Arms Review – Arm’s Length

Arms is a really strange game to try and write about because its disparate parts vary so wildly in quality. It has the core of an incredibly solid and accessible 3D fighting game, but is surrounded by missed opportunities and poorly executed aspects.

There’s an amazing game inside Arms, found underneath countless confusing design decisions.

Developer: Nintendo EPD
Publisher: Nintendo
Format: Nintendo Switch
Released: June 16, 2017
Copy provided by publisher to freelancer

It’s tough to imagine how Arms ended up the way it did.

At its core, Arms is a measured and deliberate fighting game, mechanically at odds with the silly over the top way it’s presented. Players are encouraged to keep their distance, not mash attacks, and carefully watch in order to react to one of three movement styles the opponent can choose from, reacting to visual cues on behalf of the enemy.

If someone punches, you block their punch.If someone blocks, you grab them and throw them to the floor. If someone tries to grab you, you punch them before the grab lands. At its core, that’s Arms.

There’s some additional complexity layered on top of this core loop, from character specific special abilities and customisable arms to dashes and the ability to curve punches, but no matter which character you use or how they are specced, you’ll ultimately be playing “rock paper scissors” between punches, blocks and grabs.

By being so mechanically simple, Arms has the foundations of a really solid competitive fighting game. The triangle of weaknesses and strengths the game is built on is easy enough to understand that it’s welcoming to new players and has the potential to see a strong playerbase quickly build, with growth room in terms of character build and skill at reading your opponent.

It’s all about watching for a set of tells that are consistent across characters, understanding those tells, and knowing how to counter the moves they signify – in theory this is a great way for any fighting game to be at launch.

The problem holding back Arms is its set of two control schemes, both of which are considerably flawed.

I’ll start with Arms‘ motion setup, because it feels pretty clear it was the intended way the developers wanted people playing the game.

Simply put, Arms‘ motion controls are too finicky and not responsive enough for serious competitive play. Actions have to be specific and precise to register correctly, but without a physical or visual marker to judge your own movements against, moves fail to execute properly often enough to be a problem.

It’s an intuitive enough control scheme in theory, and it’s the control scheme that most comfortably allows pulling off the full roster of available moves, but it sacrifices the accuracy needed for competitive play.

If Motion Controls are out of the question for competitive play, what about the more standard button controls? Well, controller players end up at a distinct disadvantage to motion players when it comes to that core “rock paper scissors” mechanic set.

When controlling Arms via traditional controller methods, curling punches and moving are both mapped to the same analogue stick, meaning that players physically cannot do both actions at once.

What this means in practice is that while motion players can throw a curved punch while continuing to move, controller players have to stop moving before throwing the punch. This creates a fairly clear tell that a punch may be incoming, and opens up for the opponent to block.

While over time we may see techniques grow out of this, players pausing as if they planned to throw a curved punch but instead waiting for the pre-emptive block from their opponent and launching an unexpected throw, the fact that throwing a curved punch while continuing to move is a part of motion players toolsets but not controller players is a problem for matched up competitive play.

You never want a competitive fighting game to give some players moves that others do not possess based on their willingness to use an objectively less accurate control setup.

Oh, and the controller setup is a bit weird and fiddly regardless.

Outside of control scheme, probably the biggest choice for players in Arms is which character to use and which arms to equip them with. Arms’ roster of ten playable fighters are all highly memorable and unique in terms of their visual designs, but it did often feel like the game failed to capitalise on the potential narrative hooks such a diverse roster could have fostered.

Each character has a pair of special abilities which are primarily what you’ll be picking them based on, from excessive numbers of mid air jumps to the ability to slightly slow down incoming attacks when blocking and get more time to react to them, each character has little quirks that will either boost up your strengths as a player, or help to cover up weaknesses in your play style.

These bonus abilities are easy to understand, unique enough to distinguish each fighter mechanically, and require such minimal input to pull off that players are able to reliably make use of them without needing to learn complex combos. It makes the challenge selection of the right power for you as a player rather than execution ability on that unique skill, which is refreshing.

