When Twintelle was announced as a character in Arms just weeks ago, it felt like Twitter exploded. Fan art littered the skies of timelines, and love showered down upon Nintendo. People were so enthusiastic about a single character in a game they—at that point in time—had not even played yet. It was fandom at it's most raw and ravenous.
Arms feels like the next step (or rather, hit) in the natural progression of New Nintendo. New Nintendo is different from Old Nintendo. New Nintendo is the Nintendo that took a chance, where they handed squid kids ink-powered guns to paint the world.
That game is called Splatoon, and it's even getting a sequel next month. The squid kids of New Nintendo's reign are notoriously fashionable: they wear high-end sneakers, they pose in faux-fashion campaigns, they look like the patrons you'd find loitering outside of a streetwear store, hours before a new season of merchandise drops. And Arms' roster of fighters are just as relentlessly cool.
Character design is one of the hardest things for a game to land. Take two rival kinda-similar team-based shooters of last year for example. You can glance at both Battleborn and Overwatch, and immediately poke out the most apparent difference. Overwatch's characters look cohesive and have a clear identity, while Battleborn's don't. Likewise, at least for myself, I find myself more likely to feel engaged with a game the more I appreciate its art direction. Of course, even good art direction isn't enough to wholly save a game sometimes.
When Arms was announced earlier this year, we were treated to two spiral-armed fighters: Ribbon Girl and Spring Man. They were bright and colorful, with enormous eyes and elastic-stretching arms. Eventually, Nintendo went down the line to introduce other new characters. Ninjara. Mummy Man. Min Min. Mechanica. Helix. Twintelle. Kid Cobra. Byte & Barq. All the characters vastly different in their style, but all unified by one thing: their lengthy-ass arms.
The fighting games I've always enjoyed the most are ones with colorful, varied characters. King of Fighters has become notorious as a series with arguably too many characters, but with enough variance for players to find at least a character or two they'll enjoy. Skullgirls, the indie fighter from Lab Zero Games, was a smash success, as the developers added additional characters to the already wide roster over the years. The impeccable animation and liveliness of its anime-inspired style is part of what made Skullgirls stick out through the crowd: it felt lovingly designed, right down to its idle animations.
Arms is the only fighter I've been really drawn to since then. Even though it has its own wealth of problems, as I wrote in my review. However, it does get one of the most important parts right: having diverse, well-designed characters to fight as. Characters for every type of player, not just mechanically, but aesthetically without them feeling out of place. While I often felt like Arms' fighters didn't feel wildly different enough tangibly between one another (arms are far more important on that end), some have more obvious oddities to turn the tide in battle.
It's been strange seeing this apparent shift in Nintendo's design philosophy. Nintendo's never been uncool per say; and in the embrace of the Animal Crossing series, Nintendo has even flirted with inherent stylishness in the past. But in most cases, Nintendo always stuck with the old, familiar IPs of the past. They stuck with Mario, Kirby, Donkey Kong, Zelda, continued to ignore the existence of Metroid, and so on. Nintendo didn't really venture outward until Splatoon, and it landed with a splat.
Splatoon simultaneously looked so unlike everything else Nintendo had put out before it, and also was right at home. Its grasp of color, of turning expected gameplay norms on its head, its character designs, I could go on and on. They all were unabashedly Nintendo, all the while imbuing excitement for the company creating not only something new, but something unabashedly confident too.
Arms feels like almost a direct response to Splatoon's praise. It's a game with stylish, unique fighters: like Ribbon Girl's enthusiastic attitude, pension for singing, and cheerleading get-up. Or Twintelle, who doesn't actually use her arms to fight, but her hair instead. Her arms are perpetually on her hips, as if evoking a cocky umph with every slap with her elongated pigtails. The fellas as well—like Ninjara or Spring Man—are cleverly clad too. Spring Man is the generic lively mascot; he's colorful and upbeat with giant springs for arms. Spring Man embodies everything the game is about: bouncing around, landing hits, and having a good time.
I'm excited to see what new things Nintendo adds to Arms over the next year. What new characters will join the ranks, what arms will fasten themselves onto coiled arms, what new stages enter the ring. I also wonder where this newfound fashionably conscious art direction will take Nintendo next. Perhaps the crafting and building genre dominated by Minecraft needs a makeover? Or what if Nintendo entered the DOTA 2 and League of Legends-leading MOBA game realm (extremely unlikely)? The world is Nintendo's oyster now. And baited by cute characters and stylish fits, we've played right into their hands.