Arms is one of those rare kinds of exercise that you actually enjoy. Not the type you enjoy once you get into it or the type that turns you into one of those runners who’s posting on Facebook or Instagram every five seconds. You know the kind.
No, Arms is brilliant sports-themed fun from the moment you boot up the game and hear its beats surge through the TV to the moment you down your Joy-Cons, sweaty and (hopefully) triumphant.
Arms is a brand new IP from Nintendo exclusively for the Nintendo Switch. It’s a multiplayer fighting game but with a brilliant Nintendo spin, where you box using characters with extendable arms like a slinky on speed. But you’ll also have to choose the arms you want to equip your fighter with, and knowing the difference between a Slapamander and a Homie could be the difference between winning and losing.
Multiplayer madness at its sweaty best
The brilliance of Arms is the sheer level of competitiveness it brings out in people. This is a game that thrives solely on multiplayer, either locally or online in wonderfully quick and intense battles. You can play it on your on with the Grand Prix mode, which is great for practising, but if you’re using that as your mainstay in Arms you’re doing it wrong.
You’ll find the most fun can be had with the Party Matches or Ranked Matches that mix together different competitive game modes from team fights for up to four, more personal one on one battles or teaming up to fight 2v2. Fights rarely drag and the better you are with your chosen character, the more intense they’ll feel as you can teeter on the edge of winning or losing with a few well-placed punches.
Sometimes the madness and brilliant mayhem can come from the stages themselves. Spring Stadium is the smallest and promotes lots of up-close fighting, but from there you just get bigger and more complicated. Ninja College sees you fighting up a set of stairs, the Ramen Bowl has a central section that can be broken to reveal a trampoline, while the Snake Park can have you riding around on flying discs. It’s not always just the opponents you have to worry about.
Discovering all this is part of Arms‘ charm though. It’s one thing to learn the pros and cons of each of the 10 characters currently on offer, along with their associated arms, but it’s another to know how each one can work on the different stages. It’s a deceptively complex game if you want it to be.
It’s brilliantly put together and paced, the only thing missing is online chat. The Nintendo Switch’s companion app that lets you chat (and trash-talk) your pals as you’re playing is still scheduled in trial form for this summer. But at the moment it’s a case of texting your pals between fights to express your feelings, which makes the whole process lose a little of the magic that you get with local multiplayer.
Better with friends, but at a price
But there’s a problem there too because local multiplayer is at its best if you’re armed with a second set of Joy-Cons.
Your thumb on the L and R buttons controls jumps and dashes, with a quick switch to ZL and ZR unleashing your powered-up Super Attack. Everything else is controlled by the motion controls that are the Joy-Cons themselves. This is like Wii Sports boxing but on a whole new level of enjoyment and complexity.
Tilting the controllers left, right, forwards and backwards moves your fighter around the ring, while actually punching controls the arms. The basics are simple enough, but add in a flick of the wrist for curved punches and the added tactical nature of the different arms you can equip and this becomes a game that has various levels of play.
You can play using the Pro Controller or a single Joy-Con, but it’s not the same as utilising the Switch’s excellent motion controls and we’ve yet to find an Arms player who disagrees. However, buying a second set of Joy-Con will see you forking out a slightly eye-watering £80/$80. It might sound steep, but it’s 100% worth it, especially when you throw 4-player Mario Kart 8 Deluxe action into the mix too.
Easy to pick up, harder to master
And it’s worth it for Arms because this is the kind of game you’re going to lose entire weekends to – and calories too. That’s not just because it’s brilliant fun, it’s also down to the levels of mastery that’s involved with this game.
At the moment there are 10 fighters to choose from, each one zanier than the last. Each one has a special ability, an initial selection of three arms and advantages in the ring. Our current favourite is the triple jumping Ribbon Girl, but we’ve also got a soft spot for the teleporting Ninjara and the wiggly stomached Mechanica.
The way Nintendo has created each character means that there’s a knack to working out which one is best for what fight. Some will clash while other will compliment, and it’s down to you to work all that out.
Arms isn’t one to hold your hand with these things, with tactics only really discovered through practice and experimentation. And that goes for the arms themselves too. There are those that are straightforward boxing gloves, but ones like the Slapamander work better with a curve, while the more complicated options like Min Min‘s Dragon and Helix‘s Guardian saved for those who wanna put the hours into learning how they work.
It’s brilliantly done, with each character feeling totally unique, despite a small amount of arms crossover. The floppy Slapamander boxing glove feels very different in the hands of Ribbon Girl compared to Kid Kobra for example. And the more you play, the better you get and the more powerful you’ll feel in the ring. It’s quite exhilarating.
And then there’s the fact that Arms may surprise you by revealing that it’s not all about boxing. Among the more straightforward modes there’s also V-Ball, which is Arms’ take on volleyball – complete with exploding bomb – and Hoops, which is basketball but with each player working to slam their foe through the hoop rather than a ball.
Hoops, in particular, is one of our favourite modes to play with friends locally, because it’ll get you screaming at each other in moments – in the best way of course.
Arms excels at variety and keeping things feeling fresh with excellently crafted arenas, unique and colourful fighters and cleverly designed arms and a fantastic mix of modes that means you may never tire of Arms’ appeal.
Is Arms good?
The Nintendo Switch games line-up is getting stronger and stronger by the month. Those who worried back in March (including us) about the Switch coasting on the success of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild until Super Mario Odyssey at the end of the year were oh so wrong.
Both Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Arms have proven that multiplayer is king on Nintendo Switch, tapping into that Nintendo nostalgia that lies within the majority of gamers – even lapsed ones. It’s also brilliant family fun that anyone can pick up and play, with those who really get into it rewarded by an additional layer of complexity to tap into.
It’s just a shame that for Arms to really shine, you need that second set of Joy-Con and the online chat feature.
Arms is available exclusively on Switch from June 16, 2017.