There are also a number of stages themed around the character cast, most of which feature one form of stage gimmick or another. It’s unfortunate there doesn’t seem to be a single stage that’s equal footing for all fighters, so stage selection is likely to be a hotly contested part of competitive play.

Each character initially has three different arms available to equip, which can be mix and matched if desired to give additional options during combat. Some arms are faster than others, some hit harder, and some have special abilities or movement patterns connected to their use.

While in theory each character’s three arms are unique initially, many differing arms are ultimately just thematic reskins designed to fit a new character. Many arms unlocked will function identically, simply recolouring the weapon or changing the colour of an elemental swirl around it. The wide selection of arms in the game isn’t actually as daunting to learn and memorise as it initially seems due to this mechanical overlap.

One problem however comes from the way additional arms are unlocked. In theory, any character can unlock any other character’s arm to make use of in competitive play. In order to unlock these additional arms for a given character, you’re going to have a long and stressful road ahead of you.

Let’s say for example you decide that you wanted to play Ninjara for his ability to dash out of a block, but you wanted to equip him with Min Min’s Dragon arm in order to follow the block dash with an unexpected large charge attack. You’re going to need to specifically unlock the Ninjara Dragon arm.

In order to unlock that arm you’ll need to play Arms’ single player modes repeatedly, over and over, seeing very little variation from one playthrough to the next. You’ll painfully, slowly earn in game currency, which is thankfully not available as a real money purchase.

This money can be spent on increased time in a stationary target destruction minigame. The prizes for that minigame are entirely random, so each slowly earned loop of this earning system more likely than not won’t reward you with the unlock you want. There is no system in place to allow purchasing a specific arm for a specific character.

Considering how pivotal arm selection can be to competitive character building, the fact that many effective combinations can only be unlocked via random luck is infuriating, as it randomises people’s ability to spec themselves the way they want for competitive play.

Also, as we touched a moment ago on Arms’ single player content, we should probably dig into how abysmally bland it is.

Single Player Grand Prix mode is the core single player mode, seeing your selected fighter compete against the other nine fighters one after another. There is incredibly little variation from character to character, which is a real shame. Arms’ cast is so eye catching, unique and memorable that not featuring a properly developed story mode or story was a big missed opportunity.

Volleyball mode feels incredibly easy and mindless, it’s really not worth bothering with.

Target practice is interesting initially to practice aiming shots, but quickly loses its appeal.

2V2 or 4 player free-for-all fights are just not enjoyable. In a game about reaction and careful observation of a single enemy – introducing additional players makes it impossible to do anything without opening yourself to attack from another player. It’s not tactical, it’s not fun, it’s a chaotic mess.

Arms is a really weird game. At its core it’s a simple, accessible fighting game with a really strong gameplay loop and room for player growth competitively, but a pair of fundamentally flawed control schemes, a lack of decent modes and a glacially slow random unlock system for items that fundamentally change how characters can function make it a really tough package to recommend.

Which is a shame, because there’s such a good game in there.

6/10
Alright

artbymh
Guest
artbymh

Jesus Laura was this your college dissertation?

Just kidding you know we love ya

PandrewAnce
Member

I used to love your reviews but there must’ve happended someting strange in your life because after your failed Zelda BOTW review (which is just the best single player game i’ve ever played) it all went down here.

So, have a good one – my last visit here.

justintimeforsupper
Admin

Goodbye! 😀

AssaSquid
Guest
AssaSquid
“willingness to use an objectively less accurate control setup” I don’t really like how people have to add “objective” or “objectively” to anything they say, as if it would make it more genuine. Because… have you seen the E3 tournament ? They were playing the game with motion control and they controlled their characters perfectly. The game was highly technical and the controls worked. After less than a day I got used to the controls and I can win against people playing with the “regular” controller”. So well, your “objectivity” is just “subjectivity” once again. Why can’t people understand that… Read more »
John
Guest
John

AssaSquid? More like AsInine.

