Nintendo’s Arms may be the biggest surprise of the year, and contains a character and playstyle for everyone.There’s a hint of desperation as I leap into the sky, hanging there for just a brief moment. Time slows down around me, before small bolts of wind and ice materialize on my arms and speed forward. They arc to the sides, dodging all incoming fire. Just as the elemental missiles are about hit their mark, they dissipate. I am grabbed by some nearby terror—the terror I was trying to destroy. The close-range demon: Kid Cobra. The snake-themed Arms character looks like some 90’s hip-hop/hockey commercial mashup gone wrong, and he keeps wrecking me.
Although he’s been catching a lot of online flak for spamming his abnormally strong grab attack, Kid Cobra is fantastic. I, the beautiful Twintelle, am also fantastic. Arms is fantastic. My two friends, who keep picking Kid Cobra like the world is ending, are fantastic.
If you haven’t watched any Nintendo Direct in 2017, you may believe that Arms is some whacky kids’ minigame with a lot of reskinned characters. Even if you did watch the Directs, there’s still a chance you feel the same. Yet each stretchy-armed avatar is unique—some have multiple jumps or special dodging techniques. Fighters like Kid Cobra are phenomenal at playing up-close and offensively, while others like Twintelle are content to play a long-ranged defense. Helix (a gross Flubber clone picked by yet another pal) is all about playing as goofily as possible to throw off the opponent.
The new Nintendo title is far from a child’s game though, as these various roles and differences have kept every one of my matches enthralling. Arms has challenged me to constantly read and react to my enemies while trying to get the upper-hand. It feels like some rare mix between Super Smash Bros. Melee and Modern Warfare, as I deftly dodge jabs and precisely aim my own. Though there is a learning curve to the game (as well as a few poorly explained mechanics), the game rarely feels unfair, and my losses feel justified.
Arms‘ gameplay is significantly deeper than I ever would have dreamed. Fighters dodge, jump, block, and punch, of course. But they can also charge their punches (by holding in the dodge, jump, or block buttons), which gives each of their fists an element for just a moment. Suddenly, my little bird-looking fist can shock my opponents, while my boomerang hand can blow them away.
To get this charge, though, I’ll be left wide-open for a short time: Twintelle has the special ability to hang motionless in mid-air and charge her punches. Yet Kid Cobra can actually do three super-quick dashes to get close to me. In addition, he could punch my hand mid-throw and cancel the attack. I’ve gotta be smart about when I charge, and I also need to “curve” my punches away from his.
Perhaps I’m playing a little too defensively against my Kid-Cobra-maining buddies. Maybe Twintelle just isn’t inherently great against them. Even with these thoughts in mind, I know I can win. As far as I can tell, Arms introduces many fighters to explore playstyles, not to introduce counters. Sure, certain characters may be at an advantage to others, but that doesn’t guarantee victory. It’s not over till it’s over.
Kid Cobra is presenting a problem for me: I have no way to deal with close-range fights. But that’s not Kid Cobra’s fault, nor is it Twintelle’s. It’s mine, and mine alone. It’s an obstacle that I must overcome; a lesson that I must be taught. Thankfully, I’ve got a few friends who are more than happy to beat the crap out of me till I learn. I’ll enjoy Arms all the while.