ARMS Review: Pulling its punches


ARMS has a considerable amount of content and depth, but does its best to hide that from players.

Like Splatoon at launch before it, you’d be forgiven if you thought ARMS was quite bare bones. After entering a short tutorial, you’re taught the game’s basics: using a Joy-Con in each hand, you tilt them both to move left or right, hit L or R to dash or jump and punch the air to throw an in-game spring-loaded arm. Moreover, you can tilt the Joy-Cons toward one another to guard and throw both arms at an opponent at once to grab them. Finally, when you’ve charged up a super meter, you can hit both L and R at the same time to enter rush mode, throwing myriad punches at your foe with devastating damage.

That’s all you’re told before being thrown at a main menu that offers local and online bouts.

If you’re clever – or have watched YouTube videos discussing ARMS’ mechanics and roster – you might think there’s more to learn. There is; a wealth of content is nested at the bottom of the main menu, innocuously, under Help. It’s here where you can look at 100+ screenshots, each with its own bit of flavour text, to learn that a single punch can break a grab, or that a grab is useful when an opponent is blocking. You’ll learn that you can charge punches by holding L or R on the corresponding Joy-Con, and that each character offers more than simple cosmetic differences.

Spring Man, as a prime example, will have unlimited charged punches when his health drops under 25%. He also leaves behind a shockwave when dashing, which can be used to repel attacks. Ribbon Girl can—

Hell, why am I explaining this? Watch this YouTube video instead.

All caught up? Good. How cool is Biff, the game’s announcer, in the video above? Sadly, he’s nothing like this in-game, reduced to another squeaky Nintendo mascot. The charismatic man you hear above is gone, buried under own flavour text of his own and voiced by simple bleeps and bloops. To feature such a unique character in marketing and then leave him out of the actual finished product is downright ridiculous.

There’s a training option, found under Versus, that would lead you to believe you’d be shown the unique moves each character can pull off. It does not, instead giving you a chance to practice techniques you’ve either read in Help or picked up from a YouTube video. From a company that’s heavy on Super Guides and easing a player into a game, ARMS is the complete opposite: wholly unfriendly.

This general attitude of half-assedness is found in other areas of the game. Get Arms, a section where you can purchase the opportunity to obtain extra arm types, says you can gather coins through Grand Prix (a 10-game tournament) and online Party Matches. While this is true, you can also grab coins from playing games in Versus, trying out each of ARMS game types. It’s almost as if the game goes out of its way to trip you up.

ARMS has five main game types: boxing, volleyball, basketball, skill shot and 1-on-100. Basketball and skill shot are the best of the bunch, with the former a fun little exercise in grabbing your opponent and dunking him or her; the latter will test your punch-twisting abilities as you set out to clobber assorted targets. Traditional boxing – or as traditional as ARMS allows, really – is next best, though 1-on-100 isn’t far off. Both can be quite technical, depending on the fighters involved or the level of difficulty you select. That said, there’s equal opportunity for things to become a flail-a-thon at any given moment. Volleyball seems good in practice but always ended with people throwing their arms at the screen without any rhyme or reason, trying to keep the ball aloft.

We didn’t get to try online play – unless you count the ARMS Testpunches held over the last few weekends – but we did get in some local multiplayer. We had the usual troubles with Bluetooth connectivity on the Joy-Cons (though admittedly, we haven’t taken our launch controllers in to be fixed or replaced), but things worked a bit easier when one player switched (click!) to a Pro controller. Less interference that way, we’d imagine.

As with most Switch games, it’s best to ditch the Joy-Cons altogether and go with the Pro controller; that alone makes ARMS feel like a proper successor to Punch-Out!. Ditching motion controls – for the most part, as you can tilt the Pro controller to curve punches – lets you free yourself from flailing and properly concentrate on technique. Doing so lets your dance about the ring, floating like a butterfly and stinging like a cobra-themed bee.

ARMS has potential, but Nintendo’s done its best to bury it under neon colours and a catchy theme tune. Priced at $80 AUD, it’s certainly a mixed bag — neither a wholly casual title or a skill-based one. ARMS is a clever idea with polished core mechanics that ends up feeling underdeveloped and lacking in identity. Hopefully, Nintendo will add in some additional content – or, at the very least, highlight some of its hidden charms – down the line.

6.5 out of 10

The good

  • A lot of depth, hidden under the surface.
  • The closest you’ll get to a new Punch-Out!, using the Pro controller.

The bad

  • So much information hidden under Help. Hardly any proper tutorials.
  • The unique charm from marketing has been stripped from Biff the announcer.

ARMS was reviewed using a promotional code on Nintendo Switch, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.