Rick Dance
Guest
Rick Dance

Calm down.

Aya
Guest
Aya

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way here. There is one reason anyone is talking about this game; It’s the only *new* fighting game coming out for the Switch. I’ve heard nothing but silence for a Switch version of IJ2, and the same can be said of MvCI.

… Now that I think of it, where are the *new* titles from 3rd party devs for the Switch?

GuywiththeHair
Guest
GuywiththeHair

I believe dbz fighter z is coming to the switch. It’s suppose to be more competitive than casual.

PaperMartin
Guest
PaperMartin

I’d love a switch version of injustice 2, though I couldn’t care less about MVCI.
btw arms doesn’t really play like a fighting game imo.

Ben
Guest
Ben

Reviews for this game are pointless. Most people who are going to buy it have spent as much time as the reviewers and have already decided if they like it or not. Numbers are really stupid too.. Because in the end people decide to like something or not. It is not a level of like. So scores are dumb and just fuel console wars.

For the record if you have doubts about the way this game controls it is worth watching the producer play it. It is an eye opening experience.

greg
Guest
greg

Why are you here?

Gary Harris
Member

I can’t put my finger on why but I find the art style in this repulsive. My eyes don’t want to watch videos of it.

Chocolatiergames
Guest
Chocolatiergames

big fan of the review, agree with all of your opinions on this one!

Gnome de Plume
Member

But why do some of them have springs for arms? Did they lose their arms in accidents. Did they volunteer for questionable experimental arm replacement surgery? The people must know!

Nona
Guest
Nona

They just woke up with them one day.

Except Mechanica, she built a robot.

SirRandallGames
Member
I am a huge Nintendo fanboy. In fact, I thought Jim was a little unfair to Breath of the Wild but hey that is his opinion. I wasn’t one of them who wanted to lynch Jim for his review. He gave his honest opinion I just disagreed with it. That’s what makes the world go round. We will never agree on anything 100% of the time. That said I just have to say that ARMS hands down is the worst game I have ever played. The controls are bad the experience is bad just everything is so bad about this… Read more »
anon
Guest
anon

You have not played very many games in your life at all if you think this is even approaching “bad.”

Zach
Guest
Zach

I’m genuinely not trying to be rude or anything, but are you sure you where holding the controllers the right way? The motion controls aren’t perfect even if you hold them right, but if you hold them wrong the game basically will not function. You have to hold them to where the shoulder buttons you use for single joy-con mode are pointing towards the TV.

I’ve only played the Testpunch so I can’t comment on any other issues.

Captiosus
Member

Lots of the reviews, even the insanely positive ones, point out many of the same flaws. I feel like ARMS is analogous to the Switch itself: In a year, after all the updates and releases, it’ll be fantastic and worth picking up. But being an early adopter feels like more of a frustration than a joy.

InfamousDS
Guest
InfamousDS

Bear with me, this is totally on-topic:
Confirmed that “Skyrim: Special Edition Switch” is a better Zelda than Breath of the Wild. Unbreakable Master Sword and Hylian Shield, full Link costume, and actual dungeons with actual (stupidly simple) puzzles.

7.5/10, would Switch again.

PaperMartin
Guest
PaperMartin

BOTW has the full link costume actually, you just gotta unlock it

InfamousDS
Guest
InfamousDS

I couldn’t bother with all 120 shrines. I couldn’t even bother with finishing the game, because it was just a meat-grinder of wasted effort (OH LOOK ANOTHER AMBER FROM THIS CHEST I LOST 3 WEAPONS OPENING) and useless equipment (OH LOOK I LOST 3 WEAPONS FIGHTING 5 MONSTERS AND THE ONES THEY DROPPED ARE OBJECTIVELY WORSE).

OrangeyChocolate
Guest
OrangeyChocolate

7.5/10, better than Majora’s Mask. Which is wank.

