Written By: James Nicolay
Release Date: June 16, 2017
No. of Players: 2 Players
Before the release of Nintendo's new IP ARMS, I was not too keen on fighting games in any of its usual modes: solo arcade mode, local multiplayer, and even more so, online multiplayer. There are still a lot of things about fighting games that turn me off: the repetitive nature of fighting, the uber-competitive atmosphere of tournaments (with ridiculous attention to using wired accessories and arcade stick add-ons), and the thing I hate the most: doing combos (aka button-patterns-mashing) when my reflexes have never been too fast or too consistently robotic. As a gamer, I prefer platforming and puzzle games because I like the freedom of moving around and using the best moves without being too routinely or mechanical. And I like strategizing moves. I often play for fun--and many times, fighting games never felt so much fun for me--until I found myself getting hooked to ARMS.
I guess ARMS is Nintendo's approach to fighting games as Splatoon is to Call-of-Duty-like games as to Mario Kart is to racing games. Granted, of course, I should bring up Super Smash Brothers as THE quintessential Nintendo fighting game, but it's as different to me as Mario platforming and Donkey Kong platforming--I feel that ARMS is more Mario-ish, and Smash as more Donkey-Kong in terms of intensity and 'hardcoreness.'
ARMS is a 3D arena-type fighting game--the only other arena-type game that comes to mind is Pokkén Tournament, which I also liked, but got tired of quickly--as it is also heavily reliant on combos.
The popular appeal of ARMS is that it's instantly accessible to non-gamers because of the motion-controls of punching (reminiscent of the appeal of Wii Sports to casual and non-gamers). In the very first Global Testpunch of ARMS, I tried the motion-controls. It was so much fun! And every time I make my friends (both gamers and non-gamers) try ARMS for the first time, the punching motion to control the arms of the characters is instantly recognizable. And this is why the game is so much fun as it is an accessible, cool party game for anybody.
On my own though, my fondness for the game grew rather gradually until it reached fever pitch--I can't get enough of this game.
Since the game's announcement with the Switch reveal, I was not quite sure if I would like the game. With the Nintendo Direct episodes about ARMS that followed, I became slowly interested with the characters, the various arms (technically FISTS, though that will not quite work because of the awful pun we associate with the word lol), and the weird characters--yes, I fell in love with Twintelle, too, when she was revealed. I felt that Nintendo did a great job marketing this new IP to everyone.
To be honest, my first reason for buying ARMS was to support Nintendo in its effort of coming up with the very first AAA first party game exclusive on their new console. I really thought ARMS would be a game I would play for only 5-10 hours at most. Yet here I am at almost 40 hours of gameplay in less than two weeks of the game's release. ARMS has grabbed me so hard, and I honestly don't want to let go.
ARMS was produced by the Mario Kart 8 team, and I knew that they would do a great job. So actually, playing ARMS for the first time, I did it as to how I actually played Mario Kart 8: I tried the Grand Prix first, easiest level for each character. One-star and two-star levels were easy-peasy. Mostly, the AI opponents were mostly slow and easily grab-able. Every Grand Prix level, you pick a character and you face every other character in the game, with fun game modes in the 3rd and 6th match that routinely interchange (target mode, basketball or 'hoops' mode, and volleyball mode), until you meet the boss at the end of the game, Max Brass.
Everything is easy until you start playing at Three Star Level. And this is where the game began to pique my interest. It might just be my imagination, but the characters start to get more interesting and more fleshed out. Spring Man appears much quicker and bouncier, Min Min's agility surprises, the power of Master Mummy's punches become more pronounced, and even Twintelle transforms into a devious fighter. Suddenly, I am thinking about which Arm would best defeat my enemy. I became more aware of how my Grab action tends to slow me down and make me more open and how the rhythm of punching left and right become like a dance pattern that is more effective if it's done right.
I found myself strategizing a lot. The more I fight, the game unravels its intricacies slowly. It forces me to explore and change which Arm would go best with my style and my strategy.
