When Nintendo Switch launched in early 2017, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was the game on everyone’s minds. But the console’s launch window also included the rare release of a brand new IP from Nintendo, Arms. Despite generally positive reviews and sales for a new IP, Arms was largely overlooked in the time after its launch.
Perhaps it was due to releasing within a few months of Breath of the Wild, its focus on motion controls, or various other reasons, but the game simply didn’t have the staying power of other recent Nintendo IPs such as Splatoon. Yet, Nintendo has never given up on Arms. Tournaments and free weekends still occur, and the character Min Min was even the latest addition to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. If Nintendo is trying to build interest for a sequel, here’s how I think they could make it more memorable.
Perhaps one of the strongest points that Arms had going for it was its characters. The vibrant and varied designs of these characters immediately stood out and spawned a small but dedicated fanbase. From the robotic Byte and Barq to Master Mummy and Twintelle, there was no shortage of quirky personalities to get attached to.
The fans consistently discuss and create fan content around these characters, and predicting which of the cast would be the representative to appear in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was a fun topic. However, despite how interesting the cast of Arms was, the lack of a real story mode meant that the game never gave players a chance to see these characters fleshed out or interact with each other in fun ways.
With those aspects in mind, I think a high-quality story mode could be just what the series needs. Exploring the established characters for a few fights each to make an overall narrative is something more and more fighting games are doing recently. Games like Mortal Kombat 11 and Injustice 2 have seen tremendous success with their story modes using this structure.
The style of Arms also lends itself well to doing this. The reveal trailer of Min Min in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate used a bold 2D animation style that would work great for cutscenes in-between story fights. Alternatively, Nintendo could use the in-game engine to tell its story since the character models and environments are already so well defined and colorful.
Sections of the campaign could be broken up with mini-games like those seen in the first game (e.g., Hoops and Skillshot). On top of this, the unique gameplay of Arms could enable Nintendo to be more creative with a single-player offering. A linear, forward-scrolling adventure as you take down enemies that appear in front of you could be a great shake-up on the formula and similar to sidescrolling modes from early Tekken games or the arcade Time Crisis series.
At its core, Arms succeeded at using a novel style of gameplay for the fighting genre. Controlling your fighter from behind with an opponent in front of you in a 3D environment is rare for a fighting game (aside from the classic Punch-Out!!). Additionally, having a choice of three interchangeable arms to use on each arm provided some variety and strategy to fights. Players could use favored loadouts, tailor their arms to their opponent’s character, or even switch arms between rounds to counter their opponent’s play style.
However, despite these options and the great variety of maps (complete with hazards and elevation changes), Arms had an issue with depth. Many matches came down to character movement as well as the timing of your punches, grabs, and rush attacks. There simply wasn’t enough gameplay variety to keep players interested in mastering its systems.
Some small but significant changes could go a long way towards adding depth. The addition of a parry system could add a welcome way for players on the back foot on a match to retaliate, while also making matches slightly more tactical. Likewise, if the fighters could have more unique rush attacks, it would give players compelling reasons to want to choose one character over another.
The original game could be played without motion controls, but there was a clear emphasis on using them in the marketing, which could be why the combat lacked some depth. While it would be asking too much to remove motion controls, making the combat more robust with standard controllers in mind could draw in both fighting game enthusiasts and players that were turned off by the original’s focus on motion controls.
Arms already had great online functionality, but this could be expanded upon too. New additions such as a 2v2 tag team mode or a free-for-all brawl with a larger player count could make for some fun chaos. Taking a page from Splatoon 2, Arms could even make use of seasonal events that focus on a new or modified mode for a limited time. Adding necessary depth to combat with more ways to play is how I believe an Arms sequel could leave a longer-lasting impression on gamers.
The extra mile
One of the primary reasons why Arms may have been forgotten about could actually be its lack of long-term hooks. Simply put, Arms didn’t provide players with compelling reasons to want to come back for more. If you look at any games with multiplayer features over this last generation, you can spot some key features that make gamers want to keep playing.
Games like Fortnite and Apex Legends update themselves frequently with new weapons, characters, modes, and customization options. Nintendo’s own Splatoon 2 gave players semi-regular online events called Splatfests, which let players compete for a weekend and earn limited-time items and bonuses. By comparison, Arms didn’t have any reason to return unless you were interested in your online ranking and the occasional online tournaments.
An Arms sequel could take a page from these multiplayer success stories and add some features to great effect. A seasonal ranking system could let players compete on leader boards that reset every couple of months and earn rewards depending on their performance. A battle pass system could let players earn new cosmetic items for their favorite fighters and therefore give the game more frequent updates. At the heart of features like these would be engaging customization options that the original game was sorely lacking (outside of basic color variations). Letting players unlock cosmetics, such as a variety of skins for each character, is a great way to incentivize gamers to return frequently.
Seasonal events that provide limited-time modes and skins, much like in Overwatch, would be a great way to implement this too. And if Nintendo wanted to go the extra mile to garner interest, some guest characters from other Nintendo IP could add some extra spice. Being able to play as Arms versions of Link or Samus would get any Nintendo fan excited, and we’ve already seen a precedent for crossovers like this with the Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. series.
Arms is a franchise that Nintendo doesn’t want to give up on, and with some creative ideas, I think the sequel could be the knockout punch this series needs. How do you want an Arms sequel to improve on the original?