On launch, ARMS definitely felt like an iffy buy. I’m not big on fighting games, but I really hoped that ARMS would be to fighting games what Splatoon was to shooting games. An entry that made the genre accessible, filtered the genre down to basic parts for a newbie to pick up and play, with a ton of depth once you’re feeling confident with the game.
And for me, it succeeded, but it didn’t have the staying power at the time to keep me coming back. While the game definitely has all my attention now, I feel like this review would be done best as a ‘then vs. now’ contrast of a few key, maybe controversial, points.
On Release: A fighting game all about throwing punches connected to springy, extendable arms. Each character has a different theme and feel to them, from the double jumping Ribbon Girl to the dragon armed Min Min. On top of that, there’s a variety of different ARMS to collect, each with a different elemental effect and characteristic.
The game is played from an over the shoulder perspective, where you can move around a 3D space. A lot of the combat happens within either a short or medium distance, with most of the stages giving you the option to move outside of your opponent’s range.
The basics are easy enough to pick up, but there’s usually always a new technique or mechanic to master and work on. Unfortunately, playing against the AI on harder difficulties feels unfair most of the time, with better than perfect inputs making learning against bots nearly useless when fighting against human players.
Today: The core gameplay of ARMS remains in-tact, with most of the differences being tweaks and balance patches. The new characters offer mechanics to play with, often bringing new ARMS with variations of elements on existing ARMS. Though Misango brings 3 poison ARMS, a new element entirely.
If you consider ARMS to be a giant toy box, then the changes made to the game are mostly just new toys to play with. If you didn’t enjoy ARMS on release, or during the Global Testpunches, then you probably still won’t enjoy it much now. If your issue was balance and lack of variety, then you definitely have a bunch more to play with.
On Release: I feel like talking numbers will be useful here. On release, we had 10 characters with 10 stages. Each fighter had 3 unique ARMS they started with, with a total of 30 ARMS.
There were a fair few game modes you could play as well. Grand Prix was the bulk of solo play, then all the Versus modes including Fight, Team Fight, Hoops, V-Ball and Skillshot. There was also a 1-on-100 and ARMS Test mode, each with their own challenges within. And then ARMS Getter, which was it’s own mini-game that let you convert coins into new ARMS.
Online had Party Match, which let you play the above Versus game modes with other people at random, or with friends. Ranked mode was ARMS’ competitive mode, having you rank up on wins, and rank down on losses.
Today: 5 new fighters with 5 new stages, though one of those stages was just the training stage. Each fighter, other than Springtron, brought 3 new ARMS that could also be used with existing characters.
Hedlok Scramble was released, turning the usual GP boss into a powerup to fight over. Party Crash was added as a new variation on Party Match, letting you pick the side between two different featured characters. Every 15 minutes, the game will go into exclusive, mini-game like modes, like one-hit wins, or rapidly refilling rush meters. While I don’t play regularly, I do always come back to play the Party Crashes when they happen.
A tournament mode was also recently added, that unlocked all the ARMS for competitive local play. It’s a handy feature that sadly has probably come after tournament organisers spent the time grinding the ARMS in the ARMS Getter.
On Release: There were a few, specific ways to progress in different game modes. GP tracked your character clears, on which level. 1-on-100 clears would unlock the fighter’s home stage for every character. You could also get high scores in ARMS Test and the ARMS Getter.
The biggest way to feel like you’re making progress, though, is via collecting ARMS. Each character starts with their original three, but you could both collect ARMS from other characters, and power up already owned ARMS. This is done via collecting them through the ARMS Getter, which required coins to play. Collecting enough coins to have a long timer took a long time, unless you were willing to replay the GP mode over and over.
Today: Then ARMS added Badges, it’s own version of achievements. Each vadge has a different design, some are random, others are linked to which achievement you accomplished. Having an album full of badges feels great, as you either complete GP with every character on level 4, or just played the Fight mode for the first time.
Each one of these badges has a reward of coins attached to them, which makes earning coins for the ARMS Getter a lot easier and accessible to people who don’t really find fun in grinding. I’ve finally collected all the ARMS for all characters now, but now they’ve added an art gallery to spend coins on. So the collector in me isn’t done yet…
On top of these progression systems… I mentioned the Party Crash mode in the previous section. That has its own progression, with each Party Crash letting you level up as you play. Playing as one of the featured fighters will level you up faster, as will playing with the featured ARMS. That would be a slight problem if you didn’t own those ARMS, but thankfully you get a boatload of coins the higher level you are.
Even just by playing and levelling up, I earned so many badges with so many coins attached to them. With badges like ‘throw x punches’ or ‘break all the pillars in this stage’ cropping up out of nowhere, you could take a break, earn some ARMS for your fighter, then come back and do it again. It’s incredibly satisfying, but a lot rarer as you keep playing.
This section doesn’t really need a then and now comparison. ARMS has maintained the vibrant and dynamic aesthetic in the world of ARMS, even with each new character added. My personal favourite is Lola Pop and her sugary stage.
The promotional art work for this game has also been amazing, with most patches coming with a new illustration. Finishing Grand Prix mode on level 4 or higher also shows a fighter specific artwork, showing what they’re up to after winning the ARMS league. These are the pieces you can unlock in-game now with the recently added Gallery, giving you something more to spend your coins on.
The music is what blew me away when they first showed ARMS, and it blew me away even further once I started playing the game. A lot of the music is based off the original ARMS theme, which you can listen to here:
My favourite piece in the game is the final credits music:
What is it about Nintendo and credits music that’s so good???
The way ARMS trickled out content isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in this case it felt like the game was half done. The fighting genre is sort of a niche one, so relying on the gameplay alone with no sense of progression for newbie players wasn’t smart.
On release, I would have had a hard time recommending ARMS to anybody other than fighting game veterans or very hardcore Nintendo fans. It just didn’t have enough substance to feel worth it.
But if I were to review ARMS as it stands today, as everything that you’d get out of the box if you bought it right now… most definitely. As a fighting game newbie, I feel like I’m getting better and making progress, with 2 pages of badges to show the time I’ve invested. Also, even if your gaming schedule is full, coming back to play the Party Crash events like I do still feels like a worthwhile use of time.
Is it worth the money? ($79.95 AUD RRP)
Is it worth your time?