“Spring-a-LING!” is such a stupid catchphrase, and Spring Man is such a stupid character. He’s got this stupid, infuriating bubble-gum blue twist of hair plonked on top of his perpetually grinning face – it makes him look like someone dumped a gigantic coil of toothpaste over his skull. Spring Man. “Man of springs.” He sounds like a Q-tier hero from the ass end of the X-Men cannon.
Spring Man isn’t at all like Helix, my fighter of choice. Helix is a magnificent goo monster. Instead of eyes he’s got some pixelated lights on a pair of blocky goggles inexplicably strapped onto a gelatinous face. Sometimes Helix’s victory screen is him waddling frantically past the camera. As he passes, he turns to the audience and gives a semi-erotic smack of his weird fish lips. This guy oozes charisma, as well as ooze.
Spring Man, Helix, and every other character in ARMs all have their own methods of engaging in the games custom brand of extendable fisticuffs, whether that be curls of bandages, coils of ribbons, or in Helix’ case, looping strands of DNA. The method of fighting here is to use those balmy extendo arms to throw punches soaring and retracting across the arena, twisting and curving them as needed. Placing punches is a precise, calculated game, and with the characters bouncing and dashing nimbly players have to pick their strikes carefully.
Helix and Spring Man might occupy vastly different spaces on the visual spectrum (with Spring Man clearly at the boring end, and Helix firmly occupying the space labelled ‘awesome goo monster’) but they -and most of ARMs cast of bright, fun, caricatures – actually play reasonably similarly. The lineup are more separated by small, complimentary abilities, and incidental tweaks to dash speed than they are by anything to do with move sets. Here, it’s often less about the character you’re using, and more about what fisher price monstrosity is bolted onto the end of your whacky extendable appendage. It’s here, in this glorious mismatched smorgasbord of ice-dragon heads, exploding boxing gloves, whack-a-mole hammers, and fiery party crackers, where the variety in the fighting lies, as players figure out what unholy combo they like best on which character.
Left punch, right punch, grab, block, jump, and dash are the only controls available in ARMs, and it’s this small pool of options that gives birth to the kind of competitive depth that Nintendo manage to find time and time again. ARMs at its higher levels demands a particular focus on spacing, movement, and timing. As Helix, a dash will cause me to collapse into a delicious puddle of slime for a moment – enough for a well-timed splash to move me under an incoming strike and give me an opening on the enemy. Deftly predicting a floundering Spring Man’s punch, and then cracking him square in the jaw with a flaming boomerang, is the kind of triumphant moment that the game is built from.
ARMs is notable then for being another Nintendo game that junks so much of the genres fluff– intimidating combo strings that demand you live in the practice mode for weeks are shorn away, and the fighting game is boiled back to the bare bones of its fundamentals. It makes ARMs as appreciable to the newcomer as it is to anyone looking to climb the ranked ladder on a pile of Spring Man corpses.
ARMs also happens to be the best motion controlled game I’ve ever played. Those punches aren’t going to aim themselves, after all. With two slim Joy conns held in each hand, the player is invited to hold them in ARMs’ ‘thumbs up’ grip. With each hand bunched into a half-fist, and thumbs curled over the shoulder buttons, each controller can rest easily in the player’s hands, perfect for the simulation of throwing punches.
This is far from the exaggerated, wild gesticulating of Wii Boxing. Control here is implemented with finesse, so that ARMs’ suite of movement triggered commands are all accessible with a leisurely bob and weave of the hands. Character movement, direction of dash, guard, and punching are all handled with slight and subtle movement of the twin joyconns, while shoulder buttons handle jump and dash. It does take some getting used to, but it’s not long before the flow of movement becomes as second nature as the tapping of a dozen face buttons does in any other game.
If there is something that could leave you wanting in ARMs, then it’s the slim package that surrounds it. A routine arcade/grand prix ‘story’ mode joins a handful of additional kinds of play that are fairgrounds sideshows compared to the purity and excellence of the one on one fight to be found on the ranked ladder. Despite that, all it takes to enjoy ARMs is an appreciation of its competitive nuance, or to enjoy the first game to successfully make motion control more than just an inoffensive curiosity.
ARMs finds itself as the Switch’s first great fighting game, and the greatest demonstration of its motion credentials. Thanks to the initial simplicity of its systems, it’s really not hard to get sucked into its thrilling moment to moment bouts, frantic and desperate close up trades, and its unparalleled ability to allow you to punch Spring Man in the face with a giant spikey purple orb.