The one game that is making me consider shelling out for a Switch sooner rather than later has turned out to be Arms, the completely brand new extendable-arm-punching game announced in January. Of course, being a fan of Nintendo’s games, I was probably going to dive in at some point, but I’m intrigued even more whenever they show something new like this – Nintendo, rightly or wrongly (it’s a little bit of both), is often regarded as relying too heavily on established, nostalgia-drenched franchises, but when they put some effort into something built from the ground up, it’s especially interesting to look at what design philosophies it shares with the big guns, as well as what makes it distinct (I didn’t play Splatoon, but I appreciate it, and have been waiting for Nintendo to produce something else in that vein.) Nintendo has a very particular style that finds its way into a diverse array of games, and when they tackle a category or genre they hadn’t before, they tend to find new angles that haven’t been explored by anyone else (see the aforementioned Splatoon.) Arms is just that: a colourful and whimsical alternative derived from the very core of a genre, in this case the fighting game (and based on interviews, they are very much thinking of this as a fighting game rather than a straight-up boxing title, despite the focus on pugilism in combat), going back to the most basic ideas and, from there, heading in another direction entirely. It’s the kind of simple high concept that really clicks, and from the few interviews about it so far, I can tell that the developers have put a lot of thought into it, mentioning how the changes in timing affects how players approach a battle (because there is an inherent delay in when a hit lands) and how it’s meant to contrast the traditional 2D mode while also comparing with other games with the same 3D arena format. Plus, anyone developing a high-profile title like this namedropping Virtual On as an inspiration piques my curiosity.
I’m also a huge fan of fighting games in general, and I think part of why Arms has endeared itself to me so quickly is because it does things with the fighting genre that haven’t been done before. As much as I love fighting games, I’ve sometimes felt that as of late the genre has become too reliant on a handful of ongoing series and unspoken rules that prevent the concept, which is really just a competitive game where people hit each other until one falls down, from being expanded upon or shaken up or whatever, both aesthetically and gameplay-wise. So, something that seems to be coming at the fighting game concept from new-ish perspective gets my attention almost immediately. Back in the bad old days of the 90s, there were so many fighting games being released that it was easy to be lost in the glut, and a large percentage of them were unoriginal, dull, and without character – but because of the vast numbers of them, there were a few that knew that they had find some ways to stand out if they were to succeed in even the narrowest margins. So, while that era had plenty of dreck, it also encouraged some to come up with new ideas, and those games often became the ones that people remember now – the Samurai Shodowns, the King of Fighters, the Power Stones, the Soul Caliburs, and so on – while a few remained obscure despite their merits. It showed that the genre had a real potential for a variety of styles, which is one of the things that has kept me around since my first video game consoles: a very simple core with a plethora of interpretations.
This has got me thinking about that variety, what games in the past have done to make them distinctive and go beyond the surface limits of the genre. In this series, I’m going to look at a selection of fighting games (or games that are close enough) – ones I’ve played, and ones I have only spectated – and look at their individual styles, the unique little things that they do that set them apart, or that offer something different from the mass of games out there. They may not be the most well-known, and I guarantee most of them won’t have big tournament scenes, but they’ll be games that have something that fascinates me, and given this opportunity, I want to really put them under the microscope and figure out why.
NEXT ROUND: Wrestle-fighters