Fridays are usually my day for retro song reviews, but the recent reveal of the Fresh Season bugged me enough that I had to talk about it.
In typical Nintendo fashion, the company decided not to mention anything about the latest season of Splatoon 3 in their recent Direct, and instead resorted to drip-feeding us all information via their Twitter feed instead. The new season appears to be leaning heavily in a retro direction, with two new old specials (the Kraken Royale’s lineage is obvious, and the Super Chump just looks like a reworked Suction Bomb Rush to me), a collection of returning/remixed weapons (no new types like the Big Swing Roller or Splattershot Nova last time), and the return of the Manta Maria map from Splatoon 2. (Given the presence of the jukebox on the promotional image, you’ll likely be able to pick from a selection of old and new songs to play in the lobby.)
There’s a fair bit of content here, and is should shake up the current meta at least a little bit (especially the new specials). However, there’s a fair bit that isn’t here as well, particularly in the area of weapon classes. Duelies, Brushes and Splatlings are shut out this time around after getting at least a little something last season, and the Splatana and Stringer classes haven’t seen anything new since they were introduced. Still, at least these classes were in a (mostly) workable state when the game started (even if brushes were broken later).
And then *sigh* we have the Brella class.
In all honesty, I haven’t been on the receiving end of all the Brella glitches that have plagued the weapons class, and while there are lots of reports of Brella players getting shot through their shields due to network latency, as an Undercover Brella player I never see this because its shield opens so fast that the window to hit someone is incredibly small. (On the other hand, Tenta Brella players, who could drink an entire cup of coffee while waiting for their shield to open, are victimized by this glitch more often.) Nevertheless, this weapon class has been a buggy mess since the game released, and it feels like it has been abandoned not only by the Splatoon player base, but by the developers as well. As someone who really enjoys using Brellas, it’s an incredibly frustrating feeling.
So what went wrong? I think there are three factors at play:
- Splatoon’s netcode wasn’t quite ready for prime time, and Brellas serve as the canary in the coal mine. I made this point back when I was discussing problems with Splatoon 3 in general, but I think network problems hit Brellas especially hard because they carry their cover with them, and thus have the expectation that they’re going to be protected. For a weapon like the Splattershot, a charger might shoot you through a wall now and again, but in general you’re going to be out in the open and unprotected, and if an opponent’s got their crosshairs on you, you’re probably toast. If the final shot is a few frames too fast or too slow in reaching you, it’s not that noticeable—it’s only going to register as suspicious in the player’s mind if it’s egregiously out of sync (for example, if the opponent doesn’t appear to be firing in your direction, or the fight has long since ended). Brellas, however, go into battle with the assumption that if their shield is up, they are protected, which means that even small discrepancies are going to be more noticeable because the shield appears to be deployed. The networking setup for Splatoon 3 has been a noticeable downgrade from Splatoon 2 thus far, and a shielding class like Brellas is going to be the first to notice any problems.
- Having so many Brella bugs early was not a good look for the game. Network issues may have been a problem, but you can’t blame all of the weird Brella glitches on the Internet. As a weapon class in Splatoon 2, Brellas may not have always been meta, but they were dependable weapons that generally functioned the way people expected them to. To have them go from generally reliable in S2 to completely unreliable in S3 was pretty jarring, and it raised a lot of uncomfortable questions:
- How on earth could a weapon decay this badly between games? What could the developers have possibly done between S2 and S3 to break these things?
- How could this class have been released in such a miserable state? Didn’t they bother to test any of this stuff before it went live?
- If the launch was botched this badly, is Nintendo going to be able to fix it? Do they even know how, and if they do, are they even capable of doing it?
