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Arms (Nintendo Switch) review: Fast, brutally tough competitive fighting game

The Good Starts easy but gets extremely challenging. Great character design and fresh ideas. Addictive. Online play is fast and fun. Works well with buttons or with Joy-Con motion controls.

The Bad Only 10 characters to choose from. Not as many game modes as other similarly priced premium games. Unforgiving at higher difficulty levels.

The Bottom Line Arms is the fast-paced multiplayer game the Switch needed. Hopefully Nintendo will soon beef it up with extra content.

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 ($286 at Amazon) 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.


Totally weird springy-armed fighters, but they're all awesome.

Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

Crazy arms!

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.

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