The Old Turd Sandwich: ARMS

Friday, June 30th, 2017

Some games are just too big, too popular, or too obvious to waste a lot of your time on, and for those games Video-Tron 2000 offers THE OLD TURD SANDWICH! A much more economic way to save you, the beloved consumer, time and energy by boiling a review down into one good thing, one bad thing, and one more good thing!

In this inaugural installment of The Old Turd Sandwich, we take a look at Nintendo’s new spring-loaded Punch-Out!! replacement, ARMS!

For a lot of people it seems like Nintendo just can’t get anything right. They’re either not using their old properties correctly, not introducing new properties, or some horrible, rage-baiting combination of both.

They’ve done a lot to combat this perception lately, what with Splatoon and Breath of the Wild and all, but it feels like not that the Switch is on the market it really feels like they’ve come out guns blazing. This year alone we’re seeing the newest games in Nintendo’s two biggest franchises (Mario and Zelda, although I’m sure you knew that), a resurgence in franchises long thought dead (if you’d told me anytime within the last 7 years that we were getting both a remake of Metroid 2 and a fourth Metroid Prime game I would have done that thing where I double-take at the bottle of booze I was drinking), and a strong showing of brand new games. Games like ARMS.

ARMS is to fighting games what Splatoon is to shooters: a colorful, accessible, Nintendo-ized take on a genre they usually don’t get too into (other than Smash Brothers at least) that offers a surprising amount of depth if you want to look for it, and a good casual multiplayer experience if you’re not the kind to count frames and assign tiers to everything.

So it’s out, I have it, and I’ve spent all last week playing it (on my fancy new yellow JoyCons, because Nintendo’s best accessories are always bright yellow). Let’s give it THE OL’ TURD SANDWICH!

screen shot of Ribbon Girl and Spring Lad from Nintendo Switch ARMS

GOOD THING: It’s an accessible fighting game for people who might not care otherwise.

You might have been able to tell from my little aside up above, but I have just never been particularly into fighting games, and I know a lot of people who share my sentiments. If I’m ever somewhere playing video games with people, regardless of how many video games they play in the meantime, nobody really suggests fighting games for a number of reasons. Modern fighters are frequently accused of having overly-intricate controls, difficult to launch moves, overly dark or violent settings (even if it’s occasionally played for laughs like Mortal Kombat still does), and a lot of them seem to be kind of off-putting to a lot of the audience.

ARMS, however, doesn’t have most of these problems, especially when it comes to the local-multiplayer mode. ARMS is just as deep or as goofy as you want it to be depending on your tastes and who you’re playing it with, and it presents itself in a much friendlier and far more addictive fashion. The art style is bright, colorful, and inviting, the roster of characters rivals Overwatch for memorability and diversity, and the sheer lack of anything resembling realistic violence will probably make it very appealing to anyone who lost their taste for fighting games along the way.  The controls are simple and uniform across the entire roster, the different arms you can pick from have clearly-explained abilities and each have their uses depending on personal preference, and it doesn’t rely nearly as much on luck and items as some of the lesser games in the Mario Kart or Smash Bros series which really helps level the playing field (ironic, given that’s what Mario Kart tried to do before it became a blue-shell-invincibility-star deathtrap for a minute there). Matches are quick and constantly encourage you to try different tactics and have fun with it, and every time I sat down to try the multiplayer mode with real-world friends I found myself losing a few hours every time.

Having fun with the local multiplayer in ARMS requires little more than to pick a favorite character and smash the shoulder buttons, and the fact that it’s a brand-new IP that doesn’t ask for a ton of investment on the player’s part (at first) will get a lot more eyes on it than many fighting games are used to. Fighting games tend to get a reputation for being unfair or overly-complicated for people that don’t want to get too invested in them, but Nintendo is riding that same fine line they do with Splatoon, Smash Bros, and Mario Kart by providing a game that you can both play with the friends you see once a year around the holidays, and giving a meatier experience to the sort of players who make charts and argue online about damage rates.

That said…

Nintendo Switch ARMS multiplayer screenshot with Spring Lad and Master Mummy

BAD THING: The learning curve is a little steep at times.

For as fun and light-hearted as it presents itself as, ARMS can get away from you if you’re not careful. The local multiplayer is good, and will likely be the focal point for a lot of people that buy this game, but as soon as you wander into the online mode or the surprisingly difficult single player you’re in for a pretty gnarly surprise.

One of ARMS’ biggest strengths and greatest points of contention is probably that it asks you to engage a much different set of skills than normal fighting games, even something like Smash Bros. Punches and attacks need to be judged on things like depth, speed, and angle of attack, and the ways with which you can control your attacks are surprisingly subtle and don’t give you a lot of room to respond when dealing with a live opponent (or an AI who’s better than you). The focus on range and aiming, as well as the behind-the-back camera, almost make the game (and certain characters/arms in particular like Helix or Kid Cobra) handle more like a shooter, which seems counter-intuitive at first. Learning to curve and aim your punches is pretty essential, despite how insane that sounds, and it’s probably not going to be a skill that comes too quickly for some people.

Compounding things is the fact that the single-player AI is frankly ridiculous. The AI is routinely better and faster than you, and manages all of their attacks at a frame-perfect rate, forcing you to either adapt quickly or spend your time guarding attacks and waiting for the moment you can attempt another throw. I have to admit I was selfishly relieved to see that a lot of people on the internet were having a hard time with the single player, even if that didn’t make me feel any better about the shitty job I kept doing in online multiplayer. It’ll come with practice, as all things do, but I can see a lot of people getting frustrated and quitting very early because that’s exactly what I want to do.

Crowd of people playing ARMS multiplayer on Nintendo Switch in splitscreen

GOOD THING: This can be the start of something pretty big for Nintendo.

All any new video game has to do in order to succeed is to find their audience and keep them happy. ARMS already seems to be doing exactly that – with over 100,000 copies sold in just a few days in Japan (and from what we can tell, pretty equal numbers here) the game is already finding a home with the sort of people who prefer Nintendo’s takes on traditional genres (or maybe they’re just too impatient for the next Smash Bros).

With enough time, ARMS could easily turn into one of those perennial favorite Nintendo franchises that constantly makes an appearance at both tournaments and people’s parties, in no small part thanks to how the Switch is basically custom-tailored for multiplayer experiences. The depth is there to get the Smash Bros eSports crowd behind it while still being the sort of thing your siblings, friends, and significant others who don’t game too often will actually want to play with you later. So long as Nintendo can avoid both running it into the ground (not likely, for them) or ignoring it and letting it die off (a sad possibility) this can really turn into another one of those franchises that gets everyone excited and optimistic when it makes its way onto another system. They’re about to pull it off with Splatoon this summer with its first sequel, and I’d bet good money that we’ll get an ARMS 2 before the Switch is officially dead and buried – and when it hits, an awful lot of people are going to be really excited for it.

I didn’t mean to make ‘hits’ into a pun up there, but what are you gonna do. I already typed it.

This has been another installment of THE OL’ TURD SANDWICH! Come back soon for more mixed opinions on new games!

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