This Week in Games - Arms

by Dustin Bailey,
Even covering it from the comfort of a home office, the sheer volume of E3 was positively exhausting. My heart goes out to the poor writers in the trenches, and even more to the poor fans who paid money for the mostly unpleasant experience of being herded through an industry-focused event. Those tickets sold out, so I wouldn't expect public access to go anywhere, but it would do the show well to start looking less like an industry show and more like a PAX. The press does their job mostly in private meetings anyway, so what's the difference?

But E3 is now old news. It's time to start looking at the games we can play right flippin' now, and Nintendo happens to be on schedule with the perfect chaser for all that trailer lust.

First Impressions - Arms

Something about the idea of Nintendo and competitive games still feels alien to me. Sure, people have been playing Smash seriously for years, but it took ages for Nintendo to take notice, foster that scene, and treat the game as anything more than a fun-time party brawler. They took on online shooters with Splatoon a few years ago and now, slowly but surely, it's stopped being a joke when Nintendo talks about a new online multiplayer game. And now, against all odds, Arms is good. Arms, the 3D brawler that seemed like a lowlight at the Switch's reveal presentation. Arms, the game that got a resounding response of “God, aren't motion controls dead yet?” But for as rightly skeptical as you might have been, this is a great fighter filling out an increasingly solid Switch library.

The concept is Nintendo at its most Nintendo. Some people woke up with spring-loaded arms one day, and now there's a whole series of tournaments for the springy arm people. One girl built a mech to get spring-loaded arms, and a movie star decided to start throwing punches with her hair. It's bright, colorful, and very much in the Nickelodeon-esque style that's started defining Nintendo's recent originals. You control your fighter from behind the back, throwing left or right-handed punches that you can curve around, blocking, jumping, and dashing to avoid your opponent's attacks in the meantime.

This all sets up a guessing game where you start to try and draw out your opponent's big moves and respond with counters and combos of your own. You're immobile when throwing a punch, and having both fists out at once leaves you completely defenseless. A careless throw attempt can be artfully dodged, leaving you free to beat the stuffing out of the opposition. It's all about carefully testing the edges of the other side's defense, understanding where their weaknesses are, and figuring out how to exploit them—while they're doing the exact same thing to you, of course.

It's awesome in 1-v-1 matches, and there are layers of strategy simply in how to throw basic punches—never mind what's opened up by a roster of ten characters with unique movement abilities, and a variety of unlockable arms with specific effects and elemental bonuses you can activate with a quick charge. Maybe you'd prefer to immobilize enemies with a shock punch and go for a quick throw, or just go for some extra damage with some flame damage. Maybe you like the straightforward strike of a standard arm, or want to reach around the side with the unpredictable timing of a slapamander.

As wonderful as that one-on-one combat is, it's a bit disappointing to note that it's basically the thing Arms has. The extra modes—multi-person brawls, traditional volleyball, basketball with the players serving as the ball—are all fine, but feel like party-themed minigames in something that's largely focused on traditional battles, and the party mode that makes up the game's core online multiplayer will have you doing a lot of those minigames in between the “real” fights. Ranked mode, which exclusively features those wonderful one-on-one fights, doesn't even unlock until you've completed the single-player Grand Prix on a pretty stringent difficulty level. The meta progression isn't real exciting, either, with coins you earn across every mode getting you in a minigame to unlock new arms.

The other big frustration is a lack of parity between control schemes. Every time Nintendo has shown off Arms it's been with motion controls, and there's a reason why—it's the only way to have the most nuanced control over the direction of your punches. It feels fine, but the precision and reliability of traditional controls still wins out for me. But there's a catch, since you can't individually direct your punches like you can with motion controls, leaving a big disadvantage for those sticking with controllers at higher levels of play. There's no reason separate curving couldn't be mapped to the left and right analog sticks, and the fact that it's not feels like an unnecessary extra nudge of “hey why don't you try out these motion controls” that's a little patronizing.

But that complaint aside, Arms feels great on any pad you play with, and I'm as surprised as anyone that the weird dumb motion-based fighting game Nintendo showed off at the original Switch presentation has a serious amount of merit. That merit is dependent on your desire to stay competitive with it—single-player content is slight and the party modes are tiresome after just a few rounds—but those single battles are fabulous and exciting. The free updates Nintendo is promising over the next year could help to shore up that lack of content for more casual players, but until then this is a game that gives back everything you put into it.

NEWS

KONAMI CONTINUES TO BE DYSTOPIA MADE CORPORATE

Konami's become a sort of running joke among game fans, with a Jim Sterling-suggested profane hashtag summing up people's feelings toward Metal Gear being turned into either a lavish pachinko background or a me-too zombie survival game. But far more distressing than the misuse of favored game properties were the reports of dystopian abuses of employees, with the company making efforts to ensure its workers would be scarcely able to communicate outside the office. One report said that the company even took punitive action against an employee for liking a social media post from a former staffer who found new employment.

Those stories continue to file in. Lost in the bustle of E3, the Nikkei—Asian business outlet—published another report on Konami's apparent abuses that makes the situation seem even worse. In one case, Konami seems to believe Hideo Kojima was in violation of his contract for a sarcastic comment at 2015's Tokyo Game Show where the Metal Gear creator said that a newly announced game had nothing to do with him. Another story suggests that a Kojima Productions executive was denied healthcare at an industry insurance society—one chaired by a director at Konami.

