When people often attend sports games, they deck themselves out in their favored team’s clothes. If you’re ever watching a Bay Area-located basketball game, when the camera pans to the crowd cheering within Oracle arena, you’ll likely see a sea of yellow and blue: championing the local team the Warriors’ iconic colors. In Arms, the audience boasts a similar visualization of admiration in the background. But in this virtual world, they take their fandom to the next level: by cosplaying en masse.
In Arms, everyone in the stands is split amongst the competing combatants. For Barq and Byte fans, a giant dog-robot helmet rests upon their shoulders. For Mechanica fans, they wear recreations of the homemade mecha suit the fighter herself wears. For Ribbon Girl fans, their hair spirals outward in a ribbon-y ponytail, just like the star singer. For Helix (a.k.a. DNA Man, a.k.a. gross Flubber thing), their fans have strings of DNA dangling out of their natural hair, as if their actual DNA is poking out to get a peek at the action. Of the game’s ten fighters and their four color variants, materialized fan appreciation comes in all shapes and sizes.
The cosplay touch is something I didn’t notice immediately as I began playing Arms last week, but instead noticed as I scrolled through the screenshots I was taking in the game’s “replay” functionality. The replay mode gives players the ability to change camera angles, watch in slow-motion (though, to be honest, the slo-mo mode looks terrible and choppy), and pause entirely, which is perfect for screenshots. That’s when I noticed the enthusiastic fans by chance, as I saw a Mechanica fan cheering from the top of a rusty crane dangling near a fighting arena. While the crowds aren't as immensely detailed as, say, a stadium's in a FIFA game, their costumes and accessories are still eye-catching, adding a bit more pizazz to the handful of arenas in Arms.
There are tiny bits of lore buried in Arms that scroll across the screen in quick throwaway lines, or otherwise. Mechanica, for instance, wasn’t born with the magical gift of elastic Arms at all: she was merely a fan of the fighting program (also named Arms, seemingly the setting of the game) that airs on television. Eventually, she decided she wanted to participate, gifted or not, and constructed her own mecha, giving her a leg-up in the competition.
In obviously more than one way, Mechanica’s DIY-origins reminded me of D.Va, the hero from Overwatch. D.Va was once an esports champion, the world’s top Starcraft player at only the age of 16, until she decided she wanted to actively help defend the world against evil. So she did as any games-savvy player longs to do: she began piloting a mecha multiple times her size, and livestreamed all of it. She paved her own path in being a hero, just as Mechanica achieved her dream of becoming one of Arms’ top fighters.
The enthusiastic, televised crowd in Arms are likely just as big of fans of the wild spontaneous fights as Mechanica once was, before she became a part of it all. As they dress up as their favorite fighters—whether to feel closer to the heroes they admire, or just have a bout of fun dress up—they remind me of attending anime conventions, and seeing the wonderful costumes all around.
I’ve dabbled in the hobby (not making any cosplays, unfortunately, I’m an awful seamstress). I’ve dressed up alongside friends as our favorite fictional characters, pinning wigs tightly onto our heads and wearing googly-eyed contact lenses to look as accurate as can be. Cosplaying, for me at least, was a social activity, just as I’m sure attending a sports game (or Arms battle) can be. In Arms, the cosplay rings as something beyond that though: as a way of proudly showing off their pure admiration for a fighter and their quirkier characteristics: dog-robot helmets, DNA twirls, and all. Maybe more like the technically seriouser cosplayers in the community.
If you venture into the next timed Arms Global Testpunches this weekend, keep an eye on the crowd for the silly cosplaying audience members cheering for your victory (or defeat). Stay tuned as we play more of the colorful upcoming Switch-bound fighting game, with our complete review coming in the future.