Think of a Nintendo-made fighting game on the Switch. You're thinking about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, with all its 74 starting characters, tens of stages, and thousands of Spirits to collect, right? It wasn't always this way. Before Super Smash Bros. Ultimate came to utterly dominate the fighting scene on the Nintendo Switch, there was this little game called Arms.
Newcomers to the Nintendo Switch (especially those hopping aboard for Animal Crossing), might not know about the relatively sparse launch period for the Switch. The only standout game around launch was The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, quite possibly the greatest console launch title ever, but from there things tailed off a bit. For a while, the most notable release aside from Breath of the Wild was an enhanced port of Mario Kart 8.
Finally, a quirky fighting game emerged near the beginning of June. Arms seemed perplexing at first: animated and garishly-colored cartoon characters hopped around a battlefield, throwing their extendable limbs at one another in comical fashion. For a while, everyone joked about waiting for the sequel: Legs.
Arms was the first Switch game to actively encourage motion controls with the Joy-Cons (aside from the gimmicky 1-2 Switch): put one Joy-Con in each hand, and push forward to throw punches. It's very accessible, and plays into Nintendo making games that can be instantly played by anyone, making it not so different from Wii Sports. In fact, you might even say Arms is an immensely expanded version of Wii Sports Boxing, but with robots instead of Miis.
Arms was, and remains, absolutely lovely. It's pure and whimsical fun: you can throw one, or two, of your arms while being locked onto a single opponent. Throwing both arms at once is a grab attack, which can be blocked by a single arm from an opponent, and vice-versa. There's also a powerful 'ultimate' attack for each character, where they let loose with a furious flurry of punches at once. That's literally all there is to it. It's smartly simple.
The characters themselves are delightful. Every one of them is designed around a single trait: Max Brass is a towering hulk of a man with a big gleaming fist adorning his head, while MinMin wears a bowl on her head and her hair resembles ramen noodles. Helix is a blobby mass contorting around goggles on a protruding head. Twintelle is French. Everyone on the roster is bold and striking, so far outside of being marketable to a mass audience that they could only really ever be a creation of Nintendo.
It's the best fighting game I've ever played with a group. At the Reedpop offices—our company that houses us, Eurogamer, RockPaperShotgun, and more sister sites—I could always depend on one game bringing us all together under the banner of flinging digital appendages at one another. Back when we were still in the office before the COVID-19 pandemic has driven us to work from home, it created absolute chaos amidst colleagues, but we didn't really care. We just wanted to throw anime gloves down and make the slimy green blorb fight the girl with ramen on her head, damn it.
And that's exactly why Arms resonated with us so much: the characters and their distinct personalities that you can instantly attach to. They're incredibly one-note: Max Brass is a cocky jock, Ninjara is an edgy teenager, but it's this simplicity that lets you immediately identify with one of them. This isn't Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, where you can find other media to enjoy characters you're playing as.
Likewise, there's no advanced parrying mechanic; no community-created moves like edge guarding. What you're seeing is exactly what you get, and that enables anyone to easily step into the shoes of any character. It embraces newcomers and veterans alike, putting them on a relatively level playing field. A newbie can trounce people that have been playing it for months.
This has happened time and time again in the office matches. There's one guy in tech (he's still there, so I'll watch what I write) called Shiv. We don't talk about how or why he got that nickname, but he's an absolute monster at Arms. You wouldn't expect the guy to pummel you with extendable appendages, he's quiet and reserved, but put him in front of Arms and hand him two Joy-Cons, and he'll demolish you like Apollo Creed at the hands of Ivan Drago.
Crucially, Arms isn't demanding of you. Multiplayer fighting games of this day and age are always evolving and adapting to new techniques and tricks from their community, but this isn't the case with Arms. Unlike practically every other multiplayer game, Arms lets you step back for a breather for however long you want, without fearing like you've missed out on anything. You won't come back to everyone pulling off some crazy new move with an ever-changing meta, and this is why Arms had such a lasting impact with our office group. It felt like it could be put down for an extended period of time without anyone falling seriously behind.
These days, the Nintendo Switch multiplayer scene is dominated by all the usual suspects: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. There's very little love around for Arms at the moment, and honestly, that's been the case for well over two years now. Masahiro Sakurai and company developing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate are paying lip service to Arms with a new fighter, but that's the most publicity Arms has received in recent memory.
Arms is a game reliant on the multiplayer experience. There's no campaign or story mode like in Splatoon—Arms instead has a very basic tournament mode putting you through a series of 1v1 character battles to earn points, similar to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's Classic Mode. Because of that, Arms has a finite solo lifespan: You really need to group up with others to throw down in multiplayer matches to create your own fun, whether it's in 1v1, team fights, or free-for-all brawls.
Still, now that I'm stuck at home, I miss Arms. It was a fantastic, oft-overlooked game when the Switch launched back in 2017, and that's still very much the case nearly three years later. Arms was the absolute pinnacle of social gaming for me, and I really hope it gets a new wealth of players eager to find out more about it after one of its fighters migrates to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate later this year.