The report refers to former Konami employees as “ex-Kons,” and they're having a tough time finding new jobs. Not only does Konami bar its workers from using their name on resumes, they also file complaints against companies who do hire ex-Kons. Staffing agencies find themselves forced to disclose their client's former employer, and even media interviews of ex-Kons come with the threat of legal action.

Japanese publishers taking efforts against employee-poaching are the stuff of gaming legend. After all, the 80s saw Japanese developers—like many American counterparts—barred from putting their names in the credits, leading to memorably weird pseudonyms like Yukichan's Papa. Yet Konami's actions here are far beyond the stuff of goofy stories shared on forums, and if you think that kind of thing matters you might want to reconsider your upcoming hate purchase of Metal Gear Survive.

PROJECT RAP RABBIT FELL WAY, WAY SHORT OF ITS CROWDFUNDING GOAL

Sometimes, believing just ain't enough. Last month, the creators of PaRappa the Rapper and Gitaroo Man launched a Kickstarter for a new story-based rhythm game tentatively called Project Rap Rabbit. The pitch suggested a combination of of traditional rhythm action with a Mass Effect-style dialog wheel which would have you responding to rap battle lyrics in real-time. It's a rad concept, but the campaign failed to meet its goal—by a wide margin. It didn't even make it a quarter of the way there by the end.

About five years ago, crowdfunding seemed like the future of small-scale game production, but enthusiasm around the concept seems to have completely fallen off—particularly when it comes to Japanese developers. Mighty No. 9 wasn't quite as bad as the internet made it out to be, but there's no denying it was a horribly mismanaged campaign that didn't set the right expectations. Shenmue 3's development was—and is—marred by confusion over the role of crowdfunded money versus publisher investment, and we'll see if Bloodstained ends up suffering any long-term effects over the loss of faith.

With even okay games like Yooka-Laylee and Broken Age being seen as failures in the public eye, it seems like we should expect far fewer developers heading to Kickstarter in the future. That might mean one less outlet for controversy, but it also means we're missing out on the next wave of games like FTL, Pillars of Eternity, and Kentucky Route Zero. That's a high price to avoid the next Mighty No. 9.

SEGA COUNTS ON NOSTALGIA CONTINUING TO BE THE MOST POWERFUL FORCE IN THE UNIVERSE

“Remember Sonic the Hedgehog?” I ask, pretending that you're not someone who's reading the gaming column of an anime website, and that you're not rolling your eyes at the obviousness of the question. “What if I told you that you could play Sonic right now! For free! On your phone!” You're probably sighing and getting ready to tell me about the dozens of ways you can already play Sonic with a decent input device, but you're really not the audience for the new Sega Forever program.

Sega Forever is a free collection of games on iOS and Android. There are a handful of Genesis games available now, and the marketing material suggests Master System, Saturn, Dreamcast, and more will follow. New games every month, leaderboards, bluetooth controller support, the works. All great, except the part where you have to play regular video games on your phone. (And the part where it's ad-supported until you pay $1.99 a game.)

But it's not really about the games themselves. This is a situation like the NES Classic, where selling the product is secondary to keeping brands and characters alive in the minds of nostalgic mainstream consumers—that is, not people who play home video games regularly. It's proven successful for Nintendo in promoting the Switch, and the question is what Sega's upcoming “Switch”-like is. With the company suggesting it wants to make better use of the franchises it owns, it seems safe to assume something major is coming, or else all the promotion is for naught. Total War is great and all, but it's not exactly the type of game synonymous with the Sega name, and recent years have seen it becoming rare for anybody but Sonic to escape the back catalog. Or maybe the ad revenue's better than I'm giving it credit for. Who can say?

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

EVER OASIS
Developer: Grezzo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: June 23
MSRP: $39.99

If E3 proved anything for Nintendo it's that they're not abandoning the 3DS, and Ever Oasis looks to be another great companion for the handheld's twilight years. Directed by Mana creator Koichi Ishii, it's a hybrid of action-RPG and city building, with you overseeing the shops and NPCs who operate in a lone oasis standing against a world-eating desert.

FINAL FANTASY XV: EPISODE PROMPTO
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One
Release Date: June 27
MSRP: ???

I really liked Final Fantasy XV. I thought Episode Gladio was an awful, cynical cash-in that made the later stages of that story even worse. But hey, now Prompto's here to make things all better! The release trailer already shows more content than was in Gladio, so hopefully Episode Prompto can reignite some of the fire that's been lost in FF15's DLC.

VALKYRIA REVOLUTION
Developer: Media Vision
Publisher: Sega
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PlayStation Vita / Xbox One
Release Date: June 27
MSRP: $39.99

Let's rip the bandage off right now—this isn't Valkyria Chronicles. Despite sharing a style, a story about warfare, and half a title, this has nothing to do with the cult-classic strategy RPG. Valkyria Revolution takes those vague similarities and repackages them for a more traditional action-RPG with direct control and heavily customizable party abilities and AI. I'll have a lot more to say next week in a full review.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
The action spinoff of VN series Danganronpa makes the jump from Vita to PS4 and PC with the rerelease of Ultra Despair Girls. RPG Maker Fes marks another entry in the long-running set of game making tools, this time on 3DS—with a free app that lets you download other people's adventures.


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