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Does ARMS have the legs for competitive play?

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ARMS is Nintendo’s motion controlled fighting game for the Nintendo Switch and, after going a few rounds in the ring, there is one question on my mind: “Does ARMS have enough depth for high-level competitive play?”

With a Nintendo Joy-Con in each hand, I perform a swift left jab; immediately, my avatar, the radiant Ribbon Girl, responds with a left punch. However, the movement she performs is not quite a punch, more of an elongated stretch. Her coiled arm extends forward, reaching across the stage until it hopefully connects with an opponent. When it does, I’m hit with a wave of gratification as my physical action is translated to an immediate response.

This is the basic premise of ARMS, Nintendo’s newest title for the Nintendo Switch. ARMS stands in a class of its own, a motion controlled fighting game with the potential for a competitive future, such as international tournaments, to form around it. It may be unusual to think of ARMS, a title with easy to play party-friendly motion controls, as a game suitable for advanced levels of tournament play. However, you may find yourself mistaken since ARMS seems to contains far more depth in its gameplay mechanics than what initially meets the eye.

As with any fighting game, you have your standard assortment of techniques, several which are executed by performing actions with the Joy-Con motion controls. There are basic punches, grabs, blocks, dodges and jumps. Beyond these fundamentals, ARMS requires a knowledge of the vast collection of interchangeable arms, each with a variety of properties, and distinct characters. Players can take advantage of fast moving curved arms or perhaps equip an electrified heavy arm, ideal for stunning opponents. The combination of arms, and mastering each one and their properties, which are only present when you the arm is charged, add another level to this seemingly simple game.

Additionally, each character in the roster is given particular traits to keep them all feeling unique, from mid-air dashes that make your character invisible for a moment to triple jumping and dashing for aerial superiority. In my experience, after playing ARMS for some time, it’s clear each match has a distinct ebb and flow. Circling around opponents is a mind game as you carefully position yourself to punish opponents a rush attack (the special attacks in ARMS). The strategy when you face a human opponent is palpable, you’ll study your opponents moves, harnessing the potential of your character, waiting for the perfect opening to strike.

Currently, there have been a handful of tournaments and Nintendo recently held one in Japan where all the best players went head to head. The motion controls may leave you weary after a lengthy game session, punching air for a prolonged period can provide quite a workout, but ARMs certainly has enough depth and strategy to keep those will strive for mastery invested. However, whether ARMS can generate enough interest from hardcore competitive players remains to be seen. Since the game is still in its infancy, and Nintendo plans to release further content in the future, only time will tell if ARMS has what it takes for high-level tournament play.

Nathanael Roman