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

Smokey Blunts
Guest
Smokey Blunts

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
Guest
George

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

Miles Saintborough
Member

Yes you are the only one.

That Damn Rat
Guest
That Damn Rat

Eh looks pretty garish to me.

GzG92
Guest
GzG92

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
Guest
George

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

Sam
Guest
Sam

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.

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.

Lloyd Arold
Member

Nintendo is the embodiment of why “innovation” for the sake of it is a bad thing.

RT
Member

That it is.

Sam
Guest
Sam

Mm.
Innovation for the sake of innovations is by definition not innovative.

gremlech
Guest
gremlech

not really innovation for the sake of innovation, its more or less a game thats trying to do good on something nintendo has been working on for years.

Griff -
Member

Miles Saintborough
Member

Jim didn’t review this.

Bright Spark
Member
Bright Spark
Oh no! You only think that it’s “Alright”! Clearly that means that you are in cahoots with Sony – which also explains the Mario + Rabbids leak – and of course Jim, who OBVIOUSLY hates Nintendo because he doesn’t think that they are perfect in every way and has some bad things to say about their business practices at times! Clearly that is the logical explaination, and has nothing to do with the flaws and/or shortcomings you may have mentioned within the review – which, of course, I hadn’t read, I just jumped straight down to the comments, took a… Read more »
Jun Kurosu
Member

Beautiful shitposting

A Fistfull of Arms
Guest
A Fistfull of Arms

Barely even mentioned how the Xbox Kinect works with it… how am I supposed to take a review seriously if they can’t even talk about all the play styles. SMH

Chris
Member

I think it’s so unfair that she docked points from it just for not being on the PS4.

skulloking
Member

Laura: There’s such a good game in there.
Comments: I KNEW IT’D BE SHIT

mjc0961
Guest
mjc0961

Did you not read the review? She said there’s a good game in there but (to paraphrase) it’s buried underneath Nintendo being Nintendo.

Akuma Kris
Guest
Akuma Kris

This is one of those games I’d really like to try but doesn’t look like it’ll hold enough lasting appeal to justify me buying it (especially as I don’t actually own a Switch yet).

I’ll just keep my eye on it for now.

Zebetite
Guest
Zebetite

Fair points. At least this game is taking the Splatoon approach to DLC (which turned into a beast of a game), so hopefully within a year most of these concerns could be addressed.

Killsteal_Wolf
Guest
Killsteal_Wolf
My problem with this is that they have not laid out a clear roadmap for how many characters they are adding into the game. It’s fair to say “We are adding stuff”, but the game launches with so little content to begin with (only 10 characters with 30 arms, which feels more like 15-17 Arms since a number of them are this other arm but it shoots ice instead of fire). When all the other competitors are releasing with 30 or so characters out of the gate. Is ARMS really going to have 20 free additional characters? I think anywhere… Read more »
mjc0961
Guest
mjc0961

Taking the Splatoon approach to DLC, which is actually releasing an unfinished game and patching in the rest of the content later, is not something any game should ever be praised for.

Zebetite
Guest
Zebetite

You must have gripes about most of the industry these days then, considering you just described innumerable games.

LKD420noscopeit
Guest
LKD420noscopeit

have you tried playing it with another person locally its online mode? because let me tell you something brother, its probably the best way to experience the game, its so refreshing to actually have somebody near you when playing a game online in fact any game that is on the switch gets an immediate boost when played with somebody next to you, it evokes the past memories of when games were more than just games, they were bonding devices, ah, the good old days.

Chris
Member

Well it’s good this game offers that, because there are literally no other one on one fighting games that offer local multiplayer. And definitely not ones with better, less gimmick based controls. And /definitely/ not any that have come out in the last month or so that Laura has reviewed on this site as well… Better rush out and buy the mediocre tech demo to have that nostalgic experience.

Rifleavenger Sashiro
Member

So, I should buy Injustice 2, Tekken 7, or Guilty Gear Xrd REV2?

BAH!
Member
BAH!

Question: is the non-motion shceme intended for a single joycon for local competitive play? Because that’s what it sounds like.

Regardless, that is some REALLY bad design to not use, say, the right stick for curving punches- something that would make complete sense. But then, Nintendo has proven themselves more than willing to ignore sensible design choices if there’s a frustrating, ass-backwards alternative.

JDINCINERATOR
Guest
JDINCINERATOR

How many of you are judging ARMS based solely off this review?

BAH!
Member
BAH!

Let me guess, you’re about to tell us to buy the game and decide for ourselves, completely missing the point of reading reviews in the first place.

But to answer your question, I am basing my choice *significantly* off this review. The rest is coming from the facts that 1) I’m not much into fighters, and 2) I’m sick and fucking tired of Nintendo’s absolutely moronic design choices.

EDIT – Whoops, look like I nailed it!

vexer
Guest
vexer

Me too, all this motion control shit is getting really fucking tiresome at this point.

drownedsummer
Guest
drownedsummer

No, I judged it off what I saw of the game and how it has no appeal to me at all.

Bitt_Player
Guest
Bitt_Player

I was able to get in on the Global Test Punch they did. I had a bad time, due to the control issues discussed in the review.

Saftschnitzel
Member

Should have played with the pro controller like me then. It worked like a charm, almost didn’t give the game a second chance because I couldn’t play well with the motion controls after half an hour. After three testpunch rounds with the Pro Controller it was clear that I had to pre order that game though 🙂

Bitt_Player
Guest
Bitt_Player

I ain’t gonna blow $70 on a controller that’ll somehow not be like my Joy-Cons attached to the Grip. Not to play one game.

