A warning to those of you considering Arms: It'll sink its left and right hooks into you.
I played my first session of Arms very casually, in a single-player mode against AI opponents. I blew through them easily. I thought to myself: cute game, cute characters, not much excitement. I realized I'd played my single-player game on difficulty level 1. I ramped up a bit.
Suddenly, I hit some challenges. And that's when the addiction began.
Nintendo is starting to put a big focus on fast, multiplayer e-sports-style games, and Arms is part of a trio of early Nintendo Switch ($355.50 at Amazon.com) titles -- including and the upcoming Splatoon 2 -- that are endlessly playable with friends. Must-have game? Maybe not. But it's a great B-side.
Arms is a whole new world and new characters, with an art style that exemplifies Nintendo in 2017: bright, like a crazy comic book. Neon colors. A carnival-type theme pervades Arms' world, like a space boxing league populated with bonkers mutants whose go-go-gadget arms extend on springs, ribbons and bandages. The visual design feels like Overwatch meets Splatoon with a dash of Mario Kart.
There are only 10 characters to choose from, which at first feels extremely limiting. Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros., by comparison, more than quadruple the character options. But each character can unlock extra arm weapons. Picking the right ones and deploying them well in a fast-based knockout battle is the game's ongoing challenge.
CNET's Eric Franklin made the comparison to Sega's Virtual On, which I played a ton when I had a Dreamcast. It was crazy, fast-paced mech-warrior battling. Sega used to own this type of game. Nintendo's starting to build out its slice of it, too. Spiritually, this could have been an arcade game in a '90s bowling alley.
It's also a great example of a game that works well on the go or with a big screen. Arms also has enough ways to play that work with all the controller options: split-apart Joy-Cons, or two Joy-Cons per person, with motion controls or not. Oddly, I haven't used the motion mode much. I prefer the hard buttons. There's punching, blocking and directional throwing, and it feels like Punch-Out at the speed and depth of Street Fighter 2.