While my wife spent her weekend in Texas for a convention, I made the 2.5 hour drive to the town where I was born and raised to take my son to visit my family. Weekend visits are a semi-regular occurrence, but this opportunity to spend some weekdays too gave us all more time to hang out and catch up. One of the things I really wanted to do was spend an evening with my brother playing video games. We used to play a lot of multiplayer games together before I got married and moved out – since then, we’ve barely gotten to play together at all. So this was a good opportunity for the two of us to stay up late (I barely made it to midnight) and get some quality console time in. The first game we ended up playing, the one we spent most of our night on, was ARMS.
When ARMS was first announced, I wasn’t excited about it. When it was shown off in detail via a Nintendo Direct, I became more intrigued. Then the Global Testpunch convinced me that this was a game I wanted to support. A new IP early into the life span of a new console with quirky characters and unique mechanics? I could get behind that. Once the game came out, I played online somewhat but never got to a level where I was interested in playing competitive. Once new characters started rolling out, I fell away and started playing other things. I have jumped back in once or twice but for the most part, ARMS hasn’t been on my radar. It’s one of those games where I have occasionally wondered whether the $60 I spent was realistically worth the limited time I have invested into the game. As it sat unplayed on my console while I looked at newer titles I felt like I would enjoy more, I certainly wouldn’t have minded the extra cash.
Still, in a world without Super Mario Party or Smash Ultimate, this seemed like our best option for local multiplayer, so my brother and I decided to get our punching gloves on. He played the Testpunch but never got the game, so we decided first to run through a Grand Prix to get him trained up. After that we would dive into party mode and see what kind of trouble we could get in to.
Our Grand Prix run was a great warm-up that proved a pretty fun way for my brother to learn the game while I got warmed back up and introduced to the newer characters. I hadn’t played since folks like Misango, Lola Pop, and Dr. Coyle joined the game, so seeing them in action and trying to understand what in the world their abilities were proved an interesting exercise. I also had a lot of fun with the badge system – I’m not sure which update the badges rolled out with, but they make it much easier to make money, especially when you don’t have any badges yet. This allowed us to play the Long Timer in the ARM Getter much more often and rack up tons of new ARMS for our characters.
The fun really started once we made it to party mode and started playing online. Now I personally am not a fan of online multiplayer. I grew up playing local and I like to keep it that way. My wife tells me stories about her experiences with Overwatch, and while for her the positives far outweigh the negatives, I dread the thought of trying to play a cooperative game with random weirdos online. But the way that ARMS is set up – and the way my brother and I were playing together – actually made this an ideal multiplayer experience for me.
First off, ARMS doesn’t have voice chat (or at least, I don’t have voice chat set up since I don’t have the app), so beyond fighting each other there wasn’t actually interaction with other people online. We played against them but didn’t talk to them. Second off, my teammate and partner was in the room with me, so we got all the fun of local multiplayer: building up each other’s hype, planning our strategies, and reacting in real time to the crazy stuff that happened. Third off, despite my brother having little experience and myself being out of practice, we were for the most part quite even with our opposition. We didn’t never got a winning streak or a losing streak – it was back and forth for the whole experience. So if you like me prefer local multiplayer, but you like the variety and competitive nature of playing online with real players, the ARMS setup pulls those things off really well.
If you’ve never played ARMS party mode, here’s how it works: you get into a lobby with around eight other people. You’re then randomly matched with some of those people in a different type of competition: 1 vs 1, 2 vs 2, 3-or-4 player free-for-all, or even special matches like Skillshot (target breaking), V-Ball (volleyball with explosions), or the challenging Vs Hedlok mode (allying together against a powerful CPU opponent). The variety in the matches keeps things fresh and because you’re constantly matched with different combinations within the lobby, you get to face a variety of characters and players.
Because my brother and I were playing together on the same console, we generally came in pairs but sometimes the game separated us as well. Our very first match, in fact, was a singles match between myself and another player. My brother got thrown in to a similar match shortly after. Even team scenarios didn’t always keep us together – while we never opposed each other, sometimes only one of us would get pulled into a team match and we’d instead be paired with a different person in the lobby. This, too, kept things fresh, as we were sometimes paired as allies with people we’d just faced as opponents in the last match.
