent), the ARMS you take in to a fight can dramatically alter the way it plays out.

In terms of modes, this game pretty much spoils the player in terms of choice. The first on the hit list is the Grand Prix, in which the player can take their chosen character through ten sets of ten encounters, which increase in difficulty as you ascend. These encounters will range from straight out fights, to explosive volleyball and a basketball game in which the aim is to dunk the other character. Once the ten encounters are done, the player is crowned the champion (as the final encounter is the current champion) and then the player is encouraged to continue tackling more, and harder Grand Prix runs.

The two online modes comprise of ‘Ranked’ and the incredibly aptly named ‘Party Mode’. ‘Ranked’ is exactly what you would typically expect of a fighting game, taking on opponents to raise your rank online (for bragging purposes, of course). The only stipulation behind this is that you must have reached the fourth Grand Prix or higher in the single-player to access it. ‘Party Mode’, is possibly my favourite mode in this whole game. In this mode the player is placed in a lobby and then engages the others in the lobby in a variety of different, randomly selected activities. These can be the volleyball and basketball games from ‘Grand Prix’ mode, battle royals, 2-on-2 battles (in which you are tethered to, and can hurt, your partner), or team battles against the incredibly sinister looking Hedlock. This mode has seen a lot of my total playtime as the sheer variety keeps my interest quite wonderfully locked in place.

The final online mode is the ‘Friends’ lobby, which allows you to create a lobby in which to play with those on your Switch friends list with rules that can be almost entirely customised, giving a large amount of variety once again (continuing the trend of variety that this game has started). Then, as other multiplayer options, there are ‘Local’ and ‘Versus’ modes. ‘Local’ allows for Local wireless play with other Switch consoles, but I have not been able to test this as I haven’t met another Switch user playing it. ‘Versus’ is another tour-de-force mode; first selecting the number of players and how you wish to engage (all the cool additional modes are here), the player can engage in split-screen couch multiplayer and it is incredible. Unlike the slight frame rate dip in Mario Kart 8 with multiple players, ARMS still runs flawlessly. Also in this menu is the ‘1-on-100’ survival mode if you fancied a challenge. Furthermore in not only these modes, but all of those above, the player can drag in a friend for the fun as almost all modes allow two or more players.

The final option on the main menu is the ‘Set’ and ‘Get ARMS’ menus. ‘Set ARMS’ obviously allows you to customise which three ARMS will be on the selection before each fight in the various modes, although be aware that not every character can use every ARMS weapon you have. ‘Get ARMS’ starts a fantastic mini-game based on the target practice game in the main game in which you break targets to gain points and new ARMS for the various characters. This mode, you choose how long the timer will start at for the game by spending A-$ (although you can extend the time by punching the clock targets), and then start swinging.

Aesthetically, this game is a knockout (I will not be apologising for that). The characters and art style are vibrant, colourful and unmistakably Nintendo. What’s more, every character is unique in design but still undeniably work within the universe created within the game. The music is incredible, and normally that call cannot be made with modern Nintendo games. The songs that play at the title screen and in the online ‘Party Mode’ lobby are just about the most catchy and infectious Nintendo have made in years, falling just below Splatoon’s excellent soundtrack.

Now, I have a few issues with this game, although only one of them is game-breaking by any stretch of the imagination. I found the tutorial lacking in terms of finer details of how to play the game, however I quickly filled in the blanks by going online and fighting other players. Another issue I have is with the game’s very heavy focus on the motion controls; albeit I just looked up the other control methods easily enough, but only the motion controls are shown on the loading screens. The biggest issue I have with ARMS is with the online netcode. For a game that relies on a considerable amount of movement and dodging and one that requires such keen response times, more so than a lot of fighting games, should have better netcode than this. Connection errors aside, I personally found a tremendous amount of blows failed to connect despite going through my opponent and vice versa.

So, should you buy ARMS? A hugely emphatic yes. The game is full of content, is only due more through Nintendo’s planned DLC, and has an almost terrifying amount of variety in playstyles and game modes. ARMS is simultaneously very beginner-friendly (owing to the simple controls) but has enough depth to satisfy more competitive players; this being said, no player would be able to succeed in this game through sheer button-mashing. I honestly believe I would go as far as to say that this is the first true must-have new game for Switch. Go buy it, and I’ll see you in the arena.

Thank you Nintendo for supplying us with the review code for ARMS.

ARMS is out now for Nintendo Switch, both in physical and download.

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