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Arms review: is Nintendo's new fighting game for you?

Arms review: is Nintendo's new fighting game for you?

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Nintendo’s latest venture is something of a hybrid game. Called Arms, it stars a cast of near-future fighters with Slinkies for arms, who duel in stadium-like arenas packed with adoring crowds. It’s a fighting game, yes, but it’s not exactly a traditional one like Street Fighter or Tekken. At the same time, it’s also not as immediately intuitive in the way that boxing in Wii Sports was. It straddles the line between depth and accessibility, and that can make it unclear who the target audience of Arms actually is.

So who exactly is Arms for? Here are a few potential candidates.


Families who play together

Think of Arms as the fighting game equivalent of Mario Kart: a multiplayer game that just about anyone can pick up and have fun with right away. (Arms was actually developed by the same team behind the excellent Mario Kart 8.)

It’s simple enough to pick up and play, but complex enough to keep the interest of more experienced players. Arms features both one-on-one and two-on-two competitive play, and both are a blast. Even better: since it’s on Switch, it’s very easy to get a game of Arms going wherever you may be — provided you have an extra set of Joy-Con controllers laying around.

The game’s default style of control is motion controls, which play out like a more advanced version of Wii Sports boxing. (Though you can also play with a standard controller if you want more precision.) To throw some punches, you swing your fists through the air with a Joy-Con controller in each hand.

Arms has a definite learning curve for those pursuing mastery. It takes some practice to get used to swinging your arms about while also jumping, blocking, and dodging. For me, it took a few matches before I felt comfortable leaping sideways, throwing an arm in one direction, and the other arm in another.

While it takes practice to get good at Arms, you don’t need to be especially great to hop in and have fun. This is especially true of the two-on-two mode, where a more experienced player can partner up with a newbie to even things out.

Serious fighting game fans

For all of its accessibility, part of what makes Arms so enjoyable is its freedom of movement. Take punches, for example. The distinct spring-like arms on each character don’t just let you punch an opponent who is far away, they also let you add a twist to your punch, almost as if you were tossing a curve ball. This lets you punch around obstacles in certain stages, or — if you’re particularly skilled — predict where your opponent is going and aim in that direction.

Things get even more complex when you factor in the differences between characters. Each of the 10 combatants has a distinct way of moving and special abilities that dramatically alters the way they fight. After playing for a week, I’m still not sure who I like best. Sometimes I prefer the speed and jumping ability of Ribbon Girl, other times Mechanica’s option to glide through the air on a rocket pack is what helps me win matches.


The possibilities get even deeper with the inclusion of character add-ons confusingly called arms. These are essentially different types of gloves you can equip your characters with, and they provide a range of different abilities. Some can freeze or blind your opponent, others fire laser beams. There are dozens to unlock, and figuring out the best combination of character and arms requires a good deal of practice and experimentation.

That said, for all of its depth, Arms is very different from most fighting games. It still requires fast reflexes and quick thinking, but there’s no memorization of complex combos or advanced control schemes to worry about.

Switch owners looking for something after Zelda

A few months after launch, the Switch has a fairly solid line-up of games, from smaller gems like Tumbleseed and Puyo Puyo Tetris, to ports of big hits like Minecraft and Mario Kart 8. But even still, many Switch owners are looking for something new to play — particularly those who have managed to make it all the way through Breath of the Wild.

Arms is a great game, but depending on the kind of experience you’re looking for, it might not satisfy that post-Zelda itch. That’s especially true if you’re planning to play alone. As a single-player game, Arms is lacking. The main grand prix mode is a fine place to learn new characters and unlock content, but it’s not a satisfying story mode. There’s not enough meat or variety to make it interesting over multiple playthroughs. For me, it’s served primarily as a training ground.

Of course, this is true of most competitive games. Mario Kart gets pretty boring when you play by yourself. But Arms feels especially sparse, especially when you look at the upcoming Splatoon 2, which retains a multiplayer focus but adds in what looks to be a fairly robust single-player campaign as well. Arms is great with a friend — but there’s not much to it when you’re on your own.

Arms launches on Nintendo Switch on June 16th.