After two years and 30 Party Crashes, Gonçalo “Shiryu” Lopes finally gives his ARMS a rest, long after everyone else did, and looks back on his time with the game...
Until June 2017 the humble Switch was known by fans (and non-fans alike) as “the Breath of the Wild machine”. Despite four months on the market there were few other noteworthy reasons to own the latest Nintendo hardware offering following the bad fortunes of Wii U at retail. Half way into that month the arrival of ARMS was the second step in Switch’s imminent runaway success.
Nintendo is no stranger to taking risks and, despite of what you may believe, ARMS was indeed a risk. Instead of releasing a new entry from a well established franchise from its vast back catalogue, this was instead a brand new game developed by a young team within Nintendo’s EPD. This was not unprecedented - Splatoon had successfully achieved the same level of risk/reward on the previous hardware generation, so expectations where understandably high for both Nintendo and the audience to see if ARMS was the next ‘killer app’ for the system. Surprisingly… lightning did strike twice!
Fighting video games are strange beasts. Even the most dedicated, hardcore developers can often ruin an entire game by simply breaking the balance among the available character roster. However ARMS managed, even in its vanilla state, to deliver a fresh take on the fighting genre while paying homage to Gunpei Yokoi’s toy from the 1960s, the Ultra Hand. Anyone from any gaming background could pick up both Joy-Con, flail them about and watch their movements being satisfyingly translated to the screen. As a casual fighting party game it was an instant winner, but hidden underneath was also a hardcore fighting experience that even stands up to the likes of Street Fighter (coincidentally the only competition available on the system at the time).
This was the reason why I kept playing ARMS but - disregarding marketing and common sense - without motion controls. Fighting games demand precision and that was hard to convey properly while flailing Joy-Con around, so I stubbornly stuck to the traditional ways of the Pro Controller. I took my time to learn all the rather charismatic characters unique traits, learned all the quirks of each stage and had a ton of fun collecting and experimenting dozens of ARM combinations. Unsurprisingly, Ninjara became my main character, with a lethal combination of speed and comprehensive teleportation techniques that I use to dumbfound my opposition before coming in for a lethal Rush Attack. Kid Kobra slithered into a close second and, after some months of free DLC and tweaking, both Max Brass and Springtron joined my personal top tier elite gang of ARMS brawlers.
Regardless of everything else going on the Switch, there was always one sacred Saturday per month where I would sit down, hook up my USB Ethernet Lan adapter and play Party Crash up to rank 10. The introduction of these events along with the pin collection were enough to keep the game fresh, and not once did I have issues finding players online to throw down against. Even over two years later I could still find opponents that would attack, defend and sometimes defeat me in clever unique ways that would never have crossed my mind to put into practice, a true testament to the brilliance of the game. Hardly any two fights were alike, regardless of the skill level and experience of everyone in the arena. But above all else, everyone was always having fun!
As per usual, I recorded every single session I played of these events. I like to keep a sort of 'living memory' of my personal video game experiences on my YouTube channel and these timed events are just the sort of thing that one day will only exist in peoples memories and video footage. As the months went by, these video started to increase in popularity. While my ego would love to tell you people gathered around my videos because of my insane skills, the truth is sadly much bleaker: barely anyone else was uploading new videos of ARMS gameplay. From all-conquering fighting phenomenon to complete obscurity on social media and video services in a matter of months. How could such a thing have happened? Other Nintendo first party franchises remained evergreen. The original Splatoon never really went ‘out of fashion’, even after the final Splatfest. One single reason for ARMS' fate stands on top of every other in my mind: the Switch’s runaway success.
Despite a slow and steady start, software releases on the Switch are now at an alarming twenty to thirty new digital games every week on the eShop and not a single month goes by without a few triple-A first and third party releases at retail. In two years the console’s library went from no fighting games whatsoever to a machine where you can play both classics (Hamster’s numerous Neo Geo re-releases, Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, Guilty Gear 20th Anniversary Collection) and current gen offerings (Dragon Ball FighterZ, BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle, BlazBlue CentralFiction Special Edition and the gory spectacle of Mortal Kombat 11). Hardly any of these are casual-friendly, so ARMS still managed to be relevant on is own merits… at least it did up to 7th December of last year, when the all-conquering Super Smash Bros. Ultimate arrived on the Switch.
It is hard enough to stack up against Sakurai’s latest magnum opus even if you are a well established, proven IP but despite its first party status, ARMS had to bow down and surrender the Switch spotlight to Ultimate. No-one is really at fault here – Nintendo successfully pushed the correct marketing strategy prior and during the release of the game (overlapping Party Crash with Splatfest events was a perhaps a bit unwise), news sites and players were happy to have a brand new IP and reason to own a Switch, eSports tournaments were held while word-of-mouth did the rest. And yet, the final Party Crash Bash Round between Min Min and Ninjara came to an end and very few people took notice until it was already over - unlike the upcoming final Splatoon 2 Splatfest, there was little to no buzz around the internet for it. Players still showed up, still played and screamed ‘What a complete sham!’ when the final results came up and revealed that Min Min’s popularity was more than a match for Ninjara’s skill. Alright, that last bit might have been just me, but the fact remains that ARMS is essentially done and dusted.
The game served its purpose. It was both proof of Nintendo’s ability to produce brand new successful IPs and that the Joy-Con could be used for something other than milking cows (plus it arguably paved the way for other products like Fitness Boxing). The industry nowadays constantly harasses you to get the very latest product or else you’re missing out. I have never believed this to be the case, perhaps because I began playing video games when the industry was still growing into what it is today. There were far fewer choices and every new video game was something to be cherished without an expiration date. One day ARMS servers will be taken offline, but that does not mean I can’t still enjoy some fisticuffs offline, alone or with local multiplayer. As of right now, there is little incentive to keep playing it, thus I have decided to move on to other fighting offerings.
It's all a bit like life, really: you show up, introduce yourself, razzle-dazzle the world with your fifteen minutes of fame and then gracefully learn when the time comes to step down and exit the stage for the next big thing. I don’t know what the future holds for the ARMS franchise, with its rich game lore, fun mechanics and charismatic characters. It would be a shame if it is destined to become this generation’s F-Zero or Pilotwings – a showcase for Nintendo’s hardware which gathers a hardcore cult following of fans only to become future nostalgic whispers among them. But there is also the chance that 'ARM2' is already well into development, Min Min took over ARMS Labs and turned the world into a giant ramen bowl. I can live with either scenario; I am just happy that I had the privilege of tagging along for the ride with the rest of you out there. This is the bit where Ninjara walks away into the sunset and I smiling place the ARMS cartridge safely inside its box, number #10 on my Switch shelf collection.
What is your opinion of ARMS? Do you believe the game deserved a better fate? Do you still play it? Do you believe that Ninjara is not in fact the very best brawler of the lot? Feel free to (figuratively) punch up your opinion in the comments section.