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Arms: Critical Consensus

Nintendo's newest IP for Switch is being welcomed with... wait for it... open arms

Building and launching a brand-new IP is never an easy thing, even for an immensely talented and well-resourced company like Nintendo. That said, Nintendo has managed once again to craft a well-received character-based IP that comes at a critical time in the lifecycle of the Switch console. While most people are wrapping up or already have finished Zelda: Breath of the Wild and are eagerly awaiting Super Mario Odyssey's arrival at Christmas, what's going to fill the portfolio in the intervening months? Some would say the answer is a variety of indie titles on eShop, while others would point to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but perhaps Nintendo has the real answer in quirky multiplayer boxing game Arms, which Polygon has already claimed "feels like Nintendo's next big thing" in its eight-out-of-ten review.

Polygon's Michael McWhertor wrote, "Arms exudes a level of creativity and mechanical sophistication that feels uniquely Nintendo. It evokes memories of classic Nintendo games like Punch-Out!!, while also feeling equally fashionable and modern - and set next to Splatoon, suggests the publisher is already charting a path toward the future. With a stylish, memorable cast of characters, inventive gameplay mechanics and smart use of the Switch hardware, Arms already feels like Nintendo's next great new franchise."

"The mode that really deserves a medal here is Party Match. This online mode transports you to a constantly shifting lobby area that's almost as fun to watch as it is to take part in"

IGN's Brendan Graeber

While the fighting game's premise relies on the simple idea of punching with springy arms, Polygon praised Nintendo's ability to create a fair amount of gameplay depth for hardcore players. Like many fighting titles before it, Arms' characters each come with different abilities to master: "Each of the game's fighters has his or her own unique skills. For example, Ninjara, whose green hair is tied in a throwing star bun, can teleport dash, while the brutish Master Mummy can regain health while he blocks. Learning how to use each fighter's skills to complement their pugilistic powers makes experimenting with the roster a lot of fun."

That said, McWhertor also complained that Nintendo failed to properly demonstrate the different characters' abilities with anything more than a "barebones tutorial." Furthermore, the single-player Grand Prix mode can be "surprisingly tough" even on a lower setting. Where Arms really shines, however, is in its multiplayer modes, which is something that IGN and Polygon agree on.

"Getting tethered to another player in team battles was exhilarating, as I worked to defend my buddy from getting grabbed and timed rush attacks with the openings my partner created," wrote Brendan Graeber in his equally praising eight-out-of-ten review.

He added, "The mode that really deserves a medal here is Party Match. This online mode transports you to a constantly shifting lobby area that's almost as fun to watch as it is to take part in. Groups of up to 20 players (10 systems with two players each) are continually shuffled about as the lobby decides who should be matched up in the circles it creates. This means players rarely go too long without being placed or paired up with other fighters, and the lobby adapts to odd numbered groups by making frantic free-for-alls, grouping up against intimidating AI bosses, or letting local players take turns."

Nintendo deliberately designed Arms to take advantage of a variety of controls, including motion controls offered by the Switch's Joy-Cons, but critics felt that motion controls were more trouble than they're worth when in the heat of a boxing match. "The motion-control setup works well enough, since instead of throwing huge punches and tiring yourself out, subtle jabs and tilts will get the job done. Tilting the controllers to move, curve punches, and block does take a bit of getting used to, and I had the tendency to unconsciously move my Joy-Cons at the wrong time," Graeber noted. "This led me to gravitate more towards the Pro Controller or playing in portable mode, using the analogue stick for precise movements and using triggers instead of buttons to throw punches."

Not everyone was as delighted with Arms as Polygon and IGN, though. Arms is sitting around 78 on Metacritic right now, and that's because there are a handful of 60s and 70s floating around too. Gamer Network's USgamer was one of the harsher reviews, as Caty McCarthy's three-out-of-five assessment commented that Arms is just a bit too "sparse." Polygon's McWhertor, too, complained about Arms' omission of a well-developed story component, but that wasn't McCarthy's main beef.

"Arms is a game I like more in theory than actually playing it," she said. "It often feels like a shell for a could-be great game. The depth is there, as is the strategy. With more arms, fighters, and stages eventually on the way this year incrementally, like Splatoon's regularly updated model, I imagine a year from now Arms will be a much different (and much better) game.

"But as of now, too little stands here. The hardcore players will find something to enjoy. Whether that's in Versus' only single-player mode 1v100 (where players battle 100 AI creatures), in the Grand Prix mode's increasingly more difficult levels, or the competitive Ranked mode (gated for players who have completed the Grand Prix on level 4). Casual players, I suspect, will fall off quickly. The bonus modes offer little enjoyment and much tedium. Multiplayer alongside real life friends, whether versus or co-op, is fun to hop into for a brief amount of time, but never for too long."

"Arms is a strong, substantial fighting game that takes a while to really hit its stride. Its barrier to entry is unlike anything else in the genre"

GameSpot's Kallie Plagge

McCarthy also took a different approach in reviewing Arms in that she actually decided to review each way to play the title. In doing so, she may have revealed one of the Nintendo Switch's flaws, which in many ways has been positioned as a selling point by Nintendo: playing with others locally while the Switch is left on its kickstand. She gave this mode only a 1.5.

"This, I quickly learned, is maybe the worst way to play Arms," she discovered. "The screen is small. Not being held directly in your hands led to me scooting backwards in my chair to an uncomfortable medium distance. I was using motion controls after all, and didn't want to land a hit on the console by accident. Yet the screen being smaller than your average tablet, and Arms needing my utmost attention in order to telegraph my opponents' moves, proved an inefficient way to play."

GameSpot takes the middle ground with a seven-out-of-ten review, similar to others, praising the game's depth of gameplay and its multiplayer action but decrying Arms' learning curve. That said, GameSpot's Kallie Plagge believes that Nintendo's approach with the genre could succeed in opening fighting games to more people than the super hardcore. "Arms is a strong, substantial fighting game that takes a while to really hit its stride. Its barrier to entry is unlike anything else in the genre," she remarked, "but it's one worth tackling in order to get at the game's fascinating take on fighting. It may not have the same skill requirement as other fighting games, but the flexibility and fast thinking it requires secures it as one that works on its own terms and opens the genre up to a wider audience."

We'll have to wait for the sales charts to arrive to see if Arms is yet another contender for Nintendo, but keep in mind that when Splatoon launched it was met with similar critical acclaim, hovering around a score of 80. That's nothing to scoff at for a brand-new IP that has nothing to do with Mario or Zelda. Splatoon 2 is coming later this summer for Switch, and it's starting to look like Arms may be the start of another successful franchise for Nintendo as well.

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James Brightman avatar
James Brightman: James Brightman has been covering the games industry since 2003 and has been an avid gamer since the days of Atari and Intellivision. He was previously EIC and co-founder of IndustryGamers and spent several years leading GameDaily Biz at AOL prior to that.
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