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ARMS REVIEW: “AN INVIGORATING BLEND OF GRACEFUL MOVEMENT AND SLAPSTICK VIOLENCE”

You might have noticed a change in tack from Nintendo lately. As a hardware maker and game developer, it’s always gone its own way, but in recent years it’s started to tinker with existing genres and tropes, to great success. Splatoon took a good, long look at online shooters and came at them from a fresh angle. Breath of the Wild, meanwhile, gave established open-world conventions a vigorous shake-up. Arms sees the Mario Kart team effortlessly shifting genres, approaching the one-on-one fighter with a view to bringing a load of crazy new ideas to the table. As you’ve no doubt already gathered from the star rating above, Nintendo’s fulfilled its goal, and then some. Now that’s just showing off.

While Arms shares Splatoon’s spirit of mischievous invention, it also delves deeper into its maker’s extensive back catalogue. There’s plenty of the cartoonish pugilism and bold character designs of Punch-Out!!, as well as the accessible physicality of Wii Sports boxing, and a sprinkling of the chaotic unpredictability of the Super Smash Bros. games. But while it may be a chimera of disparate ideas and influences, it’s one with a strong sense of its own identity.

At its core, Arms is built around a fairly conventional rock-paper-scissors formula that’s not a million miles away from – of all things – Dead or Alive’s triangle system, with blocks replacing holds here. So single-arm punches can be absorbed by blocking, which can be circumvented by a grab, which in turn is rendered ineffectual by punching between your opponent’s outstretched arms. You won’t need to practice quarter-circle inputs or repeat training drills to master combos: once you’ve learned how to dash, jump and charge attacks, you’ve got all the tools you need to deal with any opponent.

If that sounds worryingly simplistic, rest assured: it’s not. This isn’t a Street Fighter, where a punch lands almost instantaneously; instead, whether you’re pressing a button or thrusting either Joy-Con forward, you’re sending out notice of your intention to punch. Each fist, you see, is attached to a springy arm, which you can bend towards your rival with the analogue stick or a twist of your wrist. At times, it’s less like a fighting game, and more like a shooter – albeit one where you’re firing oversized bullets attached to bungee ropes, so they snap back towards you once the cord is fully taut.