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October 23, 2017


This may come as a surprise, but I think that ARMS might be a weird game.  I don’t know, I haven’t quite decided yet.

I guess I should start by saying I went in with a favorable bias toward ARMS.  Given my track record, that shouldn’t be a surprise.  I like fighting games.  I like Nintendo games.  I like strong art styles and colorful palettes.  I like cool casts of characters.  From the moment of its reveal, many boxes were ticked.  Granted I had my worries about it in that very same moment -- how well it would control, how much love/support it would get, and crucially, if its sales would justify its entry onto the market -- but I had faith.  Now that I have a Switch, with ARMS as my first game purchase (barring a download code for Splatoon 2), one question remains: has my faith been rewarded?

The answer is yes.  This is exactly the game I wanted and then some.

But to be clear: remember, this is coming from a biased source.  And more importantly?  Just because I like the game doesn’t mean that everyone else out there will.  You should know by now that objective reviews aren’t my thing and never will be, so don’t ever take my word as law.  ARMS is, at its core, a fighting game; that’s a big no-no for a ton of people right off the bat.  On the other hand, you could argue that it’s a fighter in the same vein as Smash Bros. -- something that upholds the fundamentals, but has a slew of differences that make it both simpler and more complex.  Fun for all, or something like it.

The rules are simple (at least for the default mode).  You pick your elastic-armed battler of choice, head to a stage, and fight it out with punches, throws, rushes, and more.  Win two rounds, and the match is yours.  You can’t get more basic than that.  Just as well, though; ARMS’ complexity lies with learning how to maneuver around the stages and launch your attacks effectively.  Unlike the standard genre entries like Street Fighter and its 2D plane antics (or even Tekken and its 3D antics), fights in ARMS take place in sprawling arenas, with the camera set close behind your beloved brawler.  You need that perspective so you can sync up with the controls (especially if you opt for motion controls); virtually every attack you use is relegated to your use of arms, in game and out of it.

I’m playing on the Joy-Cons, so in a sense I’m miming what I want my character to do.  Put up your dukes -- i.e. the Joy-Cons -- like you’re about to give someone two thumbs up, and you’ll only have to worry about pressing the trigger buttons during a fight.  Left Joy-Con = left fist; throw a punch in the real world, and you’ll throw one in the game.  Granted you only need to do a little flick to launch your attack, but I’m sure there are people out there who want that authentic experience.

In any case, you punch with both hands to go for a grab.  Point the controllers inward, and you’ll block.  Dash with L (by default), and jump with R -- or combine the two for an air dash.  You’ll also be able to unleash a rush attack, AKA a Super Combo from Street Fighter, by building up enough meter, hitting ZL or ZR, and then punching like mad to dish out massive damage.  I kind of wish each character had a unique Super instead of a standardized ORA ORA ORA, but this’ll do.  For now.  Maybe they’ll mix it up in the future?

Probably the most critical element -- at least if you go Joy-Con -- is basic movement.  It’s worth noting that when you play in that format, the Joy-Cons are pointed inward -- which means that both the buttons and the analog sticks are, too.  Normally you’d use the left stick for movement, but it’s a tall order to do that in this case unless you’re double-jointed or some kind of horrible lizard-person.  ARMS’ solution: in order to move, you have to tilt both Joy-Cons in the direction you want to move. 

So here’s the secret about ARMS, as I’ve alluded to before but can now confirm: it’s not a fighting game.  It’s a mech simulator.

Admittedly there’s a fine line between the two, but hear me out on this.  At a base level, the characters move at a pretty relaxed pace -- in no hurry, no matter which direction you point.  If you need to get moving, you have to dash somewhere and somehow; it helps, but it’ll only carry you a set distance.  Whereas most fighting games make it so that your default attacks are close-range blows, here you attack almost exclusively with projectiles pretending to be fists -- almost like they’re missiles or bullets.  Also, one of the characters is actually a mech pilot, while another is a mech.  We’re getting in deep, people.

You can play ARMS like a fighting game, more or less.  The standard triangle is there -- attacks > throws > blocks > attacks.  But it’s crucial to make each shot count, because going ham with the hits is sure to leave you busted up.  Remember, you’re using stretchy arms to attack distant foes (more often than not; you can get closer if you want).  That means you have an extension period, and a retraction period -- a sort of cooldown on your shots, in a sense.  Given that you need both arms to block, you’re putting your life-saving defense at risk if you’re flailing about.

