How Splatoon 2 Killed ARMS
By Phil Myth
This weekend has hosted the final Splatfest for Splatoon 2. The Splatocalypse has taken place across three whole days, and there’s been a massive blowout for it. We’ve had the usual hype building across social media, plenty of outlets have covered the event, and Nintendo have even gone so far as to release exclusive t-shirts through the My Nintendo store.
These celebrations have all been great, and it’ll be a real shame when these events stop and we’re left without a monthly incentive to pick up our splat roller and dive back in for a bit of competitive inking. Spare a thought though, for Splatoon’s neglected sibling; ARMS.
Last month saw the final Party Crash - ARMS’ equivalent to a Splatfest - and it kinda trickled by without anyone really noticing. It’s such a shame because although the available modes and match types may be a little on the shallow side, the core gameplay of Nintendo’s newest franchise is absolutely killer. Unfortunately, more or less since day one, ARMS has been living in the shadow of Splatoon 2.
A Successful Launch
Whilst the ink-based shooter was the Wii U’s new IP, ARMS was the freshly baked concept for the Switch. Nintendo put a lot of focus on it at the reveal presentation, and it featured heavily in marketing materials for the Switch’s launch. True, it may have bigged up the motion controls a little too much to really hook in core gamers, but it offered a unique and fresh take on the fighting genre, in much the same way Splatoon had done for online shooters.
And by-and-large, the critics loved it too. It currently sits at a very respectable 77 on Metacritic, only 4 points behind the original Splatoon. At the time, Game Informer described it as “a zany fighter that delivers excitement and fun at every turn.”
I myself called it “endlessly entertaining”, while IGN praised the “great sense of give and take… for every move you can make, there’s an equal counter, and the delicate dance of trying to outsmart your competitors can lead to some very tense moments.”
And that’s precisely what makes ARMS such a great game. Sure there’s only a handful of modes to dive into, but the core gameplay is spectacular. The sheer variations in characters and Arms on offer means no two bouts are the same. Anticipating your opponents moves and being wary of the effects of their load-out means each fight is incredibly tense.
Nintendo must have been aware of this, as they held an ARMS Open Invitational tournament at E3 2017, just before the game itself launched. The grand finals were great to watch, and even led some to proclaim that ARMS could indeed exist as an eSports title. Then Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime even stated at the time that Nintendo thought ARMS could generate a similar community to that of Smash Bros.
Sales were solid - the game has shifted 2.1 million copies as of October last year - and with the promise of free updates containing new fighters, stages and Arms going forward, there was every reason to believe Nintendo’s new IP was going to be a rousing success.
Then, a month later, along came Splatoon 2.
The first game had achieved a huge amount of success despite the low install base of the Wii U. Hell, Japan had even held virtual pop concerts featuring the Squid Sisters. As a result, the launch of the sequel was always going to be a big event, and it was one of the big pillars of the Switch’s year one release slate. Bookended by Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, the online shooter was Nintendo’s big summer release. Almost everyone who had a Switch was going to be interested, and so all the players who were playing ARMS in June immediately jumped ship in July.
What made it sadder is that Nintendo seemed to drop ARMS just as quickly as the players. The following year’s E3 saw a return of the Splatoon World Championships, but no ARMS. Sure Smash Bros Ultimate may have been the focus for fighting games as far as Ninty were concerned, but it was kind of a shame that the newest IP didn’t get a look in. The argument would likely be that there just weren’t enough people still engaged with the game, but that was simply down to Nintendo dropping a huge release a mere 35 days after ARMS arrived.
Comparatively, the original Splatoon released in May of 2015. The next flagship Nintendo game to drop was Super Mario Maker - four whole months later. That gap in releases meant the install base - such that it were on Wii U - was fully focused on Nintendo’s newest franchise. Wii U owners played it for months on end, learning every nook and cranny of the stages. They experimented with different weapons and honed their skills. Basically, they invested time into this quirky new shooter and grew attached to it as a result. Naturally, the great gameplay helped too.
I’m sure no-one would argue that Nintendo should have replicated the games drought that plagued the Wii U throughout its lifecycle. They needed to come out swinging that first year of the Switch and boy did they. But by dropping such an anticipated title so soon after ARMS, players were less inclined to stick with this weird new fighting game. They weren’t starved of any other software, and so didn’t invest the time into ARMS like they had with Splatoon.
Some did of course, and watching top level ARMS players is truly magnificent. As I’ve mentioned (and will continue to do so until I’m grey and wrinkly) the core gameplay of ARMS is exceptional. It lends itself to really fascinating matches and, as a result, can be utterly captivating to watch. It’s just a shame Nintendo didn’t give it the breathing room to allow that community to really expand and develop.
Despite all this, ARMS did do respectable numbers and there’s every hope that Nintendo will deliver a follow up at some point down the line. They’ll need to do something special with it to pull back those lapsed players who perhaps mistakenly think ARMS isn’t all that great. They could well be under the misapprehension that it was ARMS that failed to hold their attention, rather than it being Splatoon 2 that pulled it away.
Personally, I’d love to see some of the ridiculous lore expanded upon. It’s ARMS canon that nobody knows how the springy-armed people came into being, they just woke up one morning and they slinkys for appendages. The ridiculousness of that is frankly, genius. So maybe there’s someway to expand on that in a bit of a story mode to hook a few people in.
Most importantly though, the game will need space to breathe, find its footing, and give those who decide to take a chance room to fall in love with it.
In the meantime though, whilst everyone else is mourning the loss of this round of Splatfests, I’ll be taking my girl Min Min out for a few rounds in Spring Stadium. If you get a few minutes, you should spend some time with what could’ve been another staple franchise too.
Phil is the co-founder and editor of Nintendo Village, and also writes, hosts and produces P Myth Gaming. He has been a Nintendo fanboy for as long as he can remember and owns every home console bar the Virtual Boy (one day... one day...). His favourite game is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.