If you had told me a year ago that Nintendo would have made motion controls fashionable again with the Switch, I would have laughed. If you had gone on to say it would be doing so with a fighting game, I would have laughed even harder. Yet here we are in 2017 with ARMS, a fighter with character, depth, and potential. Even more shocking, it is better with motion controls.
ARMS is set in a world where some people just happened to wake up with extendable arms. There are ten fighters to choose from, each with three ARMS weapons immediately available and one unique ability. Players send them through the Grand Prix, where they face off against 10 opponents to become the champ. Though, those in search of a short experience or one where other people are involved can partake in Versus fights, Party Matches, or Ranked Matches.
Every control scheme in ARMS shines. While you can play with more standard setups that involve using both Joy-Cons or a Pro Controller in a more conventional manner, the best way to play is with motion controls. One Joy-Con is held in each hand and you “punch” to punch with respective arms, grab by shoving both Joy-Cons forward, block by holding them back, and pressing triggers to dash, jump, and perform a rush attack. They aren’t complicated or exhausting to use, meaning you can play the “right” way for an hour or more without getting tired out. But then, falling back to more traditional schemes are just as comfortable.
At a glance, ARMS might resemble Punch-Out!!, another classic series. While it does offer the same perspective and characters who are getting into fist fights, everything else is different. To start, each character has a special ability. Ribbon Girl can double jump. Twintelle is able to slow down opponents’ punches when she’s charging. Master Mummy restores his health when he’s guarding. Byte can jump off of Barq for a higher jump or allow the dog to roam around randomly and punch enemies. The person you pick as your fighter is important, as you can build strategies around their special abilities.
All of the ARMS each character can equip have a huge impact on the fight. Each one has its own capabilities. Chilla looks like a standard fist in a boxing glove and offers a quick attack. When it is charged, it freezes the opponent and slows their movements. Megawatt is a huge, heavy punch that is slow, good for blocking other punches, and can temporarily paralyze an enemy when charged. Guardian is a slow moving shield that blocks any arms, and eventually can be pressed again when extended to zero in on an enemy and attack. Your equipment determines your attack speed, whether you can block attacks successfully, and what kind of combos you can pull off.
While much of ARMS depth does come from picking the character and loadout that is best for you, the way matches are actually set up also offer an opportunity to go beyond what is expected and excel. In a standard 1v1 match, which is the basis for the Grand Prix and Ranked Match, you need to be aware of your opponents’ capabilities and stage gimmicks. ARMS is a thinking person’s fighting game. You have to watch people’s attacks and know where to aim so your punches aren’t blocked, know when it is or isn’t safe to attempt a grab, be aware of the right time to initiate a Rush with a flurry of attacks, and be ready to defend and build up a charge. Frantically flailing won’t get you anywhere in ARMS.
You also have to know when to use things like the Spring Stadium’s trampolines, DNA Lab’s tubes, and Snake Park’s gliders to your advantage. If you don’t pay attention, you’re in trouble. It even comes down to aiming, since you can temporarily take out one or both of a foe’s ARMS by focusing on that part of their body, which then slows them down and incapacitates them, making it easier to grab or rush attack them.