It feels strange to say, but it has been one hell of a year for Nintendo thus far. They’ve just launched a console along with a critically acclaimed Zelda; Super Mario Odyssey is set to launch in October, and the 2nd installment in their beloved new IP Splatoon is coming in July. In the meantime, Nintendo just launched another new IP. Arms, is Nintendo’s take on the fighting genre, and it has that same Nintendo style you expect. Like Splatoon, its cartoony visuals and unique characters pull you in, but unlike Splatoon’s squid kids it fails to give you a reason to keep coming back.
Arms is a fighting game done the Nintendo way; there are very few input options, so it won’t take you long to get a grasp of. A face button controls each of your arms, or a throw of your actual fist if you’re using the motion controls, which are surprisingly responsive (we’re well beyond Wii capabilities.) Every character has super long arms that can easily stretch across these 3D arenas. Once a punch has been thrown you can curve it to get around enemies defenses and catch them off guard, or even knock their fist out of the air. Throwing out both arms simultaneously allows you to grab your opponent to perform a throw. You can also dash, block, and jump to avoid blows and navigate the arena. If you’re playing with a standard controller rather than motion controls, you’re limited to only being able to curve one arm at a time or both together using the right stick. It’s the only real fault of standard controls, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Every character also has special skills, though the game isn’t upfront about it. You’ll have to figure it out on your own or find them buried in menus. For a quick example, Master Mummy heals while blocking, and Min min’s dash can deflect enemy attacks with kicks.
After my first few hours Arms, it struck me that it was surprisingly difficult for a modern Nintendo game. In order to participate in online ranked matches, you have to complete the Grand Prix single player mode on a difficulty of 4 or higher ( out of 10.) It took me a few tries to conquer the AI with some well-timed throws and a whole lot of jumping around. Don’t take the difficulty comment as a knock; it’s actually what I find most refreshing about the title. The old “easy to learn, difficult to master” cliche comes to mind.
Arms striking character designs are its strongest, and most Nintendo feature. You have Spring Man, our basic spring armed fighter, Master Mummy the hulking Egyptian-themed villain, Helix, a pile of vile goop that may be dangerous to ingest, the list goes on and on. Splatoon, and now Arms have proven that Nintendo still has plenty of solid original characters up their sleeves.
If one on one modes aren’t your thing, Arms has a slew of other modes. A three player free for all fight mode, a two v. two mode, and a variety of sports themed modes like volleyball. Only the one on one fights show up in ranked matchmaking. If you wanna mix things up, you’ll have to match make in party mode. The one on one fights are where Arms is at its strongest anyway, a basketball mode where you score by throwing your opponent through the hoop is cool, but the novelty wears off quick.
Where Arms loses me is its lack of any sense of progression. All characters and arenas are unlocked from the get, so the only reward you get for progressing is unlocking new arms for your fighters. You can do so by spending an in-game currency unlocked by playing basically any mode. Arms could benefit greatly from…dare I say it? Skins, it might seem like a weird fit for Nintendo, but some sort of loot box system for unlocking cosmetics or even adding seasonal ranking to Arms could add a ton more to hook players in.
Arms gameplay works, it has a fun cast of character and is surprisingly challenging. It just doesn’t feel like a full package. The content is light and unlocking new arms isn’t enough to keep me coming back.