(Pocket-lint) - When Nintendo finally unveiled the Switch at a showcase just prior to its launch, Arms was one of the games that left everyone convinced that the Japanese giant had recovered its mojo, and that the Switch – cue sighs of relief – wasn't going to be another flop of Wii U proportions.
That's because the motion-sensing boxing game was clearly imbued with the party-game spirit of the original Wii, as well as the ethos that has characterised Nintendo's best franchises over the decades: easy to grasp, yet tough to master.
In the intervening months, Arms has acquired a considerable amount of polish: it looks superb, in a cartoonish, primary-coloured, in-your-face manner. Which is important, as it needs to be good to watch: it's a fully formed e-sport out of the box, which will soon be vying with Overwatch to clutter up the Twitch airwaves.
Is it another exclusive Nintendo Switch must-buy?
Arms review: All about the controls
Another important aspect of Arms is that it is a truly original title, custom-built for the Switch – a luxury that the Wii U barely enjoyed during its ill-fated lifecycle. While it can make use of the Switch's bewildering assortment of control-system possibilities – you can play it via a Classic Controller or on the base Switch with the Joy-Cons attached – it's at its most enjoyable when each person playing it makes use of a Joy-Con in each hand. It's also possible for two people to play against each other with one Joy-Con each, although in that case, as with the other controller configurations, you must use a joystick to move, which is a slightly less intuitive way of playing it.
If, instead, you grasp one Joy-Con in each hand, with the narrow sides facing the TV or Switch screen and the triggers and bumpers facing you, you don't have to go near either of the joysticks or any of the face buttons. To move left, right, forwards or backwards, you merely lean both Joy-Cons in the appropriate direction. The left and right bumpers are crucial: the left one enables you dash in whatever direction you're moving, while the right one enables you jump. To punch, you merely make punching motions with either hand. Tilting the Joy-Cons towards each other adopts a blocking stance, and punching with both hands allows you grab your opponent.
The final element of the control system is a flurry attack, which takes a while to power up as you punch, jump and dash. When you launch it by pressing either trigger, you can unleash a super-fast, devastatingly powerful sequence of attacks by punching frantically.
On paper, that control system may sound complicated, but in practice its's the exact opposite: before very long at all, your character seems to move and attack almost by osmosis. Arms makes it easy enough to learn all the elements of the control system via the main Grand Prix mode, which is what passes for a single-player game (although it can be played by two people).
Grand Prix simply puts you through 10 bouts against computer-controlled opponents, allowing you, at the start, to set the difficulty level from 1 to 7. If you select 1, your opponents are pretty passive and easy to defeat. And as you crank up the difficulty level by degrees, it gives a fascinating insight into the game's AI.
Arms review: Multiple modes
Even in Grand Prix mode, you come across the odd bout which isn't just a straight fight to reduce your opponent's health to zero. Arms contains a number of mini-games, too.
There's V-Ball, which puts each player either side of a net playing volleyball with a spherical bomb: if it blows up on your opponent's side, you win a point.
Hoops is all about pulling off grabs – whenever you do so, you dunk your opponent in a basketball hoop.
Skillshot tests your movement, as it puts each player either side of a slot from which targets pop up; you must punch them down before your opponent, and you can also punch your opponent to put them off.
1-on-100 is a survival mode, in which you must last as long as you can against a constant stream of AI-controlled adversaries.
Arms gives you two ways of getting online – Party Match is billed as just for fun, while Ranked Match lets you build up a reputation, when you feel you're ready for that.
Versus mode, meanwhile, can accommodate up to four players on a single Switch, and lets you select any of the mini-games and tweak parameters, such as the number of rounds. The default – and the foundation of Arms' aspirations to become an e-sport – pits you against someone else in three best-of-three-bouts rounds.
Arms review: Surprising depth and characters
Once you start playing Arms in earnest, you soon begin to discover surprising amounts of depth, along with the importance of taking a strategic approach.
The first decision to make regards which of ten characters to choose. The characters differ wildly, from slow-moving tanks that pack a major punch, like Mechanica, to nimble types like Ninjara, who has a mini-teleport evasion move. Some of the characters have hilarious quirks, like the jelly-like Helix, who can evade incoming attacks by sinking into the ground.
If you embark on a Grand Prix, you're forced to stick with a single character. It's worthwhile, though, as you earn in-game currency which can be used to purchase new arms.
Another layer of strategy centres on the arms you pick. Some are straight boxing gloves, but others operate more like boomerangs or rockets – the latter tend to move slowly, so they are easy to evade, but cause a lot of damage when they connect. Each arm gives you three choices, and you can change at the end of each bout – for example, if you are taking on an opponent who launches fast, straight attacks, it comes in handy to have an arm that can get to them around their sides, or a mallet that can go in over the top of their attacks.
The arenas play a part in strategy, too. Some, for example, contain trampoline-like areas which can help you get elevation and evade incoming attacks if you have a ponderous character but can get your timing right. Others have destructible pillars that you can hide behind, and one is a flight of steps, on which being at the top definitely gives you an advantage.
So once you get to grips with Arms' subtleties, its bouts become fascinatingly tactical, as you manoeuvre yourself into the perfect position to cause the most damage. Grabs inflict a lot of damage, but if your opponent evades them, you recover from them slowly, which renders you vulnerable. Finding the right arms to take on each character requires a bit of thought, as does choosing the right character in the first place.
Arms review: The weak point
To criticise, we have to highlight the fact that Arms' Grand Prix mode doesn't have anything resembling a story – the only way in which it varies is by letting you choose the difficulty level and character. But it's worth playing through it with each of the characters, in order to work out which ones work best for you, and to acquire new arms for them.
Despite its surface simplicity, Arms has every chance of becoming a popular e-sport. Like Overwatch, it gains depth and subtlety from the clever design of its characters and their arms, and two-player bouts are mesmerising to watch.
But it's also the sort of game you could play against your granny at a family gathering, with that gleeful, ice-breaking party vibe that the original Wii had.
If you own a Nintendo Switch and like fighting games, you'd be mad to resist Arms' charms. And if you've been holding off from buying the console due to a perceived lack of games that make imaginative use of its Joy-Con controllers, then Arms thoroughly puts paid to that argument.
Arms is available from 16 June, exclusively for Nintendo Switch, priced £45