So on that note, here’s a pro tip: don’t whiff.  You can use the Joy-Cons to twist your punches in mid-flight and correct for enemy dashes and/or land sneaky surprise attacks, but in general, missing has never been a worse idea.  One poorly-timed punch means that you’ll be force-fed a full damage rush from an opponent with no way to stop it.  You don’t want that.

So far, ARMS has been both an exciting and harrowing experience for me.  I dig the gameplay, without question; whether I think of myself as a mutant boxer or mech pilot, I have a blast mixing in steps, dashes, jumps, and the occasional mighty blow.  At the same time, it feels like I’m being forced to start over as a fighting gamer -- like I need to learn how to move all over again.  To wit: I’ve mostly been going through the Grand Prix at the starting difficulty with characters that strike my fancy to get a feel for the game.  It helps, sure…but then I pop over to the Versus Mode to spar with the CPU (and get a few extra coins in my purse), and there’s a 50-50 shot I’ll get utterly wrecked.  On the default difficulty.

If I had any pride left, I assure you it would be shattered.

I’m honestly kind of terrified by the prospect of online play.  I’m jumping into the game late, so there are people who know ARMS’ ins and outs way better than I do.  Even if I’m not the only rookie out there, I’m wary of the fact that I’m still on Level 1 of the Grand Prix, out of a possible 7 levels.  I have a lot to learn.  On the other hand, it’s been a while since I’ve been so excited to learn how to properly play a fighting game (or mech simulator).  I don’t have to memorize moves or combos, nor do I have to execute them with frame-perfect timing.  Granted there are combos of a sort in ARMS -- the game makes reference to juggling, which I’ve stumbled upon by accident -- but it’s clear where the focus lies.

Still, I won’t pretend like absolutely everything is peachy-keen with the game.  Maybe it’s just because I’m at Yomi Level 1 here, but there have been times where ARMS has felt a little too…volatile.  Am I winning matches because of skill and wit?  Or am I just winning because I threw random punches and scored lucky hits?  Sometimes it feels like the latter, which is going to be a problem if it persists in higher difficulties.  I doubt that’ll happen, but we’ll see.  The worst thing that can happen is for the fighting in a fighting game to be unsatisfying.

Also?  I’m all right with motion controls; I have been since the dawn of the Wii.  Even so, I wonder how motion controls will fare in the long fun for me or the game at large.  As interesting as it is to use the Joy-Cons to move, it can lead to awkward situations where you move in unintended directions because you tilted your wrists the wrong way.  (Apparently I tilt my controllers forward by default, so in ARMS that translates into perpetual forward movement.)  Alternatively?  I’d bet there are going to be situations where you won’t move at all because you didn’t tilt both Joy-Cons at once -- and crucially, there’ll be times where you screwed up a life-saving block because you weren’t mindful of your hand positions.  That’s a learning curve in its own right, and I wonder if it should be?

There’s also the question of how much stress it’ll put on your hands/wrists/arms.  Your mileage may vary, but it wouldn’t surprise me if people moaned about getting an accidental -- if not painful -- workout.

Beyond that?  I said as much about Overwatch, and I’ll say it here: it is absolutely criminal that ARMS doesn’t have a campaign or a stronger single-player suite.  Street Fighter V has called into question how much single-player content a fighting game should have, and it’s probably a debate that rages to this day.  ARMS’ answer?  A Grand Prix that, at best, gives you a little drawing with your chosen fighter once you clear Level 4 or above.  It’s a travesty in every sense of the word, given how much life and energy has been woven into these characters and their world.  I mean, even Tekken 5 was gracious enough to offer prologues, rival battles, and an ending cutscene.  How have we gone backwards from 2004?  I’m not saying that they have to add a story mode update or arcade endings, but…well, I wouldn’t be opposed to it.

But that’s about all I’ve got, really.  There are complaints to throw the game’s way -- and I’m sure more will arise as I get more comfortable with it -- but ARMS is appealing to me in a way that other fighters COUGHCOUGHmarvelinfiniteCOUGH haven’t.  I want to keep playing it, learning its particulars, and showering it with love.  I hope that from here on, it gets the love and support it needs -- because last I checked, this is a new IP for a company that isn’t exactly rolling in them these days, and a new IP for a fledgling console that could use more selling points besides NEW MARIO, MONEY PLS.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

…With that said, I’m so down for Mario Odyssey.

That’ll do it for now.  See you guys next time.  And always remember: Min Min is good for the soul.

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