ARMS is a rare beast from Nintendo, albeit one that’s becoming more common in recent years: A brand-new IP that takes a well-worn, well-understood genre and twists the idea in new and unexpected ways. When it clicks, as it did when Nintendo released Splatoon back in 2015, you get a fun, refreshing take on an old concept that appeals to both casual and hardcore players. When it doesn’t quite stick the landing, however, you get something like ARMS.
To be fair, there’s a lot to like about the game’s design. The characters are unique and memorable, the different “arms” (hands, really) allow you to customize your character to best suit your playstyle, and the online lobby setup may be the best that Nintendo has ever developed. The inclusion of both ranked and unranked (“Party Match”) also allows players to take the game as seriously or casually as they want.
Despite all this, however, there are a couple of glaring issues that detract from the game’s fun:
- Even with the wide variety of controller options, I never found one that felt truly comfortable while playing the Global Testpunch. The motion controls, while much improved from the Wii era, are still a bit too awkward for prime time: I ended up ‘flicking’ the Joy-Cons more than actually punching, and trying to move them in tandem to block or strafe never felt natural enough to pull off in the heat of the moment. Several traditional controller options exist (single Joy-Con, both Joy-Cons in their grip, the Pro Controller), and while they felt more familiar for some moves, other techniques (such as curving punches) became harder and more frustrating.
- The available battle modes varied a lot in quality. One-on-one and team battles were exciting and well-balanced, but V-Ball (volleyball but with explosives) seemed to devolve into flailing at the ball as past as you could, and the three-player free-for-alls were an absolute nightmare due to the game’s poorly-placed and poorly-explained targeting controls. I didn’t play the B-Ball (like basketball, except you’re grabbing and dunking your opponent instead of a ball), but it didn’t look to be any more engaging than V-Ball.
- The single-player gameplay looked to be about as thin as most other fighting games: You fight your way up a ladder of challengers, defeat a boss at the end, and…you do it all over again at a higher difficulty. While other Nintendo games admittedly do the same thing (Mario Kart cups are just repeated races, after all), ARMS just didn’t hold my interest in the same way that MK8D did. Part of this is due to the environment’s limited role: Where MK8D tracks fundamentally changed the way you drove, there wasn’t enough variation in the ARMS stages to vary your fighting style.
In the end, ARMS just doesn’t interest me the way a lot of recent Nintendo games have. If you’re already a fan of fighting games, it’s worth a look because of its unique take on the genre, but if you’re not, I’m not sure there’s enough here to hold your interest. That may change in the future, however, as Nintendo has committed to a Splatoon-like release of free new content over the new few months. I would recommend that non-fighting-game fans avoid picking this one up on day one, and instead keep an eye on it for a while (and try it before you buy it, if you get the chance) and see if Nintendo adds some new modes before taking the plunge.
As it is, I’ll be saving my money and waiting to join my fellow Inklings on Salmon Runs in Splatoon 2.