Why the characters of Nintendo’s ARMS are designed to last

Mario, Pac-Man, Link, Megaman, Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Ryu are all iconic characters. Not Ubisoft iconic, but designs that have actually withstood the test of time, and still remain in the gaming public’s collective consciousness all these years later. A large part of why these characters have become such familiar faces is their visual simplicity and brilliant use of color, which makes it easy to conjure up accurate mental images of them. For that reason, among others, you can go ahead and add the cast of Nintendo’s ARMS to that list.

Truly iconic, mascot-like characters have been on the decline since the start of the PS2 era, mostly due to the increasing power of consoles. Back in my day, smart use of color and simple character sprites or models were a necessity. Mario’s famous mustache came about due to the difficulty of showing mouths on the NES, and Megaman became the Blue Bomber because the NES could produce more shades of blue than any other color.

Today, there are almost no limitations on character design, which can be a double edged sword. Games that aim for photo-realism in real world settings have flourished, but many games have been hurt by the lack of clearly defined visual limitations, and nowhere is this more prominent than the Final Fantasy series. In particular, Tetsuya Nomura’s designs have suffered from the extra detail afforded by the increased power. Extra belts, straps, bandages, and wings are shoved everywhere they can fit, and many places where they don’t.

Nooj Final Fantasy X-2Does Nooj get the point across? How about this story about Nomura’s wing obsession? Somebody get him a No Man.

However, Nintendo has never lost their style. Sure, Nintendo consoles have been the low end of the power spectrum since the release of the Wii, but even stepping into the realm of HD development hasn’t altered the company’s approach to designing characters. The Inklings, a fairly recent Nintendo creation, highlight this wonderfully. They’re simple characters that have just enough squid-based details to be clever. They can have silly equipment, but nothing that would have been out of place on the 90’s classic “Wild & Crazy Kids.

ARMS continues that trend, with little in the way of excessive or pointless detail. Each character has a gimmick, with an aspect of that gimmick reflected in their ARMS, and to a lesser extent in their secondary traits. Spring Man is a boxer with spring arms, but the trait also manifests itself in his spring shaped pompador, and his ability to bounce back from a beating, as seen by his powered up critical state in combat. Minmin has a Chinese theme going on, her arms are a reference to Dragon Noodles, and her hair is a bunch of noodles that flow from beneath her hat, which is an overturned ramen bowl. Naturally, she uses flying martial arts kicks to defend herself in the air, as a proper stereotypical Chinese fighter should.

Boiling the designs down further, we can see the use of color is fantastic. It’s really reminiscent of the way Street Fighter II used simple color schemes to distinguish its characters. To highlight this, I stole the idea of Ashley Browning’s minimalist Street Fighter II characters, and applied it to a few members of the ARMS cast.

Street Fighter Characters Minimalist ImpressionsAshley Browning’s minimalist treatment of Street Fighter II’s roster show how well designed they were.

ARMS Spring Man. Ribbon Girl. Minmin, TwintelleFour of the ARMS cast in a similar style, done by yours truly. Can you identify the characters?

I’m not an artist by any stretch of the imagination, so the ARMS cast could be represented better, but I feel they hold up amazingly well. I can easily identify any of the characters on the roster when reduced to rectangles of color, even without their defining ARMS. It just goes to show that Nintendo has smashed another one out of the park with the ARMS character designs.



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