Announced at Nintendo’s Switch event in January, and releasing tomorrow, ARMS is a fighting game with a twist. Playing like an odd mix of traditional fighter, boxing game, Dark Souls PVP and a shooter, it’s a far cry from the gimmicky Wii Sports spin-off it initially appeared to be.
Nintendo are obviously hoping ARMS will have similar appeal to its last online-focused new IP, Splatoon. Like the breakout squid shooting hit, ARMS is bold, colourful and inventive, and Nintendo are committed to providing support for a considerable window post-launch. The Splatoon of day one was very different from the game a month from launch, six months from launch, a year out or today. For that reason, I reviewed it in a series of review diaries, and ARMS will hopefully stand up to the same treatment.
The game releases tomorrow and after rinsing the singleplayer grand prix and giving the multiplayer options a good couple of days’ play, I’ll begin my reviews. For now, I want to take a look at the journey the game has taken since its’ initial announcement, through a Nintendo Direct, two Global Testpunches, and the ARMS Open Invitational at E3 2017. How does the game look like its going to appeal to gamers, the Nintendo hardcore and the fighting game community?
A trailer for ARMS was dropped out of the blue during Nintendo’s presentation in January. By concentrating on footage of actors and the motion controls, it brought to mind Wii-era Nintendo. The small snippets of gameplay did little to dispel this seeming simplicity and the game appeared to be a relic of a bygone age.
In the weeks that followed, players did have a chance to sample the game and most reported that it was a much better package than Nintendo had shown. Gamepad controls were present and correct, and the game was a much more fleshed-out fighter, according to websites, youtubers and forumites who’d had the chance to play it, but reconciling these accounts with the game Nintendo had presented relied on good faith.
In April, a Nintendo Direct gave ARMS seven minutes of screen time. While many online commentators complained that the game’s singleplayer content wasn’t mentioned, the game’s complexity as a fighter was established. By showing a whole match, with all the movement and tactics that entails, it became clear this was not Wii Sports Boxing born again.
On the 17th May, Nintendo gave ARMS a full 20-minute Nintendo Direct. Here, as well as comical looks at the game’s “lore”, Nintendo had a chance to show the range of customisation, game modes and options that put biceps and triceps onto ARMS’ bones. By following this up with two Global Testpunches, Switch owners were left in no doubt as to what ARMS could offer.
Like Splatoon’s Global Testfires, the Global Testpunches were weekend affairs where six one-hour slots are spread over two days, in which players can jump online and take part in a Party game. These games throw players into a lobby, from which they are randomly assigned to games. These range from one-on-one or two-on-two fights to free-for-alls, co-operative boss fights and creative minigmaes.
This was most players’ first hands-on interaction with the game. Very quickly, the fighting nuance became apparent. The basics should be familiar to any fan of the genre; blocking stops attacks but is open to throws, throws are countered by punches. There’s a special attack bar, a jump and a dodge, and a game of spacing and timing.
Perhaps because of the unified controls – two punches, a block and a doge, a jump and a grab – the differences between characters are much less obvious than in combo-heavy traditional fighters. It very quickly becomes clear that the playable combatants are strongly varied, and the controls are much more sophisticated than is initially obvious.
Punches can be charged, and once thrown can be steered to some extent. What might have been a miss can be swerved into a hook. And quick attacks and weave around an opponents moves. The fighters’ unique abilities can make all the difference. The slow but strong Master Mummy makes short work of mindless button-mashers but is torn apart by a player who knows when to strike and when to grab. Ninjara, with his disappearing clouds of smoke and his spamming of the grab attack, was a threat early on but became little more than a tedious annoyance once players had the measure of him.
An early favourite among fans was Twintelle, both for Bayonetta-esque ability to slow time and magically manipulate her hair as well as her other Bayonetta-esque assets. With an amusingly European attitude and a useful magical ability, she;s much more than the sum of the “thicc” parts which have secured her immortality on Deviantart.
The Testpunches went some way to establishing ARMS’ depth, but by throwing players in with a random pool and putting traditional matches on equal footing with odd minigames and multi-man brawls, it didn’t give a good indication of ARMS as a fighter.
The best fighting game experience comes from two players learning the game while also learning one another. One-sided squash matches are never fun – as Reggie said, if it’s not a battle, where’s the fun? – so seeing how two players at the top of their game fight is key.
At E3, Nintendo held their ARMS Open Invitational, featuring four established members of the fighting game community and four players from the show floor who had proven themselves. A couple of early matches saw a Ninjara player spam the grab attack. With non-stop throws SuperGirlKels advanced to the second round and this seemed like a very poor advert for the game.
Quickly, though, the players from the show floor, who had played more ARMS than the invitees, began to clean up. Ninjara was eliminated and we had a final between SkyWardWing, as Ribbon Girl, and crowd favourite Zerk, as Twintelle. This was a clash, with a real back-and-forth, some comebacks, some twists and turns. Both players knew the game well and could concentrate on reading one-another, swapping and changing their tactics, and showboating for the crowd.
When Zerk won, ARMS had transitioned into true spectator sport. The audience cheered, the game had proven it had depth but also that it was unlike anything anyone had played before. A short time with ARMS was worth a lifetime of traditional fighting game chops. A belt was awarded and, in a final exhibition match, game Producer Mr. Yabuki proved there is still plenty for the community to learn.
Nintendo have certainly presented ARMS as a game with character, humour and depth. It is accessible and immediately fun, but the skill of an experienced player can make all the difference. It seems obvious that the first weekend will be a good time. The totally original question now is: does ARMS have legs?