Nintendo doesn’t truly create something new all that often. The company usually seems perfectly content to release and re-release Mario, Zelda and Pokemon games and leave it at that. So, to release a whole new creation is something of a big deal for them. Such is the case with Arms, their latest release for the Switch.
Arms harkens back to the halcyon days of the arcade, where simple, fast-paced gameplay was king. Think of it as the modern Punch-Out!; a boxing game made to get into and out of fast. Arms is the quintessential arcade game in so many ways. The controls are kept as simple as possible, make sense, and don’t require much in the way of deep thinking or elite skills to start.
You have a fighter with springs for arms and weaponized fists, so they can punch across the battle arena. Run, jump and punch. That’s pretty much it. Each arm can be controlled independently and timing is important (you can’t punch again until your arms spring back, after all) but it’s simple enough that your younger relatives could conceivably beat you at it.
Arms matches perfectly with the general Nintendo philosophy of fun first and depth second, but there are layers to be uncovered both in the game play and game world. Each arena is uniquely designed to provide new challenges and perks. One map, for instance, is full of parked cars allowing for more cover but less mobility. Another is a hoverboard park where you can literally control and fight from floating platforms.
There’s a focus on constant change that makes the combat visceral, but still feel light and cartoonish. Arms is bright, shiny, a little weird, and fun, but it’s not a groundbreaking game by any means. Nintendo is more likely to turn heads with one outstanding inclusion into their otherwise standard (and safe) mix of characters: Twintelle.
She’s black, British, has weaponized hair (an element that’s already been causing some online controversy, as things tend to do) and proportioned as one might expect for a woman in a fighting video game. Since the camera is always behind your character, the gameplay is quite different when you’re, say, a young girl in a robot suit that looks like a garbage can or a fantasy fetish fighter in skintight pants.
The fact that Twintelle is the only character who didn’t have her arms replaced with spring-loaded weapons is also appealing, since thinking too much about that particular deranged element of Arms will keep you up at night. Oddly, this isn’t the first time Nintendo has gone for this kind of sexualized sensationalism to keep gamers enraptured. Their Wii U exclusive, Bayonetta 2, featured an insanely hot witch who also had weaponized hair that literally clothed her naked body. Since her magical attacks utilized her long luscious hair, the more powerful her attack the more naked he would momentarily become.
It’s a tactic we don’t normally associate with the uber-family friendly Nintendo, but in both cases, the game backing up the unabashedly objectifying gameplay has been good enough to warrant the excitement. Arms is good. It’s not deep and meaningful or particularly complex, but it doesn’t have to be.
Arms’ biggest strength lies in recreating the feel of a classic multiplayer arcade machine. Whether you’re competing with someone in your living room or across the internet, the game excels at vividly fast-paced action that’s only really seen in more traditional one-on-one fighting games like Street Fighter and Tekken.
Arms might open the fighting arena up and simplify the controls, but the same principles apply. Two fighters enter, one leaves and everyone has a glorious time in between.