The next Nintendo Direct is coming, and it’s going to focus on Splatoon 2 and ARMS. Reason says that means these two games, both slated for 2017, are probably launching close to one another. In some ways, Splatoon 2 and ARMS are similar to each other. They’re both very colorful, character-based, multiplayer-focused, and original first-party IPs from Nintendo. Splatoon 2 is a sequel, but only the first in what is definitely a fast-growing brand. The key difference between the two is genre, with Splatoon 2 being a shooter and ARMS a one-on-one fighter. My worry is, being a more niche genre, ARMS will be overshadowed bigtime by Splatoon 2, even by people who buy it in a long-term sense.
Splatoon had the secret sauce to make it an instant success, in a similar vein to something like an Overwatch or Team Fortress 2. Squad-based shooters with a heavy emphasis on silly characters, in our contemporary age of social media and fandom, is easy mode. You still have to make a good game of course, but having fan-ready window dressing is a proven factor for success in a new IP. Just look at Battleborn, Overwatch’s direct competition. Battleborn’s cast was more muddled, less individual and ultimately, less appealing to kids into sharing fanart and gifs on Twitter.
It worked well with Splatoon, becoming one of the fastest-selling new IP for Nintendo in ages, even despite the Wii U’s tragically slim install base. ARMS is the next attempt to recapture that lightning in a bottle, while Splatoon 2 is simply the logical next step. ARMS is a super-colorful fighting game, which uses either motion controls or the normal buttons, so the gimmickry is a bit vague. Each character has a variety of super powers based around their goofy, extending arms, and it almost looks a bit like some kind of futuristic Punch-Out.
The problem is just, how unstable and crowded the fighter genre is right now. 2017 alone so far is seeing a new Tekken, Injustice 2, a huge overhaul to Street Fighter V, and even a new Marvel vs. Capcom. It’s nuts, and there might not be much more room for anything else. Especially since Super Smash Bros. is already considered The Nintendo Fighter, and that’s another Splatoon-like, more-than-two-player affair. One-on-one games require more investment by nature, as depth and nuance are imperative in order to keep players engaged, especially, again, for long-term play.
Will something as silly and ostensibly gimmicky as ARMS be able welcomed with open arms, when Splatoon 2 has that built-in accessibility in the form of online shootybang? It’s going to be an uphill battle. It’s tough to measure the response to ARMS as of now, as the initial Nintendo Switch reveal events had an air of disinterest and confusion, leading up to when the thing actually came out and people decided to be excited for the new hardware regardless. ARMS is going to rely on word of mouth and the Switch install base clamoring for something new.
Perhaps ARMS will have a calculated release date of Before Splatoon 2, in order for it to have the spotlight on it before any other non-Mario-Kart-port games appear on The Switch in the AAA, or especially first-party arena. Splatoon 2 was announced for the summer during the initial reveal of the title, so perhaps a mid or late spring window for ARMS will prove to be the smart play.
Otherwise, I just don’t see ARMS surviving in the shadow of its older sibling, no matter how interesting or unique it ends up being. Fighters are a special breed that need a more specific set of circumstances to truly succeed. Just look at Pokken Tournament. Nobody talks about it anymore. ARMS could be the same.