- Splatoon’s slower update schedule is causing a disconnect between the developers and the audience. A quote I often cite (despite not being able to find an actual citation for it) goes something like this: “People tend to assume the worst if you don’t tell them you really care.” In Splatoon 2 (and also Splatoon), the constant drip of new content and relative frequency of patches made it feel like the development team was more engaged and responsive, and that any problems that arose would be quickly addressed and taken care of. There was also little advance warning as to what was coming, which gave players a sense that anything was possible: If your preferred weapon didn’t appear this week, maybe it might show up next week! In Splatoon 3, however, Nintendo publicly committed to a slower, more deliberate schedule for post-release content, organizing drops into three-month “seasons” and laying all their cards (catalogs?) on the table in advance. Whether or not this change was for the better or not can be debated until the squids come home, but the move had two major side-effects
- It weakened the connection between the developers and the community, and made it seem like Nintendo was less interested or invested in the game, even if the update schedule thus far hasn’t been that far off of the schedule for the first two games.
- It meant that if a weapon class was left out of a seasonal update, it would be three months before they got another chance to get into the action. If you miss two updates like the Brellas now have…well, you start to assume the worst.
So imagine that you’re a Brella player. Your beloved weapon arrives in Splatoon 3 as a glitchy mess. You’ve seen a bunch of bugfixes for your weapon, which is simultaneously uplifting and disheartening (it’s great to see the problems getting fixed, but why were there so many problems in the first place if the weapon was fully functional in Splatoon 2?). You’ve borne the brunt of Splatoon 3‘s network issues, and given the company’s poor track record with online play and mediocre efforts to address the problem so far, you don’t have much hope that things will get better. You haven’t gotten anything from the game’s balance changes or content updates yet, and unlike Splatanas and Stringers you’re not one of the shiny new weapons classes that have been at the forefront of the game’s marketing campaign. You’re stuck waiting until June for any alternate kits to shake up the game, and if nothing shows up then, your next chance will be in September. You appreciate all the love and focus being given to Splatoon, but given that your weapon didn’t show up until Splatoon 2, all that love and focus isn’t going to help you either.
Given all this, you could forgive a Brella player for wondering if they’ve been forgotten.
Now, my caveat to all this is that personally, I still find what we’ve got now to be viable in online matches. Granted, I mostly use the Undercover Brella and I’m not involved in any high-tier competitive play, but for the basic modes that I’ve been playing for years, these weapons work about as well as they always have. (I also think the maps, whose design has been rightly panned since the game debuted, actually work in a Brella’s favor: If the maps are chokepoint-filled hallways, that’s a plus for a Brella that can fill that space and wall off opponents.) I’d still like a bit more sub/special variety within the weapon class itself (I’m an experimenter at heart, i.e. the guy who puts Luke Maile in right field just to see what happens), but if this is all we get, I figure I can find a way to make it work. I’ll still be disappointed, however, because the Brella’s combination of offense and defense enables playstyles that no other weapon can match, and to see it seemingly get shoved into a corner and neglected just breaks my heart.
So what can be done to fix this problem? “Fix the Brellas” is the obvious answer, but I think the first step is communication: Tell us why Brellas appear to be on the back burner. I’ve discussed the difficulty of balancing a weapon like this in the past, but it would be nice to hear this directly from the Splatoon team. We need some way of the folks behind the game to the story behind the game: Why were Brella in such rough shape at the start of the game? What difficulties has the team run into while fixing them? Why are the maps shaped like Tetris pieces? Where do certain weapon buffs and nerfs originate from (seriously, that random .52 Gal special point drop still feels awfully sus to me)? Starting that sort of dialogue, even if it’s over a curated one-way channel, would go a long way towards helping players understand the state of the game, and while not everyone would agree with the provided rationale, at least we’d know where the developers were coming from.
In the end, everyone wants the same thing: A fun, reliable game that delivers years of enjoyment for players and prints money for Nintendo. Giving each weapon class an equal amount of attention and care would go a long way in a game that’s showing serious signs of “shooter privilege,” and if that isn’t possible, at least the community should know why that was the case. Otherwise, we’re left with nothing but speculation and suspicion to fill the void, and that never turns out well.
So what happened to Brellas? A series of unfortunate technical issues, policy choices, and unexplained decisions left players in the dark and Brellas out in the cold. Nintendo can’t fix all of this in a day, but they could at least let us know that they’re trying, and I’d settle for that for now. That, and a new .96 Gal kit. (I wasn’t that much of a Kraken user back in the day, but I’m willing to give it a shot!)