Theo Hamilton (linky00)
Member

God, I really hope they patch either one of the controls. How about a hybrid, button controls for movement and throwing punches, but tilt joycons separately for curved punches?

A Fistfull of Arms
Guest
A Fistfull of Arms

That would work really well. They can’t do that.

Buttons for dash and block, sticks for running and jumping and dodging but motion for punching. It sounds so natural. Whoops, leave it on the cutting room floor.

Keanen
Guest
Keanen
I never personally had issues with the motion controls, and found them to be the superior control scheme in terms of controlability. I never encountered inaccuracy in my experience. Since I’ve only played the Testpunch, my experience of the game is of course limited but I enjoyed most gamemodes they showed off, excluding the dreadful Volleyball mode. Either way, it’s a shame to hear that the singleplayer is bland and unlocks are done in such a bizarre Nintendo way. I’ll probably get the game anyway judging by the fun I had from the Testpunch, but this review has definitely been… Read more »
eve
Guest
eve

They really didn’t learn their lesson from the problem with custom moves in smash 4.

KassFireborn
Member

I admire Laura’s dedication to getting the booty shot in there. (This is not sarcasm.)

Sperium3000
Member

I would lose faith in her if she neglected that perfect, 90º posterior.

Nobodyimportant
Guest
Nobodyimportant

Wait…is there any sort of story to thse characters to follow? i mean, i don’t exactly own a Switch but i keep on hearing (and in this case reading) about the “totally cool unique characters”, like, is there some sort of “story mode” where you explore a character’s story and personallity as you progress or anything? or everything is on the “side material”?

Nick Henry
Member
I’m so glad it wasn’t just me who had this experience with the game. I really thought I was missing something with the reviews going up for it. I persona can’t get past the fact that this is pretty much the same mechanic as Wii boxing with a few bells and whistles on it. It looks better and allows you to do more but it plays messier and honestly I didn’t have a fun time with it. And when I think of it as Wii boxing I come back to the thought that this game definitely isn’t worth the £45-£50… Read more »
Griff -
Member

I thought I was crazy for thinking this, but it’s true, Wii Boxing is legitimately better in how it controls, haha.

Which is weird because MotionPlus wasn’t even a thing yet.

Some Guy
Guest
Some Guy

Man. I admit that motion controls will never be as responsive as traditional controller inputs, but y’all are definitely crazy if you have actually played both Arms and Wii Boxing and somehow, SOMEHOW came to the conclusion that Wii Boxing controlled better.

Sean Phillips
Guest
Sean Phillips

Can you not get the currency from online play as well? Idk if that would be enough to change the overall tenor of the review (plenty of other complaints here) but surely that would negate or ameliorate the grinding-on-repetitive-singleplayer-mode issue. I mean, I guess that can be repetitive too, but if the core game-mode is too repetitive that’s a whole other, much bigger problem.

Rifleavenger Sashiro
Member

I think the even bigger issue is the utterly random way in which you unlock alternate arms.

Steven White
Member

I knew this day would come. From the moment their Switch presentation brought up the “see how Wii our controllers are” I knew we’d get another StarFox Zero. Not a bad game by design, but half of it’s woes are how you actually play the damn thing. Before that show I was super excited that motion controls were finally going away, but Nintendo still holds a torch for them because Nintendo.

JDINCINERATOR
Guest
JDINCINERATOR

Why don’t you play ARMS before slamming it.

locuas “Locuas”
Guest
locuas “Locuas”

Nah, we are good.

Rifleavenger Sashiro
Member

I feel no need to waste my money on behalf of your search for validation.

I will be buying Guilty Gear REV2 instead, a fighting game far more worth my money.

mjc0961
Guest
mjc0961

“Why don’t you spend $60 on this product a review just told you has problems with the controls before saying you aren’t going to buy it because of the problems with the controls?”

Zebetite
Guest
Zebetite

…Except the game is totally playable as is, gripes aside. It’s not a mess on the level of Zero. And Nintendo may well fix some of these problems down the line. It’s a bit early and pessimistic to be throwing it in the same bin already.

Paul Foster
Guest
Paul Foster

Fair review imo… butthurt Nintendrones will be here in force soon though, lol.

Miles Saintborough
Member

They don’t care. It’s not a Zelda game.

TransComics
Member

Arms always looked pretty bad to me and this review pretty much echos everything I was thinking about when seeing the gameplay. I have a feeling Nintendo hard cores will “love” this game until a month from now when they all play splatoon 2 and forget this exists. The game is only bound to get worse as less people play online and times to get into the only meat of the game increase.

vexer
Guest
vexer

Sounds like Nintendo should just stick to Smash as far as fighting games go.

Viking Mana
Guest
Viking Mana

I don’t know that that’s true. I think they could probably expand their horizon if they want to. This just always seemed more like a tech-demo sort of thing. In my opinion anyway.

Hermeneinbundilde
Guest
Hermeneinbundilde

Hmmm, but when you’re using motion controls, then you also can’t move and punch, because moving requires you to tilt both joycons, right?

Anyways, maybe it’s because I’ve enjoyed both testfires so much, but I can’t wait to play more. I had no problem with controls, but I guess it’s always risky with motion – some people will be ok with it, some will struggle, some will be pulling great moves all the time.

mjc0961
Guest
mjc0961

“I, a person who has never played the game, will now argue about the controls with a person who has played the game. I must do this to defend my favorite multi-million dollar corporation and its products.”

???
Guest
???

Soo, playing the game’s demo which had most of its playable fighters and all controller options usable doesn’t count as “playing the game”?