If you make a purchase after following a link on our site, we may earn a small commission. Learn more.

Review: Nintendo’s Arms Packs a Punch

The team that brought us Mario Kart 8 have unleashed their latest offering – a fast-paced, fun and good-humoured fighting game that lets you to live out your Rocky ambitions in a colourful cartoon world.

If you’ve ever wanted to settle the score with a mate, prove your fighting finesse (without getting punched in the face) or get a mild workout in while gaming, Arms is what you’ve been waiting for.

I first saw Arms in the Nintendo Direct conference back in April, and wasn’t too impressed. Cartoon people with springy arms? It was a cool way to showcase the capabilities of the Nintendo Switch’s controllers, but as a game overall? Meh.

Cut to two months later on a Friday night. I’m in a bar and a crowd has gathered around a fight that’s broken out. The two fighters are trading virtual punches rather than physical, and all eyes are transfixed to the Nintendo Switch’s portable screen.

With a final flick of the Joy-Con, the fight is won and cheers erupt. It’s incredible to see how Arms has brought together such a mixed crowd and shown them a good time. One patron mentions that they’ve never seen a game like it, and I can’t help but agree.

Arms is one of the few titles to utilise the new Joy-Con technology, and these unique controls are what makes the game so immersive and satisfying, even to non-gamers.

Holding a Joy-Con vertically in each hand, players tilt the controllers forward, back and side-to-side to move characters. You can curve and aim your virtual punches in the same way you’d jab and hook your punches in real life. Assigned buttons let you use power ups, as well as jump, dodge and even take a screen capture if you want a memento of the occasion.

Initially, these controls can be pretty overwhelming and take a while to get your head around. While motion control is awesome as a concept, it’s not very precise. Arms is a game where fast reflexes are key to your success, so it’s frustrating to throw a punch and have it miss. This may put off players, and become a hindrance depending on the difficulty of your match (difficulty levels range from one to seven).

You can overcome this problem with sheer practice, or if you want to be a party pooper, forgo motion control entirely and use the standard controller. Some gamers may choose to switch to this during the more difficult fights and boss matches, as it gives you more control over your player.

While lacking in depth, characters are amusing and range from a robot cop to a snakeboarding (yes, you read that right) cobra. They’ve come from all areas of the globe to fight, all for the same reason: they all have retractable arms.

No tragic backstory or mission to avenge their parents. They’ve got springy arms and it’s fun to fight with them. Simple as that.

Visually, Arms is very engaging and has fully embraced its ridiculousness in the name of a good time. The colours are bright, the characters are wacky and the fighting arenas each have their own distinctive theme.

Gameplay can be quite hard to follow initially, simply because there’s so much going on during a match. The fixed camera angle helps with this and enables players to keep track of their opponents and use the arena as cover or a weapon.

Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, so who you choose to play as could win or lose you the match. For example, Master Mummy, a very large mummy, is able to heal while he blocks attacks, and although his hits are powerful, they’re awfully slow. Alternatively, Spring Man, a skinny guy with bright blue springy hair, is much faster, so dexterity alone could win you the match, if your reflexes are fast enough.

All characters have a set of interchangeable gloves that give them different advantages during a fight. From boomerangs to missiles, all have names that complement their owners nicely.

The game has multiple playing options: Grand Prix is the main story mode; Versus lets you fight up to four friends in split-screen; Party Match lets you fight with players online for fun; Ranked Match lets you build up your rank online; Friends is just you playing with your buddies online; and Local pairs you up with other players in the area.

Players also have opportunity to play sports-inspired games, including V-Ball (volleyball, but with explosives), Hoops (basketball, but your enemy is the ball) and Skillshot (a shooting range, but you hit targets with your fists). These are a refreshing change from standard fights, which can become quite monotonous if played for a large amount of time.

As you play, you’ll earn coins for each battle successfully won, and these can be used to play mini games that unlock new gloves and weapons for your characters. This is a tried and tested way to encourage players to remain motivated and continue playing. However, you’ve got to put a lot of time in to be able to accumulate a decent quantity of coins.

For a number of years now, Nintendo has been one of the few companies to bring out titles that are couch co-op friendly, and Arms is a great addition. With an opponent or teammate by your side (depending on the mode you choose), gameplay is engaging and will have you yelling at each other in delight or dismay.

Single player, on the other hand, isn’t quite as satisfying. Grand Prix challenges you to defeat ten fighters from around the world, but even with the interlude of V-Ball, Hoops and Skillshot, gameplay can soon feel monotonous. However, it’s ideal if you’re looking to something to play for a short time and come back to later.

What it lacks in story, Arms makes up for it in style, character and utilisation of the Nintendo Switch’s bells and whistles. From the accessible controls, fun power-ups and cool arenas, it’s almost like the Mario Kart 8 team looked at their game and thought ‘Hey, wouldn’t this be cool, but with fighting?’.

Turns out they were right. Nintendo’s wacky take on the fighting genre packs a punch and is the perfect way to introduce non-believers to the gaming world. Go on, ask your Nan to play. It’ll be a YouTube hit.

Arms is available on Nintendo Switch.