What’s Wrong With Splatoon 3?

Image from Vooks

A few months ago, when Zack over at The Musical Divide asked me about buying Splatoon 2, I advised him not to do it: Splatoon 3 would be arriving soon, much of the player base would migrate to it, and S2 wouldn’t have much value without a healthy multiplayer scene. After a month and a half with Splatoon 3, however, I’m starting to think I gave him bad advice.

There’s no denying that Splatoon 3 has been a massive commercial success since its release: While North America sales numbers haven’t been released yet, in Japan the game is already the best-selling game of the year despite only being available for a month and a half. There’s also no denying, however, that the game has had its share of technical challenges over this period as well, from broken weapons that could shoot through walls to a stark increase in network issues that only seems to have gotten worse over time, culminating in the game’s servers crashing hard within the last few days.

I mentioned in my recent review of the game how Splatoon 3 felt surprisingly unpolished and incomplete, with gameplay that didn’t always feel smooth (it takes a second or two for the game to kick into gear whenever you enter the lobby) and several no-brainer modes missing at launch (seriously, why can’t we play TableTurf online?). Things like this can be forgiven if the core of the game that’s there remains solid, but the more I play, the more apparent it gets that whatever backend network connectivity stuff they’ve done for Splatoon 3 is a noticeable downgrade from Splatoon 2. No one would ever hold up Splatoon 2 as a paragon of stability, of course, but with a solid internet connection I could go for several weeks without experiencing a single communication error in that game, whereas now I get at least one such error every freaking time I boot up S3. Seriously Nintendo, you already had a solid base to use for a game that’s not all that different on the surface—how the heck did you manage to fumble the rollout this badly?

The three answers I can think of right now are:

  • Nintendo tried something new, and it wasn’t quite ready for prime time. According to OatmealDome on Twitter, Splatoon 3 is the first major test of NLPN, “a new in-house server system” that’s replacing the NEX system behind Splatoon and Splatoon 2. None of the other games mentioned as having used NLPN (Pokémon Legends: Arceus, Monster Hunter Rise) demand as much from their netcode, making Splatoon 3 the system’s first true stress test, and it appears to be cracking under the strain.
  • Nintendo is asking a lot more of its connections than it did with Splatoon 2. The biggest issue here is the Battle Replay system, which allows players to watch their previous battles from darn near any perspective they want…which likely means that the game has to send a lot more data over the wire to support this feature. Some of this data (like player locations) was already being sent, but now each console needs to have more-granular data (for example, ink tank levels) to make their replay system complete. I’m not sure how much extra data is being sent, but I’m sure that there is extra data being sent, and that might be enough to test the connection’s stability.
  • The game is a victim of its own success. I don’t think anyone inside or outside Nintendo expected Splatoon 3 to explode out of the gate the way it did, so whatever online infrastructure Nintendo had in place may not have been enough to shoulder the load it got. If so, the Big N better start laying out some cash for equipment and personnel, because this player base is only going to grow.

Whatever the reasons, Nintendo needs to find a way to fix the problem, and fast. A rushed game won’t necessarily wind up being bad anymore, but it will be if the problems aren’t addressed, and right now I think Splatoon 2 is actually a better game than its successor. Even in matches without errors, the inherent latency I see just keeps the game from feeling right (heck, there were a few instances in my Splatfest video where an opponent would explode long before or long after I actually hit them). I want to like this game, and there’s a lot to like about this game, but when the main game modes are this unstable and unsatisfying, eventually people are going to get tired of fighting through it and find something else to play.

Nintendo’s update schedule is bit slower for Splatoon 3 than its previous games, but there’s a lot riding on this next patch. Hopefully the company is using this extra time to make things right, because I’m not sure how willing players will be to sit through another few months of this (especially given Nintendo’s atrocious track record when it comes to online connectivity—Super Smash Bros. Ultimate or Super Mario Maker 2, anyone?). I still think this game was released 6-12 months too early (at least), and while Nintendo has certainly made their money from it, the reputational cost to the franchise could outweigh those profits if they don’t get this right.

3 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With Splatoon 3?

  1. Well thought out and exactly how I’ve been feeling. Matchmaking is also a horror show. I don’t see this game getting to the point where it should be before a lot of people get turned off. Even after this last update the game is not fun, unplayable, or both. After getting to S rank things started really going downhill, which speaks to your point that parts of the game have actually gotten worse with each update. Keep up the good work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Splatoon 3 is a great game this blog is nothing more then you having a bitch fit. The game continues to sell well and the online is getting better and better. Your the person who wants people to review bomb it for invalid reasons


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