Since its debut alongside the Nintendo Switch back in January up until our most recent look at it during last week’s Nintendo Direct, Arms seems unsure of itself. Bereft of any kind of solid classification, Arms finds itself, at least from an onlooker’s perspective, occupying an awkward middle ground somewhere between a hardcore fighter and a casual brawler.
From our first look at Arms in its announcement trailer, I found myself asking who this was for, as we see a schoolgirl and a middle-aged businessman have at it in virtual combat—and, more importantly, what were these two so angry about? Inconsequential quandaries aside, once the trailer broke into gameplay proper, I was still trying to wrap my head around what Arms is trying to be. From this initial look—especially given the subjects in the trailer—for the most part, it seemed to tout itself as a game anyone could jump into. This idea evokes a callback to the Wii era, where even parents and grandparents were playing Wii Sports with its novel motion controls; the “pick up and play” sentiment resonates with Arms in this regard…or at least it seemed to.
Fast-forward to last month when we got a look at some of Arms‘ character roster. This time, they introduce Spring Man and Ribbon Girl proper, but disclose that each character has his or her own quirks or special abilities which affect combat. Spring Man, for example, is touted as the all-around fighter who can deflect enemy punches, whereas Mechanica can hover in midair, or Master Mummy can restore health while guarding. These are interesting additions, to be sure, but these seem to portray that Arms is possibly a bit more than your casual brawler.
Did I mention I’ve been getting serious Overwatch vibes by this point?
Then we get the lengthier presentation from the latest Nintendo Direct, which…oddly enough, started out as a brief rehashing of things we’d already known based on the first two videos Nintendo had released. Did they think we’d forgotten?
The new info here is that there are different types of gloves you can attach to your character: standard gloves, multi-shot, curving, heavy, and whip, among others. Additionally, there are different elements, such as fire, electricity, and ice, that you can attach to your gloves. “That’s right, fighting fans—the game gets deeper and deeper,” is how the announcer explains that each fighter can equip a different glove type on each arm. Additionally, a newly introduced fighter, Minmin, can jump into the air and kick to deflect enemy punches. Now I’m really beginning to wonder…will this game be easy to pick up after all?
The more gameplay I watch, the more I realize this won’t be a game one could pick up and simply throw random punches at to win—which is how I felt playing Wii Sports Boxing, in most cases. Not that I thought Arms would be so reductive to begin with, but it increasingly seems that Arms will be more daunting for casual gamers to pick up and try.
Amidst all this confusion of who Arms is for, Nintendo needs to clear this up from a marketing perspective. The first look we get at Arms is very simplistic, and with each new reveal we get into the game, we dig deeper and deeper into the game’s mechanics—which isn’t uncommon in revealing a new IP. However, I do think that each look we get showcases the game’s ultimate complexity, which may indeed turn some players away.
While I am cautiously optimistic for Arms, I am also by no means a fighting game expert, so the seeming increase in complexity in the game does seem a bit daunting to me. If there are more casual modes, or even a single-player campaign where I can hone my skills before taking the fight online or with friends locally, Nintendo needs to tell us now. With Arms launching the week of E3, coupled with the fact that we won’t likely be getting another Nintendo Direct before then, Nintendo needs to make it clear who its target audience is, or why both the casual and hardcore camps should care.