Finishing a Four-Star Level mode unlocks the Rank Mode. In this mode, a player goes online and is matched randomly with another player with a close number of rank. Your rank increases as you win and your rank progress bar decreases when you lose. In starting ranks, every triumph is about four times increase of rank progress bar and every loss is about one-fifth of decrease in rank progress bar. But the higher your rank goes, the ratio between win's increase and loss's decrease in rank progress bar gets closer to 1:1.
And Rank Mode is what triggered my love for the game. Winning against online players is extremely exhilarating--particularly whenever the technique you've been practicing in the Grand Prix mode and Party modes have made you a better player than your opponent.
Reaching up to Rank 6 was pretty easy. I was winning left and right against countless Min Mins and Ribbon Girls with Japanese names, but the moment I reached Rank 7, the online matches became so intense that I started losing a lot. This prompted me to engage in more Grand Prix in order to earn coins for getting more Arms for my main characters. When I still kept losing, I started noticing small things: some players choose Arms not just because they like those Arms but because they could strategize well with them.
Because of that, I started picking out Arms that work well with my movements and strategy. I picked a Fast Arm at my left, and a wide-spread Arm for my right. This proved to be a good change of strategy until I started losing again in many of my Rank 8 matches.
This time around, I became more conscious of the arena spaces--some Arms work well in smaller spaces, some in larger ones, some in elevated ones. I experimented again which ones to use in each case. Another thing I experimented with is the Arms that work well with respective of the distance of my character from the opponent. And Arms that work well with players who jumped too often, and the ones who pick popular Arm sets. And Arms that work better against specific types of opponents: Arms for the dozens of Min Mins I see, the jumpy Ribbon Girls, etc.
Towards Rank 9, I was already experimenting on what I personally call the "chaotic approach" where my goal is to confuse my opponent with the regularity of my movements in the first fifty seconds of the match, until I change fighting style in the latter fifty seconds, in round two, and in round three.
I've been strategizing so much in this game, that I didn't notice how I have already spent a total of almost 40 hours into the game and I'm at the point where I'm in love with every damn aspect of it.
I have never really appreciated fighting games or playing online as much as I am enjoying ARMS. I've always been looking forward to playing strategically until my fingers hurt, then an hour of hand rest, then play some until my hands have scratched enough itch for more ARMS.
ARMS has been criticized by some game reviewers that it does not have many characters to choose from, but man, many of these characters are oozing with charm. Even the weirdos Helix and Byte and Barq become irresistible at some point--especially when these slow characters are used by skillful Japanese players. Haha.
Another critique is the lack of a story mode or lore for each character. But really--do we really know anything more about Ryu or Chun-li or Subzero after years and generations of release? Who the hell cares about back story when the goal of the game is to beat the hell out of another character? And this is what I love about Nintendo popular game characters. The story doesn't matter. In more than three decades, we hardly know anything about Super Mario, but that does not take away anything from the superstar status of the character.
Like how I always preach, looking for a good story? Read a book. Or watch a movie or tv show. Catch a play. Read stuff online.
But I digress.
And one last critique is that lack of actual combos that you find in other fighting games. Heck, that's the reason why I actually love this game. It is NOT as mechanical as other fighting games. It takes a lot of mind-reading at times in strategizing when, where, and how you would punch an enemy. And that for me is actually much more fun than tiring my hands with down-right-punch every after three seconds or so.
To be honest, I have not yet played Grand Prix level 5 and higher. But at the rate I'm going, I'm positive that I will still learn more techniques by the time I get into the higher levels in Grand Prix and Rank modes.
And I haven't even described the fun Party modes: where you play online with others in many modes. Not much risk here as losing the battle still earns you coins for unlocking other Arms.
Some people also cry how the game does not seem to be worth $60. As a gamer who buys a lot of titles, I can 100% assure you, that this game is so much worth it. There is a lot to love in ARMS.
The number one reason I play games is because I want to have fun. This is maybe the number one reason I love Arms. It has a Nintendo seal of being a super FUN game. And it's a game I would play again and again in the long years I would spend with my Nintendo Switch.
For a brand new IP, the game is a solid 5/5. I'm super excited to see how this will evolve in the years to come.