Prior to June 16th and drowning in the spectacle of E3 2017, I was still debating whether or not I was going to purchase ARMS. The game looked super enjoyable, the Global Test Punch left an appetizing taste in my mouth, but I just wasn’t sure if it was a game I absolutely needed to have right away.
ARMS is bursting with flavor, it’s in line with Splatoon in how the characters and environment ooze that Nintendo polish in both gameplay and art style. Though, from an onlookers perspective, ARMS has a seemingly vacuous aesthetic and presentation when coupled with the inclusion of–optional– motion controls, that may cause fighting game fans to dismiss this game as a contender.
From the get-go, you have access to the full roster–so far– as well as a base set of three ARMS for each fighter. The unlock process for earning more sets of ARMS is more involved than just completing the arcade-style mode, Grand Prix, and adds more playability with how you obtain the credits to acquire more ARMS. Every mode that you play– Grand Prix, Versus, or the online offerings– all reward you with coins in which you can spend on the Get ARMS mini-game.
In the Get ARMS mode, you have a timer that is constantly ticking as you are punching both stationary and moving targets– similar to Skillshot except your opponent is the clock– in order to advance. As you smash targets, presents will move along the screen and if you successfully punch one, you will be awarded a random, non-duplicate, set of ARMS for one of the fighters– but not necessarily the one you are using.
Beyond that, the rest of the modes are mostly comprised of your typical fighting game fare. Grand Prix is the arcade-style mode where you choose a fighter and punch your way through the roster. Versus allows you to play against the computer or your friends in standard modes such as 1v1 and 2v2, with a slew of mini-games sprinkled in that are tailored towards the gameplay of ARMS. There’s also options for online modes for both ranked and friendly matches, as well as a local wireless multiplayer that allows up to four Switches to link up for some LAN style beatdowns.
One of the more interesting things about ARMS is how they treat their online ranked play. The game forces you to beat the Grand Prix mode on at least difficulty four– the difficulty levels range from one to seven– before you can enter into online ranked matches. The idea isn’t new, plenty of games that contain competitive modes force you to achieve a certain goal before allowing you in. For instance, Overwatch forces you to reach a player level of 25 before you are allowed to compete in ranked. The mindset behind that– most likely– being that the amount of time and matches played during the grind will– at the very least– build a strong enough foundation for the player to compete effectively and not skew the competitive community. What the Overwatch example shows is that your skills don’t have to actually improve because if you just continue to play you will eventually reach the required level. While in ARMS, forcing you to beat a set difficulty requires you to learn the game on a more intimate level because you can’t advance without doing so.
When I first wanted to enter ranked and was greeted with the pop-up window explaining how to gain access, my first thought was, “Oh, this will be a piece of cake, I’ll just set it to the hardest difficulty and breeze right on through.” I was so horribly, horribly wrong. When you start the game up, ARMS does a great job teaching you the basic mechanics, allowing you to play comfortably online in the unranked modes, duke it out with your friends, and should give you the ability to master the base difficulty of Grand Prix no problem. Then when you think you are ready for ranked, the game forces you to learn the intricacies and nuances of the fighting mechanics.
It’s a smart way for Nintendo to allow the competitive community to thrive without too many players who haven’t fully grasped the mechanics flood the servers. Not to mention, it may keep players out of ranked who would get frustrated with the inability to win online and prevent them from giving up on ARMS too soon. It also shows that Nintendo is somewhat committed to providing the stage for true competitive play to emerge in some of their titles.
Beyond that, it could be argued that the game has a small roster of fighters compared to some of it’s peers in the genre, but Nintendo has already committed to the Splatoon model of drip-feeding us free updates throughout the game’s lifespan. It’s important to note that these updates– which will include fighters, arenas, and modes– will be free.
Some of the more surprising aspects that I found myself enjoying were that the non-traditional modes such as Hoops, V-Ball, and Skillshot were a refreshingly fun break from the standard fighting modes. But not only that, they were a welcome addition that didn’t just feel like filler to pad the game. I’m hoping in conjunction with the new fighters and arenas that come over time we see more creative modes that take advantage of ARMS unique game mechanics.
Of the off-shoot modes, I enjoyed dunking my foes in Hoops the most. Playing against another fighter on the same skill level, allowed the more advanced techniques to shine through, like countering your opponents grabs so you can in-turn grab them and take them on a ride to New DUNK City– I’m sorry. Basically, in Hoops your object is to grab your opponent in order to shoot them or slam them into the net. It really is satisfying sending your enemy soaring and hearing the swish of the net.
Typical in most games, when you enter Ranked the game pairs you up with a similarly ranked opponent in a standard 1v1 with no items appearing on the stage. You must use your wit and skill to survive and climb the ranks. Outside of that though, you have an option of creating a private room to play with friends or joining randoms. If you choose the latter, you are dropped into a room where the combatants and modes keep rotating in a lobby that dances around and showcases who is playing who and in what mode. Though the Party Match lobby is enjoyable, it cannot hide one of the biggest problems with this game– and continues to plague all of Nintendo’s online orientated games.
Nintendo still forces its players to jump through hoops in order to play with people they know. Though you can play online with friends one of two ways here, it functions the same way as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. You can play in a private match with your friends, or go to your friend list and join their match. In Mario Kart, sometimes you have to continue to wait until someone finally drops out of the match so you can fill in their spot, but at least once you are in you can continue to play the game as you would if you were on the couch next to your buddy. In ARMS, the lobby still functions the same as if your friend wasn’t there– meaning that you aren’t always in the same match, nor are you always on the same team in 2v2 scenarios. When Mike and I played, we got put in the same match maybe twice, and only one of those times did we get to play on the same team.
It’s not unbearable, but it’s a bad sign if Nintendo cannot get this together in the coming months– especially with Splatoon 2 dropping in July. Nintendo needs to create an online ecosystem complete with more ease of use, party systems, and ways to chat. We know some of these things are going to be addressed soon when Nintendo rolls out their online service and mobile app, but with the success the Switch is having they need to resolve this or else face losing their current momentum.
I am curious to see how the fighting game community reacts towards this game a year from now and if we will see it at EVO 2018. If they rally behind it and Nintendo continues to strengthen their eSports presence and support, we could see the Big N supporting this title throughout the Switch’s life-span.
ARMS is a game that functions well as a party game in the right crowd and offers enough depth to satisfy the hardcore fighters out there. The game is a welcome addition to the Switch’s ever-expanding library of exclusive titles. I would recommend this to someone who is a fan of fighting games and isn’t afraid to experiment outside of a traditional 2D side-scrolling fighter.