Ever since ARMS debuted with a trailer showing a grown man punching a schoolgirl in the face, it’s clear Nintendo were thinking outside of the box with this one. And true to form, ARMS is a distinctly unique take on the fighting game genre. But for all of its originality, the game suffers from a severe case of identity crisis.
On the surface, ARMS shows its hand from the off – a one-on-one fighter where your characters punch each other using their elasticated upper limbs. That is the game’s USP and for the most part it sticks to it.
ARMS also trumpets the return of motion controls (other control schemes are available); a decade since the Wii, Nintendo still seem intent on proving the worth of flailing at the television. Granted, the Joy-Cons do a functional job, but they still feel far too imprecise because ARMS isn’t a fast and frantic beat-em-up; your actions have to be more considered because of the length of time it takes for a punch to connect. Whilst your glove is heading towards its target, that leaves you wide open for a counter-attack. Your punches can also be angled and charged, but take too long and your opponent can grab you and slam you into the ground.
However, somewhere into the development cycle, it’s as if Nintendo lost confidence in the concept and threw in some additional modes – therefore you’ll suddenly go from fighting to battling your opponent at volleyball, which is a jarring transition. If Nintendo wanted to jump on the eSports bandwagon, there must have been better ways of doing it. The volleyball mode could be great, but when compared to Rocket League or Disc Jam, it’s painfully slow and marred by a camera that was clearly not designed for such purpose.
Different gloves can be unlocked by acquiring skill points and playing a mini-game to earn new equipment. Unlike Mario Kart 8, which practically throws unlocks at you after every cup, the points you earn in ARMS are stingy (2-3 per match) and it will take you a long time to earn enough to get a decent haul.
The soundtrack is of the same ilk as Splatoon, with upbeat jingles and quirky mumbles from the characters – the latter in particular feels a little lazy considering the roster of fighters and how much some distinctive voice acting could add to their design.
Graphically the characters are brilliantly animated, although perhaps at the expense of the backgrounds. Look closely and there’s not much depth to the stage surroundings. For example, the blurb of the Ninja College promises that all of the students are on the street watching the fight – the reality is a handful of generic students at the boundaries (perhaps class numbers were down this year).
ARMS feels at the moment somewhat half-baked. It has potential and with the promise of DLC to come, one can only hope Nintendo will refine it into something great. But at the moment that might just be a stretch too far.