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 titles -- including Mario Kart 8 Deluxe 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.
Mastering the controls takes practice. I mashed away for a while, and that's fine for kids and people who just want to play-box. But the game is much more than that, and you'll get wiped out fast online if you don't think up some strategies.
Online play sucked me in, too. In a Party Mode, I ended up being randomly paired with people in two or three-person battles, or teamed up against a boss. Some game modes aren't even boxing-style fights, and shift to odd minigame challenges -- throw your opponent through a hoop, play volleyball with a giant bomb or punch targets as fast as you can.
There aren't many other game modes, which turned me off at first. In single-player mode, a simple "Grand Prix" of 10 matches becomes a Street Fighter-like arcade challenge. But the sheer difficulty wall of gameplay started to become the real thrill. I found myself getting sucked in. I still can't win enough games to qualify for unlocking Ranked online play (I need to beat the computer at level 4, which is far harder than I expected). But I'm getting close.
Arms is the type of refined arcade fighter that I usually can't stand. The lack of extra single player modes, characters and other depth might make its full-retail price seem pretty hard to accept. Splatoon 2 arrives in a month, and should offer up at least as much multiplayer satisfaction and more.
Nintendo has announced that Arms will get continuous updates over time, so there's a good chance that more fighters, arenas and arm-attached weapons will come. It feels like it needs it to be worth the price.
But this is the closest to a Wii Sports game that the Switch has, even if it's far from casual. And it's a reminder that tough, fast, ultrachallenging Switch games exist... with springy arms attached.