I’ve always felt that party mode is where ARMS shines and that trend continued for me here. I loved how invested we were able to get into the matches. We were able to share laughs or excited shouts about all kinds of fun moments. There was a battle in which I managed to totally avoid an opponent’s rush attack by dashing from side to side, totally avoiding damage and then leaving them open to a good counter. In another battle, we got our tushes handed to us in about ten seconds and we got a good laugh out of how badly we played. We faced opponents with ridiculous screen names and it was even more fun when one of those goofy names proved to be tough opponents in battle. Often a match ended to shouting and whooping as we just managed to land a winning blow with only a sliver of HP remaining. It felt, for a brief time, like being a kid again.
It’s fun, too, how each lobby develops a sort of personality. Folks drop in and out throughout your play time, but for those who stick it out you often face the same opponent a few times and get an idea of their style and skill level. There was a Helix in our lobby who was on for much of the time that we were and who absolutely outclassed us in skill – this person was an excellent ARMS player and most matches they easily spanked us. There was one moment where they had such a strong winning streak that they were getting three bonus coins per match, and then my brother got paired with them in a team match. He got wiped out early and it cost the other player the game as well as their winning streak – we got a great laugh out of that one!
The rivalry was friendly rather than hostile, though. I don’t know if that would have been accentuated by voice chat or if having the ability to talk to each other might have led to a different outcome. But you can pick up context clues from the way that folks play their matches, too. I never felt like the Helix focused their attention on us to take us out since we were “easy prey.” My brother and I also never made a point to try and take them out in free-for-alls. We kept it fair and so did they, and while I can’t speak for that player my brother and I certainly developed a respect for them and their skill.
Unfortunately, the biggest weakness of ARMS showed its face that night too. ARMS is over a year old now, a new IP in a genre that has harder-hitting titles which have since hit the Switch. While there is still a community there, you really have to play ARMS at a peak time to find a lobby that stays full. Around the thirty minute mark, our lobby had dwindled down to four players – the two of us, our Helix rival, and one other player. I honestly expected someone to disconnect quicker than it happened, but even though the four of us were all put in the same matches against each other over and over again, no one left right away. There was this sort of unspoken agreement that whoever left first “lost,” you know? Ultimately, it was our rival who left first due to losing connection during a match. This left their partner exposed and gave my brother and I an easy win, at which point our opponent understandably left the lobby. We waited for a minute or two to see if anyone else showed up, but at that point we ended up leaving party mode.
We did manage to squeak out one more fun story from this, though. After we left the lobby I went to my screenshots to post the above image to Twitter, and we saw that I had a friend request. My brother immediately said “I hope it’s that Helix!” and sure enough, when I posted the screenshot and then went to my profile to check, my friend request was from our friendly rival. That made both of us really happy – it was cool to see that what we had perceived as a friendly, spirited competition had been interpreted the same way by our opponent. I think those final moments in the lobby cemented the whole thing; the pickings were light and the game was slow, but the few of us there still had a fun time playing together.
Getting the opportunity to enjoy ARMS with my brother, to play some local multiplayer with a soda in hand and have fun matches against a cool opponent, felt great. It’s rare to have those kinds of experiences as life gets busier. While this article will be posted only a couple of days after this happened, I can see this becoming the kind of memory that stands out and I look back upon with fondness.
Video games are often assigned value based on the amount of time you put into them. How many hours can I squeak out of the $60 I just spent on this disk/cartridge? With ARMS, that value hasn’t always been high for me. I thought the game was fun but rarely spent time with it, and I haven’t touched it in quite a while. But this experience reminded me that sometimes the worth of a game isn’t in how much time you spend with it, but the quality of that time. ARMS allowed me to share an excellent evening with my brother, to set aside stress and work, and even to make a connection with a total stranger. And that’s value to me.