Impressions taken from a retail copy of the game.
After a successful foray into the traditionally hardcore shooter genre with Splatoon, Nintendo’s latest attempt sets its sights on streamlining traditional 1v1 fighting games with ARMS. Focusing on accessibility, at first glance, ARMS might seem like just a simple party game, but its spring loaded with a surprising amount of depth. The core gameplay is focused on the broad fighting game concept of footsies, which can be defined in an extremely abridged manner, as simply “control of space.”
In a traditional fighting game, footsies are equal part reaction and reading your opponent. ARMS takes this concept and uses its core concept to….stretch out the amount of time that players have when to react to an opponent’s actions. Because character’s arms are easily readable visually and a great deal of matches are fought at distance, the travel time for the attacks allows players a much more time to formulate an appropriate strategy.
Similar to the Super Smash Bros. series, inputs are simplified and almost all attacks can be executed with at most two button presses. This means that execution is focused on players learning when to do a move not how. That being said, competitive games demand the ability for players to execute precise and consistent inputs and the motion controls of the Joy-Cons left much to be desired. This impression was carried out primarily using the Joy-Con grip and Pro Controller control schemes.
The base combat mechanics of ARMS follows an easy to understand combat triangle: attack beats grab, grab beats block, and block beats attack, with variety in the game coming down to characters, stages, and ARMS.
Characters differ in areas from basic stats such as health and movement speed to more unique attributes such as Ribbon Girl’s multiple air jumps or Master Mummy’s ability to regenerate health while blocking. Each character also has a global super called Rush that depends on the ARM types instead of the character.
Stages are each themed after the game’s characters and have an interactable component. From simple elements like a raised platform in the middle to more complex ones like rideable hoverboards. Items will also periodically spawn such as health regeneration or timed bombs, causing sudden shifts in battle as players fight over control of these zones. Additionally, while items can be turned off in versus, stage interactables cannot.
In addition, dynamic actions such as empty jumping (a jump without attacking), or jumping and air dashing charge briefly charge your attacks while letting you staying mobile, as opposed to staying still after a dash or blocking to charge. Combined with the weight cancel system, it feels like this was a purposeful decision to keep the flow of matches aggressive and mobile.
A different ARM can be equipped on each hand to allow for more complex strategies and can also be swapped in between rounds to compensate for your opponents. However, only 3 ARMs can be brought into each match. New ARMs can be earned by playing the ARM GETTER mini-game with in-game currency earned in various game modes.
Even though ARMS is focused on accessibility, how would skilled players stand out?
Besides the timing, space control, and mind-games prevalent in all competitive games, something unique to ARMS is the ability to control the curvature of your attacks both preemptively and during attacks. Like the parry mechanic in Street Fighter III, ARM curving is a well-designed mechanic that can be safely ignored for the most part during casual play, but makes a huge impact on high level gameplay.
Although tiny targets, skillful players can specifically target their opponent’s ARMS to disable them, opening their defenses and causing them to not be able to block, dash, or even attack before going in for big damage.
You can imagine an experienced ARMS player much like a boxer mixed with a pro baseball pitcher, throwing out a barrage of attacks constantly shifting in mid-flight while light on their feet. Coupled with an interesting cast, stages, and a wide variety of ARMs, players will have a lot to think about in order to effectively counter their opponents strategy and character build.
It will definitely be interesting to see if players will look past the friendly visuals and embrace it as a truly competitive game.