Keyes
Guest
Keyes

Nintendo game gets 6/10, I figured it would have been ol’ Jim “Breath of the Wild’s a 7/10” Sterling at it again, but I never imagined the twist where it was actually Laura “I didn’t have a problem with that issue in Breath of the Wild” Kate!

Chris Schwartz-Brown
Member

Kindly fuck off.

MuddyScarecrow
Member

You realize that she’s not a blind Nintendo fangirl right? Just like Jim isn’t a blind Nintendo hater.

Keyes
Guest
Keyes

I apologize for referencing Podquisition.

MuddyScarecrow
Member

Hm. I wonder if Twintelle is Laura’s favorite character. =3

mjc0961
Guest
mjc0961

I’m not even surprised that Nintendo ruined their game by being Nintendo anymore.

Alex Brown
Member

Can you ruin something that apparently wasn’t that good to begin with?

David Ruckman
Member

I’m seeing mixed, yet mostly positive reviews from the all the sites I have been following. However, I think this one does the best job breaking apart the game’s mechanics. So good job.

The game is flawed, I learned that quite well with the demo. But the enjoyment value and presentation was enough to sell me on the game. I’ll probably get this.

Maybe if it does well enough, then future entries can work out the game’s biggest issues.

Alex Brown
Member

I think I have Nintendo figured out. They have absolutely no idea what they are doing or if what they are doing is any good or no, but they are in equal parts brilliant and moronic.

Terry Osaurusies XI
Member

Trust Laura to include a screenshot that seems to serve no purpose but to shout even in the most sexually suppressed mind “DAT ASSSSS!” From a Nintendo property no less!

A Fistfull of Arms
Guest
A Fistfull of Arms

Fanboys; Jim did a bad review! Lynch him.
Haterbois: Laura kicked the shite out of Arms and Nintendo. Terrible game.
Laura: It was fun but needs more in it, also unlocking arms needs reworking.
Everyone else: Pretty good review, looks like a nice game, might look into it a bit.
Me: Pretty good review, looks like a nice game, still getting it. I like novelty fighters.

Zack “Shadowkat” West
Member

Obligatory “Oh look Nintendo review with a lower than 9 rating” comment.

Sam Leheny
Member

So Nintendo did a Nintendo then. Flipping at the speed of sound between brilliant and incompetent.
I was worried this game would be a little insubstantial, and it sounds like it is for the asking price.

VinLAURiA
Member
What a shame, I was really hoping to get Jim’s opinion on this instead. LKD seems to be a really competitively-minded player and more used to traditional fighters, which I don’t feel was the right perspective for a more experimental and casual-oriented game such as this. I knew that she’d come in with certain expectations that ARMS wouldn’t be trying to fulfill. I much rather would’ve seen Jim review this one. Not just for a more everyman opinion in terms of the gameplay, but also because I believe the eccentricities of ARMS’ world would’ve been right up his alley in… Read more »
Helmic
Member
Helmic
I’m really glad it’s Kate doing this review. Having an actual understanding of the underlying mechanics gives way more insight than anything Jim could put out. I like Jim, but dammit Jim knows jack all about gettin’ gud and that’s just not going to result in a super useful review for games that are about gettin’ gud. Sure, it’s fine in games like Dark Souls which are enjoyable even if you’re not competitively minded, but you need an eye for balance to be able to appreciate a fighter. This is coming from someone that thinks more games like Arms should… Read more »
mjc0961
Guest
mjc0961

There is no other angle to look at for a fighting game than the competitive angle. That’s what fighting games are built for.

Jeremy O'Dwyer
Member

As someone who got into fighting games (Tekken 1) because of the Arcade mode with it’s goofy characters and stories I’d respectfully disagree.

See also the number of people still waiting for a SF5 Arcade Mode.

The lack of a good offline/arcade/story mode in a fighting game is a dealbreaker for many fighting game fans.

