‘Arms’ – Nintendo Switch Review

‘Arms’ will have you flailing, failing, laughing (and crying)

‘Arms’ brings back the fun of the Nintendo Wii, but it’s most fun if you don't take it too seriously.
‘Arms’ brings back the fun of the Nintendo Wii, but it’s most fun if you don't take it too seriously.
‘Arms’ brings back the fun of the Nintendo Wii, but it’s most fun if you don't take it too seriously.

Highs

  • Surprising depth, nuance and strategy
  • Motion controls are a lot of fun
  • Good variety of modes keeps things interesting
  • Tons of unlockable Arms will keep completionists busy

Lows

  • Controls aren’t precise enough for fast fights
  • AI takes advantage of control scheme issues
  • No remappable buttons

DT Editors' Rating

There are times when Nintendo Switch fighting game Arms recalls the simple joys of the early days of the Nintendo Wii.

Back when motion controls were a fun novelty and Wii Boxing drew crowds at parties, you could have a blast with a friend as you flailed about with your Wii controllers. Skill wasn’t always required for victory if you could waggle a controller hard enough. The game was a bit of a mess, but it was a fun mess.

Arms winds up being something akin to a lovechild of Punch-Out, Virtua Fighter, Overwatch, and a really complex game of Whack-a-Mole.

Arms is a fun mess too, for different reasons. The game takes the basics of using the Switch’s motion controls to let you throw punches at another player, then adds a whole pile of extra strategic layers. Arms’ premise is simple: Two boxers square off using springy extendable arms,  which allow you to throw crazy, bendy, long-range blows you can steer and manipulate after the punch has been thrown.

The result is a lovechild of Punch-Out, Virtua Fighter, and Overwatch, and feels like the an incredibly intricate game of Whack-a-Mole. When you’re taking on another human (or two, or three), those layers add a bit of frantic strategy. As long as you don’t take it too seriously — because you’re still flailing about with imprecise motion controls — that can be a lot of fun.

But Arms, ironically, overreaches. As you explore the game’s intricacies and more difficult challenges, the game crams in more elements than its simple, fun control scheme can reasonably support. Though it works great as a light but frantic multiplayer title, Arms isn’t the deeper fighting game it sometimes wants to be.

Springing into action

Arms is all bright, cartoony presentation and springy punching craziness. There’s little to the game beyond the basics: Weird cartoons wail on each other. With flashy colors and fun, dancy music, it’s easy to get lost in Arms’ aesthetic — it’s a fighting game party at its best, and the bright, colorful look sells that all the way through.

Arms seems fairly simplistic at first glance, but it hides a surprising amount of depth beneath its lack of bells and whistles. Each of the 10 characters that players can choose from has its own positives and negatives, a special move, and a different complement of springy boxing gloves, which also happen to be called “Arms.”

Before each round, you can switch which of three types of arms you want to use. The gloves you bring into a bout carry different properties. There are a straightforward boxing gloves, arcing boomerangs, guns that fires laser beams, and a stretchy oven mitt-like pad that slips past defenses and slap opponents upside the head. Fighters can block a punch with another punch, but heavier gloves like wrecking balls can beat back blocking blows to land a hit. All of the potential interactions add up in a hurry.

With motion controls, all of Arms becomes a desperate dance of tilts and swings to get your character to do what you want at key moments.

In addition to all the possible loadouts you can bring to each fight, each character has his or her own special moves to consider. The ninja-themed Ninjara does a short-range teleport if your punch hits his block; pop singer Ribbon Girl can stay in the air with multiple jumps; the undead Master Mummy can replenish health when his defenses are up. The character you choose affects your fighting style, too, since bigger characters are harder to stagger and knock down, but also move and fight more slowly.

A successful combination of these elements will help you win, but you also need to read your opponent. You can use a guard move to raise a shield that blocks punches, for instance, but with your shield up, you’re susceptible to a slower grab-and-throw move that delivers high damage. Every punch thrown leaves you vulnerable to something, so counter-punching, blocking, dodging, and especially aiming your punches all comes together to make for some frenzied fights.

arms nintendo switch nintendoswitch screen 7

With motion controls, Arms becomes a desperate dance of tilts and swings to get your character to do what you want at key moments. The game supports up to four players in split-screen or online play, and especially against other humans, motion controls make the game all the more ridiculous and fun.

The game also includes a couple of semi-novel sports-based modes to mix things up. There’s one in which you and an opponent stand at either end of a room, trying to punch targets that pop up between you, while harassing each other with punches at the same time. Another is a volleyball match that’s all about executing the right move at the right time to set up and spike the ball. Finally, there’s the Hoops mode, in which players each try to use Arms’ grab move — the move most easily blocked or dodged and that leaves you most vulnerable when you try it — to slam-dunk each other through a basketball hoop.

The imprecision problem

Arms is fine in more casual multiplayer settings, where the chaos of motion controls is part of the fun. The game also supports a more traditional button-based control scheme if you connect the Switch’s Joy-Cons to the controller dock or the console itself. Those work fine, too, in more casual games.

But on higher difficulties and in more competitive play, Arms gets into trouble. Regardless of whether you’re playing with the motion controls or the button-centric control scheme, the game just doesn’t feel precise enough to make good use of its many nuanced features.

While its core conceit seems geared towards causal play, Arms wants to allow for intense, high-level fighting as well, and there are a ton of features that require players to dig deeper into the game to be really good. As difficulty amps up, keeping track of things like glove weight, character special abilities, power-ups, and elemental effects you can charge up by holding specific buttons becomes essential.

The game’s motion controls are not precise enough to match the level of customization the game theoretically offers. It doesn’t always read your gestures correctly — a long-standing problem among motion-controlled games. There’s always a chance of accidentally tossing off a punch when you were trying to slide left.

