Arms is Nintendo’s first foray into the fighting game genera on Switch, but is it a resounding punch to the head of success or an epic missed opportunity?
This first party brawler, first shown to the masses in early 2017, has you playing as one of ten fighter duking it out in an arena with super stretching, spring bound arms that can reach across distances to slap your opponents in the face.
This is not your normal Streetfighter style brawler. Packing an inexact science fight style, Arms tosses aside the super realistic and embraces the quirky Nintendo style that dresses other franchises, namely Mario Kart and Splatoon.
During a fist pumping melee bout, you’ll get to you use the Switch motion controls the way they were meant to be used: standing on two feet, swinging arms wildly. By throwing punches, blocking, and slamming opponents into the ground, you can get the one up on your foes. Arms is without doubt the most uniquely controlled game I have played, on the Switch or otherwise.
But What do I think of it? Well, I enjoyed parts of it. But for me, this is far from Nintendo’s best gaming premier.
I found the controls fiddly, though it has to be said, I have never got on well with motion controls, so your experience will vary. But the disappointments didn’t end at the controls. I developed several caveats I found difficult to move past. And one in particular was fun destroying. Read on to find out why Arms disappointed.
Switch Graphic Fest
The graphics though unique, colorful and so very Nintendo, are let down by one crucial factor: the resolution. Though the general quality of effects and textures is high, I found it increasingly difficult to hurdle past the blur fest that was presented to me. The resolution felt so low, I felt like I’d forgoten to slip my big nerdy glasses on, yet there they were, hanging onto my nose with their usual plastic might.
Okay, I’m playing on a 4k TV, so anything other than native resolution will look a little on the smeared side. But then, Zelda looked great, and that was only running at 900p!
I don’t know what’s going on. I’m not pixel counting expert, but I’m sure the res might be as low as 720p! However, the graphics have one saving grace.
However muddy the GFX looked the frame rate stuck doggedly to a slick 60 frames per second. The action, though covered in Vaseline, shifted along at pace that would make the Millennium
Falcon giddy. It made the action knee-jerk responsive, flowing to my commands.
I’d take 60 fps over a higher resolution any day of the week. So all is forgiven, on the graphics front anyway. I’m not sure about the rest though…
Resolution aside, Arms looks pleasingly colorful and vibrant. It’s not just the flying spring loaded arms that will pop your peepers out. It’s got a Saturday morning cartoon feel about it that vaults out of the screen to the point where punches that miss your character feel like their sliding past your own ears. It’s all so wonderfully over the top and exaggerated.
The particle effects are a stunning example of what can be achieved on the Switch. Ripping a page from the ‘How to make Mario Kart’ tome, the particles are outlandish and fun, yet serve a necessary and important purpose. Every crackling spark, every prickled explosion communicates punches, both landed and near misses. Seeing explosions of particles erupt from the screen as you land the perfect jab is both satisfying and communicative. Every flurry of floating polygons shows a good hit or just a glancing blow.
One Thing you can always guarantee in a Nintendo game is great music, and Arms doesn’t disappoint.
Every tune that pirouettes from my speakers resonates with a Nintendo labs feel. Each tune, which is unique to different arenas, would sit right at home in any Nintendo game.
Voice acting is also typical of the Japanese gaming giant’s library. Characters have no real voices. Instead, they bleat with a high pitched Japanese yelps or westernized growls.
I know it’s in-keeping with what Nintendo have done in the past, but a lack of real voice acting seems a little lazy these days.
In contrast, the punching sound design could never be called lazy. Every shuddering blow sounds wet and meaty and reads a story of when, if, or where you land a punch. Different sounds are played for different hit strengths, so just as with the particle effects, full on face smashers will play a different sound to a glancing blow.
Hearing the deadened thump of base whenever I get my jaw smashed in almost makes me want to stand still and let my teeth be pummeled out. It’s beautifully realized sound design that adds bucketfuls of depth to how one approaches a situation. And all because you can hear when and where punches land. Ingenues stuff.
The gameplay in Arms consists of using your character to throw Arena spanning, Spring powered punches into your opponents face to knock them out and win the round.
To do this, you have to stand up, take hold of the little Switch controllers and start swinging your arms. With one in each hand, one for each in game fist, you throw punches in real life which are transmitted on your Arm’s avatar.
On starting up my first game, I feared the worst for the motion controls. However, a deep sigh of relief released from my lungs upon starting a game as thankfully the motion controls felt fun and responsive. Thank god this is no repeat of the inglorious Nintendo Wii. The motion sensors hidden in the depths of each Switch controller have a couple of generation of refinement on their side, and it shows.
However, within seconds of attempting to float out like a bee and sting like a butterfly, I realized my repertoire of moves was sadly curtailed.
Rock, Paper, Fist!
You see the problem is, Arms’ Main fighting loop is based on the Rock, Paper, Scissors. Your choice of moves consist of the following: Grab an opponent who is blocking, Punch to break a grab, Block to defend a punch. Ow and of course, punch to beat your opponent up.
