ARMS came as a surprise reveal early in the year, quickly rising in notoriety by coming in with fists up raring to go. It took the simple idea seen in many of Nintendo’s early motion control titles on the Wii such as Wii boxing and Punch-Out, and added complex abilities with a unique cast of characters in order to come up with a brand new concept. With the core concept being shown with motion controls, it still had many people on the fence, but the motion controls of the Wii era are long gone and ARMS has gone out of its way to show how much it has improved while also providing an entirely new fighting experience.
Like many fighting titles, there isn’t much of a story going into to ARMS, and it doesn’t require one to be enjoyed. Each character starts the Grand Prix campaign mode by getting their own short back story explained by the announcer as the first round begins. Their reasons are varied, but each character’s ultimate goal is to become number one and proving themselves the champion. The player starts by choosing their character and difficulty they want to attempt, which ranges from 1 to 7. These matches are set up with two wins needed in order to continue, and ten total matches, with players being able to save and quit in the middle of a fight and continue on later whenever they want. After the final match is over, players are rewarded with in-game currency and are pushed back to the main menu to choose where they want to go next.
The main cast of ARMS consists of ten playable characters. While at first that might seem a bit small for such a big fighting title, each character has the benefit of being extremely unique in terms of appearance, abilities and play style. When starting out each character begins with three arms that are unique to them, but each character is able to eventually unlock every other arm as well. After each battle, be it online or solo, the player is rewarded with currency that can be used to challenge a punching mini-game. This puts players in a simple target hitting challenge to rack up points, with boxes occasionally appearing in the back that when hit will reward a random character with a new arm to use. Occasionally the player can get duplicate arms, but this ends up being a benefit as it will actually power up that particular arm so it does a little more damage in battle.
Each weapon available in ARMS comes in a handful of different shapes and sizes. Some are meant to hit from a longer range, while others will specifically home-in on the opponent. Choosing the correct arms for battle is just as important as choosing a character, as each one is unique in how it will help. Most individual arms also come with a select ailment that will come into affect when charged, causing the opposing player to be hindered briefly if they take a direct hit. Some arms may explode to do bonus damage, while others will freeze an opponent in place to leave them open for a barrage of attacks. While many of the arms are similar in their method of attack, the unique abilities make each one feel extremely different and push the player to try different strategies to land a hit.
Although there is a good variety of local and single player modes, the core gameplay of ARMS comes from the online multiplayer. There are two main online modes that players can choose from, being Party Mode and Ranked Battle. Party Mode is as fun as it sounds, players are tossed into a random group of other participants and put into random battles. These can be one on one matches, group battles or even a quick basketball match to really mix things up. The online friend mode plays similar to Party Mode, but only allow friends to join in the random battles. Ranked Battle is for the truly competitive fighters, and isn’t available immediately upon playing for the first time. In order to unlock ranked battle, players must first beat at least challenge level 4 of the Grand Prix, which will put their skills to the test and ready them to face other strong fighters in the ring. Once in ranked battle, players will be able to go head to head in battles to see who is the strongest. A win will earn the player points towards ranking up, and a loss will knock them down slightly.
In typical Nintendo fashion ARMS takes place in an incredibly colorful world, from the cast of characters to the effects used in battle everything is extremely pleasant to look at. The soundtrack for ARMS is not the most varied, as every level theme is fairly similar, but each has its own tone to perfectly fit the surrounding and get players into the fighting spirit. The speed of battle is of course the most important detail for online play and players won’t have to worry as ARMS runs at a smooth 60fps whether playing docked or taking to battle in handheld mode.
While motion controls is the main method presented to play, the controls allow for easy access when picking up a regular controller instead. Motion controls generally feel the most fluid and engaging, and appear like the most thought out way to play. The controller setup is simplified by having a button for each arm, and tilting them with the left stick when thrown. These button controllers can be a bit jarring at first, and it would be nice if there was an option to manually change them to the player’s preference, but using the controller comes across just as well as playing with motion controls given some time.
ARMS best lends itself best to those who want to play online as those hoping for a challenging campaign can take on the Grand Prix as many times as they like, but it does get a bit repetitive even with each fighter being randomized. While Party Mode is a fantastic way to allow players to jump right in to random battles it would also be nice if a player could choose whether they wanted the random selection, or would prefer one select mode to challenge others in. Grand Prix mode is also incredibly forgiving towards players, as even when defeated they allow them to continue exactly where they left off instead of having to start over from the very beginning. While this is an incredibly generous feature for those having a hard time starting out, it feels like this should only be available in the lower difficulties while the harder levels should see some sort of punishment for losing a match.
Fighting titles have long been the most competitive and often hardest for new players to get into, but ARMS enters itself extremely well to the genre by feeling like nothing that has ever been played before. The simple controls make it immediately accessible to anyone, while also having a depth to the mechanics that makes it fun to master. ARMS is not an ideal title for those seeking an exclusively single player experience, but anyone looking for a new way to play with friends or challenge strong fighters around the world will no doubt want to pick up ARMS in order to fight their way to the top.