ARMS, a fighting game for the Nintendo Switch, insists on commitment. Each of its colorful pugilists possesses two elastic arms designed to punch, slash, or blast across an entire arena. Think the spring-loaded boxing gloves from Looney Tunes, deployed on a stretchy coil like a telephone. (The other kind of telephone. The one people used before everyone carried supercomputers everywhere.) Each arm is vulnerable while uncoiling, and you can’t make another attack until it completes its arc and returns. Picture a slapstick, slow-mo boxing match, each flailing blow landed by a boomerang.
That imprecision makes for a uniquely considered take on the genre. You must plan your position, carefully time your strikes, and gently nudge your weapons in the right direction midflight. At their best, fights feel distinct and deliberate without ever sacrificing fluidity. It’s a matter of waiting, watching, and punishing mistakes. These dynamics lie at the core of every fighting game, but for anyone who lacks the skills for combo-heavy, highly technical fighters, ARMS offers an accessible alternative. When it comes arrives June 16, ARMS will be one of the only major titles released on the Nintendo Switch since its launch, and in many ways it lives up to the best ideas of the console. It’s easy to pick up and play—and just smart enough to hold attention for longer sessions, with a promise of hidden depths to explore.
ARMS subscribes to the same multiplayer game philosophy as Blizzard’s Overwatch: a vision of cooperative and competitive play that’s inclusive and friendly, a fireburst of soothing colors and diverse characters. The 10 playable characters feature only minute tactical distinctions, but significant aesthetic differences. Compelling visual design gives the cast brightness and pop. Twintelle fights with her coiled blonde hair instead of her arms. Ribbon Girl infuses her combat with a bubblegum pop persona. Helix is basically Gumby with large strands of DNA attached to his sides.
That said, the game offers slim singleplayer offerings. The closest thing ARMS has to a story mode gets periodically interrupted by mini-games you won’t find nearly as fun as the fighting. This clearly is meant to be a party game, and could be a very good one. It offers several control options, including using the Switch’s JoyCons as motion controllers. (Punching through the air feels great, though the positioning is clumsier than using with standard buttons and joysticks.) You can even split the two JoyCons into two separate, though slightly uncomfortable, controllers for two people.
ARMS is a piece of software as flexible as the Switch itself, able to contort itself into whatever form required for the social situation at hand. But don’t forget that this is a fighting game in a crowded and competitive field. This is where it falters; Nintendo seems ignorant of what’s needed for longevity. Despite solid foundations, the game lacks the strategic depth needed to entice anything more than the most casual gameplay. The game doesn’t offer enough characters, enough diversity of play styles in the equippable arm attachments, or nearly enough thought about what might make ARMS engaging.
I don’t have many complaints about the content of ARMS. Mostly, I’m frustrated there’s not more of it. The game asks you to commit to your moves, to think and act carefully, and does so while sparkling with a light, bubbly energy. It’s precisely the kind of game you’d want Nintendo to release for the Switch, and it feels like the start of something special. It’s just not quite there yet.