You might think this simplicity is great, but when was the last time you played Rock, Paper, Scissors, PS4 edition? You haven’t! Why? Because it’s overly simple. Yes by all means keep games simple. But not too simple.
Like a famous physicist once said, make things as simple as possible but no simpler. Unfortunately, Nintendo have made the game so devoid of advanced detail, so casual pick up and play, there is no depth.
Another issue I found while playing multiplayer was I regularly lost to players who chose to duke it out with regular controls instead of motion controls. They argued it gave them far more accuracy when rushing about the battlefield and that controlling the direction of punches was an unnecessary waste of time.
Having lost something like 30 matches against player like this, it’s hard to argue that motion controls are better. In-fact, from early bouts with other players, most seem to think the motion controls are a hindrance. Which makes me wonder: why make non-motion controls at all?
Leave them out, make it mandatory to play the game the way it was meant to be played. As it stands, it’s frustrating to think, there I am trying my best to master the swinging of my fist and somebody at the other end of copper line is just tapping a button to beat me up.
Grappling With Issues
Additionally, grabbing people is over powered. Throw both arms forward and your spring loaded hands will lung forward in an attempt to grasp your opponent and throw them face first into the ground. It should be an exciting, epic move, throws are in all good fighting games. But it’s too easy to perform. You can spam grab continuously and you will win half the time. OK, maybe not against better players, but I’d have thought glaring issue would’ve been ironed as it’s a problem that is plaguing online matches
But that’s not the biggest issue. No. Arms has a bigger problem than spam throws. The Arms designers, with all their collective gaming knowledge, have bread a game that is massively biased toward defense. And it ruins the game. Defensive techniques such as dodging and blocking are overpowered and makes throwing a punch very dangerous. The first player to sling a spring out almost guaranteed to be dodged and counter attacked.
In many instances, the first player to throw the first punch usually ended up the loser. It’s a frustratingly defensive game that offers no reward for aggression.
I suffered one boring encounter after another where anything up to a minute could pass before a fist was thrown.
It’s a shame because instead of Arms rewarding practice and deft use of skill, it’s a test of patience: Who can wait it out until their opponent breaks? I had a couple of games against experienced player where we danced around for the first round without a single punch thrown. Conversely, I played matches were a player would rush in, get one hit, only to spend the rest of the match dodging and staying out of Arms reach. Why, because the player left with the highest health wins. Why not just declare the match a draw as it would force player to attack?
It’s madness and comes across like Nintendo didn’t play test how real players will exploit tactics to win.
I know you could argue that the game is largely aimed at the casual market.
If so, why include online leader-boards? I doubt it if a lad and his girlfriend who enjoy a bit of split screen are going to play the game hardcore tournament style.
Overall, it’s probably one of the first Nintendo games I have every played that feels like a fail. The flow of battles just lacks that crucial fun factor. Delve into the game, it’s moves and tactics, and you will find the best strategy is one that actively promotes boredom. One that punishes offense and rewards retreat over fight. For now, Arms’ gameplay fails it. I live in hope that an incoming patch can solve the issues before the game falls into obscurity.
Arms presents us with an interesting if slightly small roster of ten different fighters for us to walk into battle. In this age of 50 plus character rosters, 10 doesn’t sound like a lot. In practice, it’s not. Though we have been promised free character DLC, it’s a shame Nintendo couldn’t have delayed releasing the game by a few months to squeeze a few more fighters in. The roster feels that spartan.
Though there are only 10 characters, each offers unique gameplay opportunities. For starters, smaller characters can jump higher and move faster than their larger brethren. A great ability to have in a game that emphasizes dodging. However, the more nimble your character the easier they get knocked off their feet by a blow.
On the other hand, larger characters are the opposite and move around the battlefield with a lumbering tank like agility. But, like a tank, they can take multiple hits before falling to the ground.
Each character comes with a plethora of Arms to unlock. At the start of the game, each of the 10 fighters gets 3 Arms to choose from. Through playing games and collecting in game currency, you can unlock many types for near infinite combinations.
There are melee types, projectile arms, special blocking types and unique arms that give a unique ability.
Once you have unlocked the arms you like, you can equip any two of them. But it comes down to picking certain ‘pre-approved’ combinations that work well together. Step outside of those promoted combinations and you will find yourself at a disadvantage. You would think with so many Arms for each character, experimentation would be the order of the day. But it felt the opposite with experimentation of the odd and unexpected punished in favor of using the norm.
No fighting game would be complete without a dojo full of arenas and Arms has some of the best digital architects in the business on hand to help create some of the most memorable fight stages in recent memory.
From outdoor stages on roads, to arenas full of green sludge, every play area is fully traversable in three dimensions. Unlike the great fighting games of yore, you can side step, or bound around the play areas like a Superman on speed, nipping deftly from side to side to avoid incoming attacks.
And it’s not all just about looks as each arena is designed for interaction. From destructible environments and platforming elements, to damage dealing obstacles, the arenas prove to be as much characters as the characters themselves.
Which makes it an even bigger shame that there’s not a lot of them. But what we get is superb.
