In Arms, defense is powerful because offense is so risky. New players tend to rush in, throwing out both punches carelessly and going for big grabs constantly. For a player who simply stands still, no attack comes out quite so fast that they can’t react to it. As a result, the whole game is about reacting to the other player’s actions, not so much rushing in boldly yourself.
Every move in Arms is predictable and counterable. The bulk of your damage will come from punishing unsafe moves on the part of your opponent. This begs the question: Which moves are closest to being safe and which moves are unsafe?
Start by walking
As we recommend in other fighting games, start by walking around the stage. Try and get into the position you want to be without dashing or jumping off the bat. Watch your opponent and see what they decide to do. Whether they punch you or attempt a throw, you have full control of your character and can deal with whatever they throw at you.
Single-punch offense: testing and observing the enemy
Of course, doing nothing for the entire match is not going to lead you to victory. Throw out single punches to test your opponent. Don’t do this so much to actually try and hit (though that would of course be nice), but to examine their reaction to you. Does your opponent dodge you and try to counterattack, the common play? Do they try and punch through it? Do they guard? Taking note of your opponent’s reactions and tendencies, you’ll start to get crucial clues as to when to strike.
You get this information without taking a huge risk. You can’t block or jump straight away after a punch, but if you see a counterpunch coming at you, you can dash to evade it. If the opponent dodges you and goes for a grab, you have your other hand ready to intercept it with a second punch.
Unless you’re sure you’re going to hit, try not to use both punches at once: You are completely defenseless for a long time during this, and you’re effectively handing the opponent free damage if they dodge you.
Dash and jump only when you need to
Specifically, do not dash and jump when you don’t need to. It can feel comfortable to dash repeatedly out of harm’s way, but unless you’re actually dodging punches coming in that fast, you shouldn’t let yourself fall into the habit.
From an attacker’s point of view, the best thing to do with an evasive opponent is simply wait for them to be done and attack right in the vulnerable moment when they come to a stop. Are you dodging their punches? They’re going to start waiting for you to dash before they attack you, or even curve their punches so that you dash into them. The same largely goes for jumps, with the exception of Ribbon Girl whose jump powers effectively allow her to get away with anything. The moment your opponent lands is a moment they’re wide open.
Keep this in mind yourself and try not to dash or jump unless you have a specific reason for doing so. Don’t allow it to turn into a reflex.
The other thing you really shouldn’t do is dash or jump in the same direction over and over again. Remember, you have a full 360 degrees of motion available to you: It’s a bad habit to just keep it to left, left, left. You will be twice as hard to guess if you mix up your movements and consciously try to make less obvious moves.
Consider your position
Whether or not your opponent is blocking, a grab thrown from halfway across the ring is extremely unlikely to connect. Likewise, if you’re carrying boomerangs and missiles, you shouldn’t be rushing toward your opponent but attacking them from a distance.
Know the ranges of your weapons and try to put yourself in that range. This seems like common sense, but we often forget it during the heat of the fight as we pursue our opponent. Keep cool and remember your game plan.
Also keep in mind that, the closer you are to an enemy, you have fundamentally less time to react to an attack and take more time to recover. Point-blank combat is very different and more dangerous than normal. No move is truly safe up close, as even a single jab will leave you open to attack if dodged, and a missed grab is a total disaster. Heavy weapons and fast weapons have advantages in this space.
Consider the stage and the timer
The stages section of this guide has full details on each stage, but keep a general awareness of where you are on the map. Many of the stages in Arms favor certain positions (and the high ground is always better), so stay aware of it. You may even need to swap out weapons if they aren’t working out on a certain map.
Running down the timer with a life lead and a few seconds left is not the way most players want to be remembered, but the fact is that it wins matches in this rather turtle-oriented game. You can’t really do much in Arms if your opponent decides to straight up run away, and with a life lead and three seconds on the clock, don’t be surprised when they do. Don’t even be ashamed about doing it yourself. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.