Released on: June 16 2017
Available Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Price: $79.99 CDN ($59.99 US)
The beginning of the Nintendo Switch’s life was interesting. There were strong launch titles like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Mario Kart 8. After that though, things kind of dried out. There were a few stand out indie titles here and there, but nothing major for a few months. During this time, Nintendo announced they were making a new game called Arms, where players would extend the character’s arms by thrusting the Joy-Con forward. Despite Arms looking like a gimmick, it piqued my curiosity enough for me to give it a go. Is Arms worthy of being Nintendo’s fresh new franchise?
The Arms Grand Prix: a competitive event so prestigious it has a one-hundred percent viewer rating (making me think there isn’t anything else to watch in this universe). The combatants have extendable arms with which they beat each other with. How did they get them? Why do they have them? Why do only some of the fighters have these giant noodle arms? All these questions go ignored. Fighting games are not usually known for their plot, but these characters are so strange, that some explanation as to why everybody has these extendable arms would be nice.
The fact that the soundtrack to Arms is not available on Spotify is criminal. The opening theme is an earworm that comes back with full force every so often. The music while fighting is also excellent and helps immerse the players into the fight.
Arms is as visually interesting as its characters. While its environments are visually pleasing, it’s the character design that gets me. Take the two fighters on the box, for example. They are on the simpler end of the design spectrum, but the guy (Spring Man) has springs for arms, despite being human. Ribbon Girl is a pop star with ribbons for arms. I like the character design in Arms. They are unique enough to leave an impression and avoids being too strange.
Arms has deceptively deep gameplay. Each player has weapons they equip on each arm. Players can attack with either their left or right arm, which extends. The extension of the arm takes time to reach its apex and, while they return to the attacking player quickly, they don’t return instantly. With how slow the attacks come out, players have time to dodge left or right, jump, launch their own attack to clash with the opponent’s strike or block. Players can grab the opponent, but grabs come out slower than regular attacks and can be completely negated by the opponent’s regular attack. Holding either the block or the jump button (or position if the player is playing using motion controls) will charge their arms, which makes their attacks more powerful and gives the equipped weapon special properties. Players have a “super meter” that allows them to unleash a barrage of attacks when fully charged, which comes out much faster than regular attacks, but makes the user vulnerable to attacks, should the opponent successfully dodge it. The game flow is a lot slower than most fighting games due to the extendable arms. Because of this, I find Arms’ strategy lies in what Arms to equip and studying the opponent’s tendencies to predict their movements. I like this, as there is a lot to think about when playing the game than just wildly attacking.
When I first played Arms, I failed to see its hook; the thing that would make me come back to it. It was only after watching a few videos and playing the online ranked mode that I realized that each character has special abilities unique to each fighter. Ribbon Girl, for example, can jump three times in the air, where most characters can only jump twice. At first, this may seem inconsequential, but these special abilities dictate how a character is played. Master Mummy, a personal favorite of mine, is slow, but he regenerates health when his guard is up. Because Master Mummy regains health by blocking, the opponent is more likely going to go for grabs. If the Master Mummy player notices this, he can punch through the grab to take the advantage. In fighting games terminology, this is referred to as “fishing” and is a tactic I use frequently when playing Arms. When I discovered this, Arms started to make sense to me. I found it enlightening when I pick up a new character, discover their abilities and pair that with the ideal weapons. Suddenly, Arms becomes much more than just a typical fighting game.
When new characters get added to fighting games, they usually come with a price. So I was surprised when I found five new characters after not touching the game for almost a year. A lot of people, myself included, thought that Arms was abandoned after a few months, but the addition of new modes and characters after all this time proves this notion wrong. It would have been nice if these things were included with the game’s original release, but better late than never I suppose.
As much as I respect Arms’ uniqueness, there are a few things that bug me.
The way players unlock new weapons in Arms is by collecting coins for playing the game (players cannot buy these coins with real money). Players then use these coins to play a minigame, where they collect boxes that have weapons within them. While I do like that there are a lot of weapons, which weapons players earn is random. This, I feel, became tedious. Especially when there is one weapon, in particular, I would want for a character. A more direct buying option would have sufficed.
Despite my praise of Arms’ gameplay, it took me a while before I appreciated it. There is a database that explains who the characters are and what their unique ability is, but unless the player is familiar with the intricacies of Arms, that data means very little. The fact that there are so many nuances to Arms makes it difficult for new players to pick up and play.
Speaking of learning the ins and outs of Arms, it does offer a training mode, but it acts more as a tutorial. I searched for a proper training mode, where players can choose what the dummy does, gives data on how fast the weapon goes, where the characters can get hit, etc. Sadly, I couldn’t find it. There are tutorials that do their best to teach the player how to play the game, but if there was any fighting game that needed a proper training mode, it’s Arms.
While I do feel like Arms is underrated, I do understand why people didn’t take to it. Everything about it is fresh and stylized, but at the same time, it comes off as weird. To those who do decide to try Arms, I would recommend sticking to it for a bit before dismissing it, as it can take a while to get into. For those who have the patience for a new style of fighting game, I would recommend Arms.
*May 11 2020 Correction Notice* It turns out that under “Versus”, players can customize various settings, including the ability to set the CPU behavior, have infinite time/HP and have the special meter always being on. We apologize for missing that initially and want to give a big thank you to @arms_tips for letting us know.