Does Splatoon 3 Have A Power Creep Problem?

Sure the Crab Tank is good, but even it would it struggle to hit Milestone Kershaw’s slider when his confidence bar is high.

I’ve done a lot of complaining about Splatoon 3, but surprisingly one of things I haven’t complained about is the meta for the game—heck, I gripe far more about the meta of country music than I ever did about Splatoon! Of course, this is because I’m nowhere near as plugged into the ranked/competitive scene as I was in Splatoon 2: I tend to stick to Turf Wars where weapons are a bit more varied and the magical theory that you can make any weapon work still exists. Anarchy and X battles, however, are where the meta really starts to harden, and there’s been one specific shooter that’s been all the rage lately…

Image from The Negus Corner

That’s a lot of Splash-o-matics, and more specifically, that’s a lot of Crab Tanks.

As a special, the crab tank is both durable and powerful: The mech itself will block shots from reaching you (and take a fair bit of damage before breaking), and you instantly get two long-range firing modes that can flash-fry opponents in the open or loop ink blobs up and over walls to hit people behind cover. It’s a potent option that several different weapons have, but the Splash-o-matic has perhaps the perfect kit to complement the move. It can deliver fast, accurate damage with the main weapon, deliver even-faster burst damage with its Burst Bombs, and morph into a long-range threat that can deny an opponent access to an area for a decent period of time.The question wasn’t why you would use the Splash, it was why you would use anything else.

After many months of taking heat from all sides, Nintendo released a new balance patch to address the crab-pocalypse…and while they might have succeeded in a weird backwards way, they may have just given the community some new weapons and especially a new special to despise:

Since the Crab Tank, and specifically the Splash-o-matic with the Crab Tank, were the problems, you would think that they would be the primary items addressed in the patch. (This is especially true for the Splash because it’s officially a repeat offender, going back to its Bomb Rush kit days in Splatoon and Splatoon 2.) Instead, we got this:

So now the crab disappears one second quicker by itself, and with its Special Power Up affect improved, you can still keep the crab as long as you could before with the proper gear. To quote a famous cat, “Big fat hairy deal.”

But what about the Splash-o-matic? Shockingly, it didn’t appear in the patch notes at all. Instead, Nintendo took a “shadow nerf” approach to the Splash and the Crab Tank by powering up some of the options around it. Most notably:

  • The Splat Dualies and Splattershot Pro had the amount of points needed to charge their own Crab Tanks reduced by 10.
  • The Splattershot and Hero Shot had the amount of points needed to charge their Trizooka reduced by 10.
  • The .52 Gal had the amount of points needed to charge their Killer Wail 5.1 reduced by 10.
  • The Triple Inkstrike special got a 50% damage buff, enough to obliterate a Crab Tank, Booyah Bomb, or Big Bubbler with a single shot (as Dude demonstrates in the above video).

It appears that Nintendo doesn’t really want to bring down the Splash-o-matic or Crab Tank (which is weird, because they were totally okay with nerfing the Sloshing Machine into the ground in this patch), and instead wants to power up other weapons and specials in order to convince Splash players to try something different. This also explains why the new weapon types we got at the start of the Chill season (Splattershot Nova, Big Swig Roller) were so weak, and why they got significant buffs in this patch as well (the Big Swig had its damage floor raised, the Nove got a painting upgrade and a reduction in special points): The developers wanted to start small and then turn up the heat until they found the right temperature.

I have two issues with this:

  • People were already starting to grumble about the Tentatek Splattershot when it was released with Triple Inkstrike, and now that it’s got an oppressive Crab counter, we’re just going to see people switch over and run multiple Tentateks instead of (or perhaps alongside!) multiple Splash-o-matics. (This is especially likely given that the Sloshing Machine nerfs have opened up a spot in nearly every competitive team’s weapon comp.)
  • The Splattershot buff feels a bit random and concerning, but that .52 buff really scares me. Many players cite the Kensa .52 Gal as one of the main culprits that “ruined” the Splatoon 2 meta, and the .52 got to that point via a steady stream of seemingly-innocuous buffs that eventually made it too powerful for players to ignore. The .52 kit in Splatoon 3 is still pretty solid, and you never know which minor tweak might push it back to the forefront and send us back to the S2 meta.

My main concern is that through buffs big and small, we end up in a bizarre arms race where weapons and powers just keep getting stronger in order to counteract whatever’s currently dominating the meta. This might not be a huge problem if such a rising tide lifted all boats, but for some reason Splatoon has a tendency to only power up shooters and ignore everything else (a preference so strong that people have labeled it “shooter privilege”). The Sloshing Machine may have gotten flattened by the nerf hammer, but at least it got a brief moment in the sun; other weapon classes (notably Brellas) seem to have been completely ignored by the developers despite being notoriously buggy and often nullified by latency. (Thankfully, Brellas got some specific bug fixes in this patch; maybe now the Splatoon team can figure out what the heck they’re going to do with them).

Power creep in a game is not necessarily a bad thing, but when it’s applied unequally, it can stamp out different ideas and strategies and generally make games more predictable and less fun. It happened with the ‘quad shooter’ meta that Splatoon 2 ended with, it happened with the flood of 99-rated cards in MLB The Show 22 (suddenly any card you got before July suddenly became unusable online, and you had to face Kershaw in every other match), and it appears to be starting to happen in Splatoon 3.

Going with a nerf-first approach isn’t perfect either, but I think I prefer it to a buff-first approach because it brings dominant weapons back to the field instead of trying to push a select few up to (and potentially past) the leader of the pack. Slowing down the Splash-o-matic or the Crab Tank makes everything slightly more viable against it, and while some weapons will be inevitably more viable than others, I think it gives every other weapon a chance to make a counterplay against the current meta and help create a new one.

Don’t get me wrong: Sometimes weapons need to be strengthened a bit as the ground moves underneath them (witness the Dynamo damage buff in this patch, which basically returns its S2 Main Power Up boost after MPU was dumped for S3), and sometimes nerfs can go a bit too far (Kyo’s requiem for the Sloshing Machine was only partially tongue-in-cheek; even a Slosher-hater like me thinks that weapon deserved better). Still, I think the first approach to changing a scene dominated by a certain weapon should be to tone it down and give everything else a chance to catch up.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go see how much more OP the Undercover Brella is now that its Reefslider has invincibility frames. They’ll probably have to nerf that weapon next patch, before it destroys the universe at we know it. 🙂

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