Single player Lacking
As for the single player experience, the solo gamer gets to try their luck in what’s called Grand prix mode.
In GP mode you’ll be fighting the full cast of characters over 10 rounds in an attempt to confront a final boss. This structure, though it work well for old school fighters like Street Fighter, is for a modern game lacking. Many modern fighters offer a fully featured, fleshed out single player experience. You just have to take a look at the sprawling, loot grind that is Injustice 2, which I will review soon, to see how far you can take a fighting game’s single player element.
Arms pathetically tasks you to flop through 10 rounds, then fight a boss that could rank as one of the worst ever, only to be rewarded with a crown and some coins to unlock new arms for your achievement, and that’s it.
As mentioned, a slow sarcastic round of applause of disappointment has to go to the final boss fight as it must rank as one of the most frustrating, lazily designed end-games in the history of fighters. After you have learned the tactics of fighting through the first 9 rounds, dodge then punch, rinse repeat, you face a final boss battle that rips this tactic apart. And not in a fair way. The final boss spams the screen with punches until you die. It’s a wall of fists. There is no skill showed by the computer, no clever AI, just SPAM!
Yes he can be defeated. But instead of being at least a teeny bit tactical, it turns into your own spam farce where you try to out speed punch him. It’s not fun. I don’t understand how Nintendo has got it so wrong with this one encounter. It stinks of poor game design. Like Nintendo thought screw it, let’s just get the game out the door, and just threw the boss in.
It’s such a shame, such a gargantuan waste that the final boss fight, which should top off an epic 10 round struggle, turns out to be anti-fun, tiresome, and work like.
However there is one saving grace for GP mode: Split screen CO-OP. If you’d prefer to play through the single player with a friend, and seriously, you don’t want wade through this shit on your own, split screen offers the chance to tag team up and take the fight to your enemies together. Coordination and team work is key to success as your joined at the hip by a spring so any damage done to one player affects the other.
Diving across the map to save your near death buddy from a certain death is genuinely exhilarating. But occurrences like this are few and far between. The monotony of dodge, throw punch, dodge, throw punch is still ever present like some ugly wart you can’t shift. It’s interesting to play co-op for a while but Co-op can’t wallpaper over the chasms that run through this particular wall.
I will get it out off the way immediately: Online play needs more features.
There are currently only 2 modes: ranked matches and party play
Ranked matches have you face off against other players in an attempt to climb a ladder.
Conversely, Party play is more relaxed. You enter a lobby that holds up to 20 players then drops up to 4 random people together into a four-way deathmatch. Party play is an interesting system, but more often than not, it didn’t work well.
Matchmaking would place you in free-for-all matches of three players where one player would get picked on until dead. Then the round would just turn into a 1 vs 1 match. This happened many times, and it’s a frustrating experience. No matter how skilled you maybe, you can’t take on 2 players simultaneously, the lock on system is too cumbersome to allow for that. Instead, your destined to be dumped out without ever having a chance.
Another issue that grated me like I was a soft peace of cheese is ranked matches can only be completed in after defeating Grand prix mode on a higher difficulty level.
Considering how lackluster the Grand prix is, the only conclusion I can think as to why the developer would put you through the ignominy of the shambolic single player before accessing online ranked mode is the developers have all gone mad.
And besides, the AI plays nothing like a human opponent. The AIs not as aggressive or unpredictable. Nintendo are treating the single player like a tutorial whereas they should have been treating it like, oh I don’t know, a single player experience!
When online, as with every game, the flow and speed of matches are completely different to the singular experience, but Nintendo have failed to realize this in spectacular fashion.
Arms fantastically uses the Switch Controllers, but as a game I found it lacking in so many ways. Non-more-so than the general gameplay.
The fighting doesn’t feel balanced. It feels like there’s only one way to win.
Defend, wait for your opponent to strike, then counter and run. It’s boring. I’m sorry, yes I said it about a Nintendo game, Arms just isn’t fun to play.
OK, that might be a little harsh. If all you desire is a casual game with your mates, then it can be fun for 10 minutes. Before everybody realizes the only path to victory is to hang back.
If you’re looking for any kind depth, your going to be disappointed.
The single player is non-existent, and the online comprises two game modes. That’s not enough. Even if you like the fighting, and I don’t, there isn’t enough meat on the bones to make it worth shelling out $60.
The game should have been a download only game for at most $30.
For me this is one of the biggest disappointments of the year. I was looking forward to something that took everything that makes Nintendo games great transplanted into a fighter. Instead, we got an unbalanced mess, that has less content than an empty bag.
-Controls can be fun(ish)
-If playing casually, game is fun
-Good looking, if you ignore the resolution.
-Flawed fighting system
-Little single player content
-Small roster of characters
-Dreadful boss battle
-Defense too powerful
-Ranked online matches locked until single player is complete
-Unlockable arms aren’t different enough
I recommend you Try It if you love online multiplayer. But for solitary gamers, I suggest avoid it. Go buy Zelda second time instead to tell Nintendo, ‘go make more game like that!’