Let's first take a look at what Nintendo's big new IP is all about. Arms is a fighting game where in 3D arenas you'll go up against a single opponent, and you'll beat up each other by using combination attacks, grabs, charged strikes and well, that's pretty much it, at least at first glance. Every character naturally has a unique fighting style, movement pattern, visual design and fittingly uninteresting backstory, and you can take one of these 10 characters into online matches, a single-player Grand Prix mode, or regular offline versus fights.
Structurally, the nature of the content on display is fairly familiar, but Arms attempts to make up for this by twisting your expectations. You see, in Arms you don't punch with your fists per say, or... you do, but rather you fire your fists as projectiles at your adversary. A tiny elastic rope is tied between said fists and the remainder of your arm, and so it automatically ropes them back in once fired, so you can keep punching at a distance. This tiny mechanical addition doesn't sound like much, but it fundamentally changes your approach to one on one combat. Instead of getting in close at the offset of battle, it's more tactically sound to distance yourself from the enemy, allowing you more time to dodge or block an incoming attack. Perhaps your foe makes the critical mistake of firing both his or her fists at you, and you can exploit this by dodging or jumping over the incoming fire. It adds a massive tactical dimension to otherwise well-known proceedings, and often you'll find yourself marvelling at the fact that this simple addition makes for a completely different mechanical experience.
Nintendo is once again showing us how innovation is done. But, with added depth comes a learning curve, and in Arms there's much to learn. When we first jumped into the Grand Prix, we optimistically selected difficulty 4 out 10, and we had to call it quits after four matches. To put it mildly, you'll be beaten to a pulp.
In our case it was all about being properly introduced to one particular character, and sticking with them to learn the various moves, combinations and the like. As fighting game aficionados can testify to, it can be difficult to keep track of many characters at a time, and so we fell in love with a mummy, and an angry one at that. Apparently, according to the generic introduction texts, he's searching for his long lost family (it's unclear how partaking in a martial arts tournament will solve that problem), and so we teamed up for what would ultimately become a fruitful collaboration. After a match or two you start to get the hang of the setup. The key is to be way more defensive than you otherwise would be, opting for a more passive strategy, moving sideways around the arena and waiting for your opponent to make a mistake. The AI-controlled enemy does the same, however, and so it's crucial to know when to strike, and not fall into the trap of trying to deal a lot of damage, but waiting for the ideal window and inflict short small bursts. Still, our opponent proved too much for us, and it quickly became apparent why.
In Arms, your fists are not only fired like projectiles, they are also interchangeable, and through this system it's possible to drastically adapt your style to any given situation. Perhaps you'd like a left fist that fires three small projectiles, while your right hand has a laser which fires from a safe distance without seeking out your target. There are shields, stun moves, fists with more spread, and much more. There are many fists to choose from, and they all fundamentally change the way you do battle. These are unlocked by earning points from the various modes, and you'll earn a small amount from winning fights, partaking in a Grand Prix and the like.
When you've gathered enough points, a short target practice mini-game determines how many new fists you can unlock. This system works well for altering your mechanical setup quickly, but offers little to no customisation for the characters. In terms of diversity, Nintendo has attempted to alleviate the lack of structural variety by including little distractions in-between matches, giving players the chance to play basketball where you have to dunk your opponent with a grab, or volleyball where you fire your fists at the ball. However, it does little to shield the fact that beyond adding new fists to your characters, Arms ultimately offers the same experience across all of its modes. The 10 matches of the Grand Prix are the same, every time.