Meanwhile, the button-based controls seem like they were deliberately designed to feel be as awkward as possible. When you switch to traditional controller mode, pushing in the left stick triggers your guard move, but that position just begs you to trigger it accidentally in the heat of battle, especially when trying to dodge. Punching is assigned to both A and B and the RZ and LZ triggers for some reason, which means you need to keep your thumb well away from those face buttons, since a misfired punch leaves you vulnerable. Astoundingly, Arms won’t let you reconfigure its buttons. No matter how you choose to play, you’re forced to deal with strange button combinations.

Against a human opponent, these various problems balance out. Everyone is rendered equal because of the controls, and the deluge of elements becomes more of a boon. But playing Arms against an AI opponent often feels like Dark Souls by way of Wii Sports. It’d be tempting to conclude that the easiest solution is to skip the AI-fighting tournament mode, “Grand Prix,” altogether at tougher difficulties, but Arms gates its ranked online play mode behind it.

Our Take

The goofy craziness that made Wii Boxing a blast is back in Arms, but, for better and for worse, the experience is much more involved. When played with friends, especially splitscreen, Arms is a fun, strategic and just-crazy-enough multiplayer title. That’s the best way to enjoy it, because despite an attempt at adding a lot of complexity to get players thinking strategically, Arms’ controls make it a struggle at higher difficulties.

Is there a better alternative?
On the Switch, and for people who particularly like this brand of motion-controlled mayhem, there isn’t really anything else like Arms. Fighting game fans looking won’t find the next Street Fighter or Tekken here, but it’s pretty great for a party or online with friends. However, if you’re looking for great Switch games, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a fantastic multiplayer party game, and you can find our other favorite Switch games here.

How long will it last?

Arms’ single-player offerings aren’t particularly deep. Its Grand Prix mode only lasts 10 quick fights and can be completed in an hour or so if you’re winning, although you can return to it over and over through seven difficulty modes to unlock and try a huge number of arms for each character. That said, Arms is best enjoyed with friends, and you can play it locally or online for hours on end.

Should you buy it?

No. Not unless you are just looking for a Nintendo Switch game to casually play with friends at home. Even then, Arms is no Super Smash Bros. This will not become your next fighting game obsession.

Gaming

Cops called to handle ‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’ noise end up playing the game

A group of friends were playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on the Nintendo Switch when cops arrived to respond to noise complaints from neighbors. In an unexpected twist, the officers ended up playing the game, too.
Digital Trends Live

Marshawn Lynch joins Digital Trends Live to talk charity, football

On a special episode of Digital Trends Live, Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch joined host Greg Nibler to talk about his charitable foundation, Phones for the Homeless, and the Fan Controlled Football League.
Gaming

Have a spooky dance party at an abandoned mansion with Fortnite's new challenges

The Fortnite season 7, week 2 challenges have arrived in Battle Royale. From searching for chests to dancing off at an abandoned mansion, here's how to do them and the rewards you get for completing them.
Gaming

Trash at 'Super Smash Bros. Ultimate'? Use this guide to train up and get good

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the biggest game in the entire series, and it can be overwhelming for newcomers not used to the universe-colliding fighting game. Here's what you need to know when you're starting.
Gaming

Nintendo pulls the plug on making more SNES Classic, NES Classic systems

Nintendo extended production of the NES Classic and SNES Classic into 2018, but once the current supply of consoles is gone, the company won't be making more. Instead, you'll have to use Nintendo Switch Online.
Gaming

Fancy ‘Kingdom Hearts III’ PlayStation 4 Pro launches alongside game in January

A limited edition PlayStation 4 Pro bundle for Kingdom Hearts III will launch alongside the game in January. The system included has a special design on the side, as does the controller.
Gaming

‘Fortnite’ removes the Infinity Blade weapon after player backlash

Following player backlash over the Infinity Blade weapon's inclusion in Fortnite's battle royale mode, Epic Games decided to remove the weapon from the game completely. It was not limited to a special mode.
Gaming

Want to share your Xbox One games? Here's how to do it

Sharing games on modern consoles is possible, but it takes a few steps. Here's how to start sharing games on your Xbox One console, so friends and family can easily access your library.
Gaming

Here's where Xur is and what he has for wares this week in 'Destiny 2: Forsaken'

The weekly vendor in Destiny 2: Forsaken always brings Exotic weapons and armor, some of the toughest loot to find in the game. Here's everything you need to know to track down Xur: Where he is, when he shows up, and what he's stocking.
Gaming

Want every suit in 'Marvel's Spider-Man' for PS4? Here's how to get them all

Marvel's Spider-Man features a whopping 33 different suits for Peter Parker to wear as he swings across New York City knocking out baddies. Here are all the suits and how to unlock them.
Gaming

Everything about 'Red Dead Online', including its new microtransaction store

Red Dead Online will gradually rolled out to Red Dead Redemption 2 players via a beta. We've got all the details about the beta's suite of competitive and cooperative modes, as well as what to expect going forward.
Computing

HDR monitors are beginning to have an impact. Here are the best you can buy

HDR isn't the most common of PC monitor features and is often charged at a premium, but the list of available options is growing. These are the best HDR monitors you can buy right now.
Virtual Reality

Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive: Prices drop, but our favorite stays the same

The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are the two big names in the virtual reality arena, but most people can only afford one. Our comparison tells you which is best when you pit the Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive.
Gaming

Xbox One X vs. PS4 Pro: Which console is more powerful?

Far from cooling down, the console wars are only getting more intense. We compare Microsoft's Xbox One X to Sony's PlayStation 4 Pro to help you decide which premium console is right for you.