James Austin
Member

The reason for the recent number of Laura’s reviews is simple… there’s been a lot of fighting games out recently (Arms, Tekken 7, Injustice 2 and For Honor). Jim knows he’s awful at fighting games so he’s got a specialist reviewer for that genre. Would you prefer a review that said “It’s ok… I guess… I mean, I didn’t finish it… and I’m awful at the multiplayer… but sure, it’s fine”?

Alex Brown
Member

I’m with you that I would generally rather have a review from an experienced perspective, but I am not going to discount the value of an inexperienced perspective. Not everyone is well versed in fighting games, and especially with a game like this that is going to primarily appeal to a non-hardcore set, it would be valuable to know what a regular gaming Joe thinks about it.

MickeyGfunk
Member

i really agree. glad to hear laura’s take, but really want to hear jim’s.

MickeyGfunk
Member

wait, can we not edit comments now that disqus is gone? i wanted to add that Laura’s takes are as good as Jim’s, and i def want to hear both, i more agreed that this was one specifically nintendo game that i really wanted Jim’s take on, but i disagree that Jimquisition should be Jim-only. if Jim has contributors, he decided that, therefor it IS the Jimquisition as far as i’m concerned. and LKD is a great reviewer.

George
Member

I think Jim and co are working on a way to refine the comments section.

Chris Schwartz-Brown
Member

Well it’s a good thing the review is labeled and he said it was going to be by her before it came out. If you’d rather see less content then just don’t read it.

But that’s not the actual issue here, is it? Because when Conrad posted a review here no one came out of the woodwork to complain about that. I wonder why someone who isn’t a regular commenter suddenly appeared to complain about Laura specifically. Couldn’t be because you’re worried about the “ethics” of games journalism or something here.

Fuck right off mate. You’re not wanted here.

Zack “Shadowkat” West
Member
It’s because Jim never plays fighting games, Laura is his friend and colleague who does, and plenty of other regular readers do like seeing her opinions. If you just want to see Jim’s thoughts, you can see that before even looking into the review. Just treat it as non-content then. Personally, I would actually prefer seeing more of Laura’s reviews on here. She has very different priorities to me when it comes to games, but I always enjoy reading a well thought out opinion and if Jim isn’t covering something she may as well instead. The only thing I would… Read more »
Smokey Blunts
Member

These are my favorite types of reviews.
Really interesting to see someone get all up in that game and break it down like that.
Even with a 6 I’d have bought it if I had a switch just because it sounds so interesting, and execution holds me back in a lot of fighters. I don’t, though. A couple games aren’t enough to sell me on a console that still seems to be ironing out the kinks.

Rcc
Guest
Rcc

I’m not a fan of the Big N, but I gotta say I actually like how this game looks. A lot. I like the concept, but if it’s so flawed… What a shame!

Saftschnitzel
Member

The game really get mixed reviews, some give it a 6 others an 8, I’ve only seen one 10 so far and only one 5, so I guess it comes down to preference?

From what I’ve played during the testpunch I can’t fully agree on the part with controls not being spot on, as they are pretty much and I’ve played the game for 10 hours already.

George
Member

….Am the only one who finds this game repulsive to look at? And I’m talking design wise too. I find it gross.

mjc0961
Guest
mjc0961

It’s repulsive to look at for sure. Too many clashing colors is definitely a thing you can do, and ARMS does it in spades.

Sam Leheny
Member

I think the characters look really cool individually, but whenever you get a couple of them on screen at once, there’s just too much colour.
People will say “Oh but colour is important! Nintendo games are meant to be colourful!” but there’s more to good colour theory than just throwing all the colours at you all the time.

GzG92
Member

Sad to say it, but I’m in the same boat. And worse still, I can’t for the life of me figure out why I love the look of things like Splatoon or Overwatch so much (which this game’s art direction looks like a mash-up of) whereas I find this game’s visuals such a turn-off.

George
Member

Yeah! Exactly. I don’t what it is either? The characters just freak me out with how hideously deformed they are.

Miles Saintborough
Member

Yes you are the only one.

That Damn Rat
Guest
That Damn Rat

Eh looks pretty garish to me.

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