Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. As much truth as that maxim holds, however, it becomes far more genuine when its usually forgotten second half is considered, the one that claims imitation is flattery coming from mediocre sources. When the origin of the compliment does not dwell in mediocrity, but swims in talent instead, flattery comes in the shape of inspiration. In that case, the original material is not used as a mold that needs to be copied, but as a general blueprint that serves as an example of what can work; a bomb that is attached to the once unmovable block that stood as the lid of a deep well, and whose explosion opens the way to a trove of goods that would have otherwise been unreachable.
When it comes to Nintendo’s first major exclusive release for their new system, the Nintendo Switch, that analogy becomes quite clear and suiting: the bomb was Splatoon; the blocked and possibly undiscovered well lay in the depths of the minds of Nintendo’s talented developers; the lid was whatever biological block stands in the way of fresh ideas, one that is destroyed when we come into contact with new concepts; and the first treasure rescued from that recently opened path is ARMS.
ARMS does for fighting games what Splatoon did for third-person online-centered shooters. In other words, ARMS does not really revolutionize the genre; it just adds a charming Nintendo twist to it, magically turning a kind of gameplay that was undeniably niche into a universally appealing asset. It is not exactly an unprecedented idea; after all, it is the very same road Nintendo took with both Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. However, ARMS walks hand-in-hand with Splatoon because besides not using popular characters to make that leap easier (thereby creating a new franchise), it also uses online gameplay as its cornerstone.
Surely, similarly to Splatoon, ARMS does have a single-player component as, like all other fighting games, it puts players on the ring to face a series of fighters until they are crowned champions. Still, though, multiplayer modes are the star of the show here. And ARMS achieves success in that area in two ways. Firstly, the twist it adds to the fighting gameplay is creative and produces excellent results: the extandable arms that characters use create a totally unique scenario of mid-to-long-range punching that gives players time to block, dodge, and counter incoming blows; and requires that they aim carefully in order to land attacks. Secondly, it implements that idea in a way that makes it easy for newcomers to learn how to play but maintains quite a load of depth for avid gamers to unearth.
ARMS, consequently, is one of those Nintendo efforts that simplify a concept that is usually presented in rather complex ways throughout the industry without dumbing it down to the point where it becomes uninteresting and shallow. Where most fighting games rely on baffling combinations of buttons, ARMS leans on actions (punching, blocking, rushing, moving, jumping, grabbing, and dashing) that demand the execution of a simple move or the press of a sole button (depending on the control scheme of choice). And where those game thrive in complicated combos, ARMS just asks its players to study the quirks of each of its characters, dive into the effects of its dozens of arms, pick the set that suits them best, and use creativity and fast-thinking on the rings to employ the simple actions the fighters can perform in ways that are appropriate to the situations they will find themselves in.
Like all games of the increasingly lengthy line of Nintendo titles that bask under multiplayer glory, ARMS is constructed of simple building blocks that amount to a product that is deeper than its surface indicates. Given it operates on a much tighter umbrella than Splatoon, as it still exists within the constraints of the fighting genre despite all its novelties, it remains to be seen whether ARMS will have as much lasting appeal as the Inkling’s masterful take on paint-ball. The package for that to be reached is here, though; the rest is up to ARMS and time itself.