At face value, ARMS should be absolute cobblers. A motion-controlled game with cartoonish characters sporting floppy appendages and daft gimmicks like a robot dog sidekick or fighting inside a giant noodle bowl? Yeesh. It sounds like a hangover from the original Wii or (god forbid) the Xbox’s relentlessly dreadful Kinect peripheral.
And, as the first entirely new Nintendo franchise for the Switch with no familiar faces or mascots, a potentially risky move.
However, this negativity turns out to be about as misplaced as a drunk, flatulent clown giving the eulogy at a state funeral. Because despite all those facts about what’s in the game being true, this is also true: ARMS is chuffing brilliant, and will make you do all manner of big daft grins.
You play as one of a smorgasbord of oddball types – as well as the ones I’ve already mentioned, there’s a lump of sentient gunge, a film star with violent pigtails, a small girl in a motorized bin and a deformed skateboarder (well he looks it to me) among others.
Whatever freak you select, your simple task is to administer enough punching via your springloaded upper limbs to your opponent’s guts to drop their health to zero before either they do that to you, or the clock runs out.
In one sense, that’s it – the core of the game is a classic 1 v 1 fighter either against AI opponents or someone else down t’other end of an internet tube. It works on a simple mechanic where a punch beats a grab, a grab beats a block and a block beats a punch. In another, much more accurate sense though this is barely scratching the surface. Y’see, ARMS has more layers to it than a gobstopper the size of a zorb.
As well as your line-up of combatants each having their own little quirks and talents, such as Master Mummy healing while blocking or Ninjara’s teleports, they can also all be customised to a vast degree by switching out their arms from an Argos catalogue-sized selection, with new ones earned through bonus games. Heavy ones will punch through fast ones, fast ones will connect while heavy ones are still stretching out, ranged weapons will deal with opponents hanging back etc. etc.
More tactics still come into play when you factor in when to use your rush attack (a flurry of superfast punches), and how quickly you risk filling it so you can let rip. This is is done simply by throwing punches – but in doing that you can leave yourself open to counter-attack. Blocks will also charge punches for extra oomph, but in turn leave you open to damaging throws.
Suffice to say you can absolutely pick up and play the moment you plug the cartridge in, but if you like depth in your scrappers it’s there by the busload.
The game itself is simultaneously fast and (if you’re using motion controls) physical, but also incredibly tactical against better opponents because of all the little ways to play the way you like to.
Sensibly, Nintendo have kept ranked and casual PvP separate so as to avoid newcomers and filthy casuals getting pasted every time by pros. In fact you can’t even get into ranked play until you beat the computer opponents at a sufficient difficulty level, which is no mean feat (confession: I still haven’t managed it).
One of the best things about the game though is the tactile feedback of literally throwing punches and seeing/feeling them connect - and hats, gloves and trousers off to Nintendo here, because the motion controls are flawless. The Switch’s joy-cons, far from being a hindrance and a gimmick to let you flail about with your fists, are at least as good as if not better than a traditional joypad and certainly much, much easier to use to get to grips with the game.
Topping all this off are the extra modes and content: 1 v 100, volleyball, basketball, 2 v 2, 3 v 1 boss fights and a planned roster of new fighters and challenges to support the game going forwards via DLC, all for the unarguably excellent price of no money whatsoever.
After being put off by years of po-faced, overly technical Street Fighter and Tekken rehashes, ARMS is the most enjoyment I’ve had with a fighting game for as long as I can remember. Like Splatoon before it, Nintendo have gambled on coming at an established genre from a new angle and it’s worked a treat.
It’s easy to get into, original and satisfying, but above all enormous, bright and colourful fun - either solo or with friends. If nothing else, I guarantee the happy, bouncy theme tune will stick in your head for WEEKS. And as there’s nothing like this on any other platform, it’s yet another reason to own the little console that could. That, and one character having a fist for a haircut. An actual fist. Magnificent.
SUMMARY: Nintendo giving beat 'em ups a fresh punch in the face.
SCORE: Rocky VIII out of Rocky X.