When ARMS was first revealed, I was not impressed in the slightest. When Nintendo held their April Nintendo Direct that focused on ARMS and Splatoon 2, I started to change my perspective. After playing the Test Punch a few times, I was a total convert. I forced myself to remain skeptical until the final game was released. Now that I’ve put nearly 30 hours into the game, I feel confident in my assessment of the game.
As I stated a moment ago, I wasn’t originally impressed with ARMS. It looked like a casual and overly simple Punch Out type game with springy arms as the defining gimmick. While the game is extremely casual-friendly, that’s not to say that there is no skill involved in playing the game; there is actually quite a high skill ceiling. Like any fighting game, each character has their own specialties and quirks that make them tick. Each character has something that makes them stand out and play differently than the others. It’s usually a subtle difference, but some characters definitely stand out over the others.
In ARMS, you control one of 10 characters with springy arms (or hair) in a 3rd person boxing match on unique stages. Each stage has something different about it from a ramen bowl to a cemetery. Ideally, the game wants you to play with motion controls, punching with a Joy Con in each hand, but I find the more traditional controls to be more suitable for me. The only real downside I’ve seen in not using motion controls is that you can’t do wide grabs without jumping through hoops and even then, it’s not as wide as is possible with the motion controls. Regardless of your control scheme, the game’s brief tutorial gets you on track. There’s a button for dashing, a button for jumping, and a button for each punch if you’re using a Pro Controller or playing in handheld mode. If you’re using the motion controls, you actually punch and twist your arm to aim it. You tilt both controllers in the same direction to move, but it’s difficult to do it justice in text. You really need to try it out for yourself. The only control mode that is 100% not viable for anything other than 4-player split screen party mode. You lose the option to use the shoulder buttons to punch and activating your rush attacks are more difficult to do with the tiny shoulder buttons. For casual throw downs, this will be fine, but if you’re trying to play some serious matches, I recommend 2-player split screen with 2 pair of Joy Con, 2 Pro Controllers, or a combination of the two.
ARMS has a few different modes. Each one is fast-based and fun, but not all are equal. Fight is what you would expect it to be. Hoops is a quasi-basketball mode where you need to throw your opponent into the hoop to score points. First one to 10 points is the winner. Volley reminds me of Tekken Ball from Tekken 3 or Tekken Tag 2 on the Wii U, but it’s nowhere near as fun. Hitting the ball with a throw is a “set” and hitting it afterward will spike it. Otherwise, you just hit the ball with your punches until it goes over the net. The problem with that is that the ball has a limit to how long it can remain in the air before it turns into a glowing bomb and drops where it is. It feels incredibly random to be perfectly honest. Ranked mode is where you fight against other players to earn rank points. It tops out at 15 and there are no leader boards, so I’m not sure what the point is. Ranked is unlocked by finishing Grand Prix at level 4 or higher which is a traditional Arcade mode. Perhaps as a nod to the Switch being part handheld, you can save your progress in this mode at any time and come back to it later. It’s a good thing, too, because the CPU cheats in the worst way possible on the hardest difficulty; by reading the player’s button presses and reacting based on that. There are a bunch of practice modes, but the final and most interesting mode is Party mode. In Party Mode, you play online with a bunch of random one-round matches in any of a given set of fights. In this mode, there can be team battles where you’re tethered to your teammate and get launched across the screen whenever your teammate gets thrown. As such, it’s kind of important to throw the person throwing your teammate before they actually toss them. You’ll also randomly encounter players in Hoops, Volley, 1-on-1, 4-player free for all, and something called Headlock mode. Headlock is like a super character that has 6 arms and it’s up to you and your teammates to take him out. I would very much like to see new modes added via DLC, but as it stands, the game is quite complete feeling.
Competitively speaking, movement is key in ARMS, and the characters with the best movement options are the ones I feel sit at the top of tier lists. I personally hold Ribbon Girl, Twintelle, and Kid Cobra at the top of the list. Min Min is probably next on that list, but requires more skill to use properly. See, the three I listed at the top all have movement-based abilities. Ribbon Girl can jump 3 times in mid-air while Kid Cobra has an incredibly fast dash that covers a lot of ground as long as his arms are charged. Twintelle’s ability is that she can glide for a second while you hold down the dash button. When you let go, you can have her do a second dash in any direction that covers slightly more distance. While she’s in this hover, punches will slow down. Min Min, on the other hand, has an air-dash where she can kick away oncoming punches. It takes really good timing, but if you can manage it, it’s incredibly powerful.
When I first saw the game, I assumed the default arms for each character were part of a balance thing, but if Ranked mode is any sort of deciding factor, you can preset any 3 arms for any character. Personally, I find the freeze and stun arms to be the most competitively viable as the freeze puts a lock on movement and stun takes them fully out of the game for a split second, allowing you to get some free shots in on them.
Any fighting game worth its salt these days has a good comeback mechanic, and ARMS’ version of that is called Rush Attacks. As you throw punches, you build up a triangular meter that rests at the bottom of your health meter. When you activate your rush attack, it’ll cancel any attack near you, covering you in a yellow glow. Different arms respond differently to this, so it takes some practice to figure out what works best for you. The damage in substantial and can easily turn a match around. In fights with more than one round, you meter carries over into the next round, so sometimes it’s best to give up the round so you can start the next with a full meter, and possibly build up another. This is a staple in fighting games that use meter management, so it’s nice to see in ARMS.
Whether a casual gamer or a hardcore member of the FGC, I think there’s something here for you. Anyone can easily pick up the game and have a blast, but the depth is there for higher level play. I really hope they put a demo on the eShop so people can get a taste of what ARMS has to offer them because $59.99 is quite a lot of money to spend blind. If you’re on the fence, I hope this review was able to help you make a decision.