ARMS Review: Stretch Armstrong

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ARMS provides a unique fighter for the Nintendo Switch that while a fun multi-player experience, is a little lacking in deeper single-player offerings that many other modern fighters offer these days.

Developer: Nintendo EPD
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: June 16th, 2017

Fighters have to do something truly different these days to not be seen as just another Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat wannabe. Of course, Nintendo has Smash Bros., the definitive mascot brawler, but with its new, hot system, the Nintendo Switch, they have decided to test out a wildly different IP in ARMS.

ARMS is definitely unique in that it’s a fully 3D fighter that uses motion controls (though those are optional, more on that later), comes with a colorful and very diverse cast of characters, and introduces a way of fighting that it’s fair to say has never been done before.

As the name implies, your weapons of choice in ARMS are, well, your arms. But these are very special appendages that can stretch vast distances and can be enhanced if you can attach different gloves of varying weight, speed and elemental effects. All the fighters have unique abilities as well, to give them their own special edge in battle. You have a mummy who can heal while blocking, a robot cop with a robot dog assistant that attacks on his own, a ninja who can teleport, and so on.

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Of course, all this means nothing if all these ideas don’t gel together well enough to make a competent and balanced fighter that controls well and manages to have some depth while not being too intimidating for more casual people to play. It’s actually a pretty tall order, but one every good fighting game must meet. I feel in terms of offering casual gameplay with deeper strategies to master, ARMS meets those goals. The fighters look and feel varied enough with unique abilities and different gloves for a variety of strategies, and more are available to unlock as you play. This is in addition to unique stages that have a variety of elements and power-ups that can help turn the tide. At its most fun, ARMS reminds me very much of the classic Dreamcast fighting series Powerstone, which could get very chaotic and might have been a little unbalanced, but was always a lot of fun.

Since you have to build up in-game currency to even play [1 v 100 mode], why can’t I just use that currency to buy the gloves I want?

ARMS is also a super colorful game that looks and moves great. Most of the ten fighters you have to choose from look very distinct and animate incredibly well. There are also a pretty vast variety of arenas that all have a different look and feel to them, and most stages have some sort of gimmick that can play into the battle like rising blocks or springboards you can bounce of off, or spinning tops that give you the high ground if you get on them.

But where I feel ARMS arguably falters the worst is in its controls. Nintendo has done almost all promotion around the motion controls for ARMS to the extent that you might be surprised to learn you don’t need to use them at all. Granted, this will totally be a matter of preference, but while I found each mode of control adequate, none seemed clearly the superior version. Motion controls let you curve your punches with far more accuracy, which can be super important in fights, but blocking and moving is a little less reliable. Plus, let’s face it, motion controls in a fighter can be exhausting.

Standard Switch controls or the Pro Controller makes moving easier, but blocking is certainly awkward with having to press in the right analog stick, and it’s much harder to accurately curve your strikes. Neither of these things makes the game unplayable, but neither option works quite as well as it should.

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What is a fighting game without a wide variety of modes to keep you and your friends busy? ARMS has us pretty well covered here, with several unique modes and online play to boot. The single-player modes are honestly kind of limited and fairly shallow. There’s “Grand Prix” mode, in which you work your way up to a final boss fight through the other characters. It does throw in a little variety with not all the matches being straight up fights, but the endings for the characters are all the same and there’s no story. Granted, maybe we shouldn’t expect story, but Nintendo is known for liking to get a little crazy with their lore for games that don’t necessarily need it (just look at Splatoon) and when other fighting games like Injustice 2 have an amazing story mode, the lack of one stands out more.

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The only other single-player offerings are “1 vs. 100” where you see if you can beat 100 enemies that only take a hit to destroy but get harder as the battle continues and a target smashing game where you earn new gloves for your characters. The problem here is that these aren’t new gloves, just other gloves that were previously unique to specific fighters. This does allow for a little more strategy, but I also feel it makes each fighter just a little less distinct. It also leads to a major issue I have with this set-up: since you have to build up in-game currency to even play this mode, why can’t I just use that currency to buy the gloves I want?

The other modes bring more variety than most of your average fighting games with varying levels of success. I wasn’t a huge fan of “Skillshot,” where you try to hit both targets and your opponent, but both “V-Ball,” which is volleyball with an exploding ball, and “Hoops,” which is basketball but you throw your opponent through the basket, can be a lot of fun. This is in addition to “Team Fight,” which is what it sounds like, but teammates are tethered together.

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In my experience, the online worked smoothly regardless of how many people were playing at once. This includes various sessions of the “Global Testpunch” as well as playing online with other people who were either members of the Nintendo Treehouse or also had the game for review. Online play randomly throws you into various match types: it could be one-on-one, a three-way battle, or one of the various game modes. The variety helps keep things fresh, and if you aren’t particularly good at one mode, it gives you an incentive to stick around and see if you hit a mode you perform better in. There are “Party” and “Ranked” modes (ranked being straight one-on-one battles) as you would expect from just about any fighter, and playing locally allows you to select your match type.

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7.5. ARMS is not going to be for everybody, but it tries to present something different in the fighting genre much like Splatoon did for shooters. And I feel like it mostly succeeds. Both the regular and motion controls mostly work well, there’s a lot of strategy and customization involved, and it offers a good variety of multiplayer modes to keep things fresh, even if it’s lacking in single player options. Not a must-buy, but a solid purchase if you are looking for a party game beyond Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to play with other people.. Nintendo. . ARMS

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.