It’s the third round of a tight match-up in ARMS. My Ribbon Girl’s life meter is dwindling away, dropping close to the 25-percent mark after my opponent — a particularly adept Kid Cobra — catches me with a throw.

Ribbon Girl shakes it off and charges up her ARMS. She’s rocking two standard boxing gloves right now, one with the ice power and one with electricity. Jump. Air-dodge. Jump again. Let the electric glove fly, and it connects! She throws a paralyzed Kid Cobra to the ground, and now both competitors’ special meters are filled.

 

 

ARMS, the newest IP from Nintendo, has caught me by surprise. To be honest, it’s got a lot of things going against it: I’m not good at fighting games; the art style initially comes off as too “kid” for me; single-player mode is scant, and the overall menu seems a little barren on the surface. But I tried the test punch out, and from the first fight I was hooked.

The controls for ARMS are delightfully simple. While this could be a detriment to a fighting game, it works tremendously well in this setting. You can play the game however you want to: Motion controls; Joy Con Controller; sideways Joy Con; Pro Controller; and handheld. I’ve tried each way except the sideways Joy Con, and success can be found in any configuration.

Whether pushing buttons or flailing your own arms, the controls are intuitive. One button throws each ARM out, while pushing both at the same time tosses both out for a grapple maneuver. Push the stick in to block; one button for jump, and another for dash. There are no preset combos. The variety steps in when you use each different character and start to experiment with the different ARMS.

Currently, speed is a clear advantage in the game. The characters I’m best with, and worst against, are the fastest. We’re talking Ninjara, Kid Cobra, Min Min and Ribbon Girl. But the larger characters, like Mechanica and Master Mummy, have their own strengths and are hard to defeat against a skilled competitor.

Each character has special traits. Twintelle can float in the air and slow down time around her; Spring Man’s ARMS stay charged when he has low health; Helix can stretch really tall or dodge punches by squishing himself down to the ground.

Throughout your play you will unlock each of the game’s 30 ARMS for each character through a target-punching mini game that you play after earning a certain number of coins. Initially, I disliked this way of unlocking the ARMS and thought it rather slow. However, once I waited to cash in my coins until I could play longer, unlocking the ARMS became more satisfying.

This is where the real strategy of the game comes in. Each ARM has different properties and abilities. Heavy ARMS can push lighter ones out of the way; electric charges can paralyze your opponent; fire abilities burn and cause additional damage, and so-forth. I love experimenting with different combinations to give each of my characters a different flavor as I try to take out my opponents.

 

 

 

ARMS’ single-player component is mostly found in the Grand Prix. This is a straight-up ladder system, where you pick a character and run through the other nine characters to get to a final boss — Max Brass, who will be released as a free DLC playable character in July. Difficulty ranges from 1 to 7, with 1-3 serving as a decent intro. The game really ramps up at difficulty 4 and makes the player approach fights with an actual plan.

The game also lets you go through the Grand Prix with a partner, which is an enjoyable way to bring a less experienced player into the fold. ARMS lets you save your progress in the mode, so you don’t have to take on all 10 fights in one session, and it also has separate saves for the single- and two-player modes.

There’s also a local versus mode, which you can play with 1-4 people. You can play one-on-one; a triple threat match; a Fatal Four-Way (sorry…wrestling terminology); a 2-on-2 match (that is hampered by being attached to your teammate); volleyball; basketball and a skillshot challenge. There’s also a 1-vs-100 mode where you take out 10 waves of opponents, culminating in a fight against the very difficult Hedlock.

Online, you can play in Party Mode, which is a casual lobby that tosses you up against opponents in any of the game’s versus modes. This is a great way to learn new characters.

There’s also the Ranked fighting mode, which consists solely of 1-on-1 fights with now power ups or bombs. Players can access this mode only after beating Grand Prix on level 4, so you know your opponents are at least decent at the game. There are certain characters that seem to come out on top a lot — Kid Cobra is my personal Kryptonite — and throws can be spammed to great success by a skilled opponent. But there’s always a counter, if you’re good enough to take advantage.

 

 

Finally, you can also set up a room for private play with your online friends.

ARMS has a surprising amount of replayability. I’m currently working my way through Grand Prix with each character, while also playing Ranked Matches. Online has worked very well so far, with it taking only 10 seconds or less to find a match in Ranked Online.

Speaking of that…

 

 

Ribbon Girl and Kid Cobra are now up on their feet, both with their special meters filled. Neither wants to make the first move. Cobra charges his ARMS and starts to dart around quickly. Ribbon Girl says patient and dodges a throw attempt.

Kid Cobra hits his special attack and starts flailing away! Ribbon girl jumps into the air, and jumps three more times to the side while Cobra is worn down. She hits the special, and unloads on Kid Cobra with a flurry of punches! KO!

My ARMS experience is filled with moments like this; with tense fights coming down to the wire in both single-player and online modes. The excitement provokes that “just one more” match feeling, and before I know it, I’ve played 10 more matches.

If you’ve got a Switch, you owe it to yourself to play ARMS.

ARMS

ARMS
8.9

Overall Score

8.9/10

Pros

  • Characters have unique style and abilities
  • Gameplay is deep and rewarding to master

Cons

  • Lack of story/narrative in solo play
  • Could be more strategic than some people think