My first thoughts seeing the ARMS trailer were “This is going to be just as ridiculous as 1-2-Switch, isn’t it?” and it honestly was. ARMS looks like a very weird game, but this is Nintendo so I’m not going to make any assumptions about how well a game will do based on its visual style.
ARMS was introduced as “a game that has depth, challenge, and replayability”, and all that we’ve seen so far seems to market it as a competitive fighting game. While the success of any competitive game tends to depend a lot on the balance of the metagame and the community around it, Nintendo has traditionally been a company that markets towards the casual or new gamer, so I feel that the initial success of ARMS is going to be dependent on how well it is accepted by the casual audience while it’s long-term selling power will be determined by how well it can build a competitive following.
Based on this dual-market that Nintendo will have to please, I think that the success of arms will depend primarily on three things: how much customization is there between characters/weapons, how intuitive are the motion controls, and what is the online play going to be like? There are always many factors involved in a game’s growth, but these are the factors I feel will most heavily influence both the casual audience necessary to get ARMS out there and the competitive audience that Nintendo is aiming to build.
We know right from the Switch livestream that ARMS will have multiple playable characters, and according to Nintendo.com “each fighter has their own special attributes”. What immediately appears promising to me is that each of these characters look unique. They each seem to stand apart from all the others we see in the promo materials. The demo shown in the Treehouse stream only had five playable characters, so hopefully they have a few more for launch.
The Nintendo page also promises various weapons in the game. These come in the form of swappable arms for your ARMS characters, but in the Treehouse stream it appeared to be that each character only has three options to choose from per arm. They did show this with the stipulation “in this demo”, so there’s a possibility that this will be more customizable in the final game. I hope this will be the case, as nothing is more frustrating to me than an interesting game with very limited content at launch.
Unlike character customization, Nintendo has said very little about the controls in ARMS. Again, the treehouse stream revealed that it will be playable on the Pro controller, but I fear that for most people their introduction to this game will be with only the Switch Joy-Con controllers, so the strength and ease of these motion controls is definitely going to be an important factor in its success.
Nintendo’s consistency with motion controls has sometimes been sort of hit and miss. Some games for the Wii played really well with that control style, and some were awkward or frustrating to use. With a casual game like Wii Sports this uncertainty was acceptable. The games were friendly and the competition was relaxed, but Nintendo wants ARMS to eventually find place in the competitive market where there is no room for frustrating controls.
First off, it is pretty clear that local multiplayer is an option in ARMS but with the price of either a Pro Controller or second set of Joy-Con controllers at $69.99 and $79.99 MSRP respectively, it seems like the initial play option to a casual player will be with others online. This has not been a real strength of Nintendo’s in the past, and frankly the online play in their other fighting games has been disappointing at best. Nintendo has stated that they will be transitioning to an at least partially paid service for online interactions, but how that will work and what (if any) features will be available for free afterwards are still unknown.
Especially as this game gains a competitive audience it will be increasingly important for players to be able to compete against people they have not played with before. New opponents means learning new play-styles, having your strategic assumptions challenged, and being forced to adapt more often than you would on your own. If this game is going to find a real community of competitive players, the online play needs to connect these players regardless of the geography that might have separated them.
Overall, I’m optimistic about ARMs. I hope that the characters are lovable and can bring something to the game for everyone, I hope the controls are tight and easy to pick up on, and I really hope that there is decent online play for this game. ARMS is an odd game, but it’s a charmingly odd game with the kind of unique character we haven’t seen for quite some time. I want it to find a place in the Nintendo library, and hopefully it can do well enough at each of these things to pull that off.