Arms review: Nintendo’s springy limbed fighting game is ridiculous fun

Lack of story and some dodgy characters dont spoil this physical Switch games immensely playable core

The premise of Arms requires a substantial suspension of disbelief. The characters in Nintendos new fighting game mostly seem to have ended up immersing themselves in this sport because their arms (or, in one case, hair), instead of regular arms, are capital-A Arms springy and extendable and ending in interchangeable weaponry. This raises some questions: How do they eat? How do they pick their noses? How do they wipe?

Of course, a game like this doesnt need to make sense, and the marketing makes it clear that Nintendo is perfectly content with the ridiculousness of it all. But given the popularity of the Switch and the focus on multiplayer, Arms could become a hit with a huge online fanbase, and its a shame that the lore and characters are lacking the kind of treatment received by games like Overwatch. There will still be fan fiction and fan art, obviously, it just wont be as compelling.

Style seems an easier fix than substance, however, and what Arms lacks if only a little in character it makes up for in form. As youd expect from a new IP from Nintendo, designed for its unpredictably popular new hybrid console, Arms is unique, colourful, and accessible, with enough complexity to tempt a competitive scene but not so much to make anyone feel alienated.

At every stage, Arms is welcoming. The box art is all big eyes and bold colours, an aesthetic that permeates throughout the game. Motion controls are encouraged, and enjoyable enough to discourage the tendency a more experienced player might have to immediately discard them in favour of the comfort of a pro controller.

Nintendo
Nintendo global president Tatsumi Kimishima (R) and Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aim play Arms at E3 2017. Photograph: Reuters

Playing with a Joy-Con in each hand in what Arms insts is called the thumbs-up grip Joy-Con vertical, buttons facing inwards, thumbs on triggers is comfortable and intuitive; you can get through the tutorial in less than a minute. You tilt both Joy-Con in the same direction to move, tilt them towards each other to block, press buttons with your thumbs to dash or jump or unleash a charged attack, and obviously punch to punch, throwing a long springy arm out to meet its target.

Punch both hands forwards together and your character will grab their opponent and throw them to the ground, which feels so satisfying that you may find yourself performing a throwing motion yourself despite it being completely unnecessary. You can also use tilt (or analogue stick, or D-pad) to steer punches after youve fired them, though it requires a little extra mental energy to remember to do that if, for instance, youve been moving your character right and you need their punch to go left.

There are no complicated combos here. Arms operates on a rock-paper-scissors basis: block a punch, grab an opponent whos blocking, punch to break a grab. In these 3D arenas theres also an emphasis on movement. It feels better to jump and dash to avoid punches and counter before the opponents long Arms have sprung back into place.

Players will soon find a character and play style that suits them, like a lighter character who can easily jump (or, in the case of Ribbon Girl, double jump) out of harms way but can be knocked off their feet with a single blow. Further options come in the form of the Arms themselves; each character starts with three to choose from before each match (and while players who like symmetry might want to choose the same for each Arm its generally better to make them different), but you can use the currency earned in game to unlock more.

Again, different players will find their different preferences. Some Arms are heavy enough to break through incoming punches, some shoot several projectiles spread horizontally or vertically, and others can approach in an arc to attack a defensive opponent from the side. Holding down the dash or jump button will charge a characters Arms so that when theyre released the attack has an elemental effect, perhaps temporarily freezing their opponent so their movement is restricted.

The single-player content encourages experimentation with the different characters and Arms. While theres no real story, which feels like a missed potential in a game with such a varied cast, there is a 10-stage Grand Prix. Choose a character, choose a difficulty level between one and seven, and if you beat all 10 stages that character wins a crown on that level (lower levels are automatically filled in). Completionists who want to beat level 7 with each of the 10 characters will have quite a task ahead of them.

Most stages will be regular fights, though the occasional round of V-ball (volleyball with an explosive ball) or Hoops (basketball where you grab and dunk your opponent) are always welcome. You can also play through an entire Grand Prix with a friend, teaming up against two opponents. Teammates are joined with a spring, so if one is thrown it adversely affects the other, but it does help to have someone else to block attacks coming your way, though this may happen far more often by accident than on purpose.

Nintendo
Arms is a game where the core idea came before the aesthetic trappings Photograph: Nintendo

You can also team up with a friend on the same console when playing online, whether against other friends in a lobby of your making in the sensibly named Friends or against strangers in Party Match, where youre thrown into a lobby in which different groups of players are matched for different modes simultaneously. Complete the Grand Prix at level 4 and youll also unlock Ranked Match, where you can fight strangers to boost your rank. Here, Arms manages to show a little more charm, as the ranks are named for things that can like springs be spiral shaped: snail, lollipop, whirligig, pinwheel.

Elsewhere, however, Arms feels like its missing the extra flavour that would make it practically perfect. The music is annoying, the arenas feel largely uninventive and the characters are hit and miss. Spring Man and Ribbon Girl are generic; Byte & Barq and Helix are a little more interesting. Min Min, with her dragon-themed weapons and Arms made out of noodles, feels like an uncomfortable stereotype. And the fact that the only black character has weaponised hair is definitely a problem.

But Arms appears to be a game where the core idea came before the aesthetic trappings, and that core does work. Anyone can pick up the Joy-Con and punch, and there are few enough other controls that it doesnt take long to learn the rest. Its always easy to tell whats happening on screen, whether thats a grab coming towards you or an elemental effect taking hold, so players can quickly progress to learning how and when to react to an opponents moves. And there are enough combinations of characters and Arms to give those of a more competitive spirit room to grow. Arms is a good starter fighting game, both for players and for Nintendo. Hopefully future updates will give the inevitable franchise a bit more bounce.

Nintendo; Nintendo Switch; 49.99; Pegi rating: 12+

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jun/16/arms-review-nintendo-switch-fighting-game-fun-play

Author: The Latest Online

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