Splatoon 2: Is It Worth Buying?

Yes. Gosh, this was an easy post to write!

…Wait, you still have more questions? Okay then, fire away!

  • Is there enough new content here to justify being labeled as a true sequel? Not only is there enough new content, but it’s good stuff with no filler.
    • The single-player campaign feels about the same length as the original game thus far, but the ability to use different weapons (and the bonus of using a hero weapon in multiplayer if you beat all the single-player stages with it) adds replayability without making it feel too much like filler.
    • The Salmon Run horde mode is challenging, choatic, and fun as heck to play, especially when teaming up with friends.
    • The Ranked Battles have been changed up a bit to make them more competitive (Splat Zones are in more-contested areas, Tower Control features checkpoints that gave the defending term a bit more time to regroup), and the ranking system has been tweaked to let players skip entire ranks if their skill warrants it (for example, I crushed the competition in C- Splat Zone lobbies and was immediately kicked up to B-).
    • The new maps are great, the old ones are expanded, the gear upgrade system now includes a way to specify what abilities fill those slots…I could go on forever.

Bottom Line: The game definitely earns its 2.

  • How noticeable are the changes that push Splatoon 2 in a more competitive direction? There are two major changes that I noticed:
    • The map designs are a lot more open and…well, square. There’s still a lot of verticality involved, but aside from Port Mackerel, the maps are widened to combat spawn camping and more open in the center to encourage more action (and even Port Mackerel has been widened and opened up a lot). This may give us a hint as to what maps might make the jump from Splatoon to Splatoon 2: Look for maps like Kelp Dome, Ancho-V Games, and Flounder Heights to reappear, while narrow levels like Walleye Warehouse, Arowana Mall, and Hammerhead Bridge will likely get left behind. (I’m curious to see if “split” levels like Bluefin Depot and Camp Triggerfish make a comeback.)
    • I feel like the special weapons have been watered-down for Splatoon 2, and their impact on the game is more subtle than before. (They’re also noticeably slower, in order to give players around you more time to react.) How this makes you feel will be determined by whether you were more often on the sending or receiving end of these specials in the original game.
  • I’m new to the Splatoon franchise! Will I enjoy the game, or just get wrecked by the Wii U veterans? Both, actually. Because everyone is at Level 1 right now, I’d encourage brand-new Splatoon players to start by taking a week or two to master the single-player mode, and avoid multiplayer until the experienced players work their way out of the lower-level lobbies.
  • I’m upgrading from Splatoon! Do my favorite weapons still work the same? If you’re not a roller main, you’re fine: Some of the sub weapons may have changed, but for the most part the weapons still feel about the same. If you are a roller main, however, your re-learning curve will be a bit steeper: In addition to the vertical jump fling (which is a pain to aim) and increased run speed, the weapon seems to consume ink a lot faster than in the original game, and its general fling power doesn’t feel all that powerful anymore. I didn’t find it nearly as fun to play as before.
  • Is there any reason I should not buy this game? Actually, there is: If you don’t have a fast, reliable Internet connection, you should think twice about buying Splatoon 2. Just like the original, the game is heavily reliant on online modes, and Splatoon 2 threatens to be more punitive if you disconnect from a match. Without a network connection, you’re only left with the single-player mode, which isn’t enough to justify the purchase by itself.

Overall, despite some minor complaints, Splatoon 2 is a really fun game that I can’t recommend highly enough. If you’ve got a Switch and a sturdy network, Splatoon 2 is totally worth your time.

Splatoon 2: Early Impressions

Why do I always blink in photographs?

Over the weekend, Nintendo opened Splatoon 2 up to the public for a full-fledged stress test in the form of the game’s inaugural Splatfest. My initial Switch-buying stance caused me to miss out on the Global Testfire back in March, so this was my first hands-on time with the game, and after four hours of ink-flinging, I can confirm that the while there are some tweaks around the edges, Splatoon 2 still contains the fun and magic of the original game, at least for the multiplayer mode (which represents most of the game anyway). My specific thoughts are as follows:

  • I’m a big fan of the new map designs shown during the Splatfest. Starfish Mainstage has a lot of verticality to it and includes a ton of nooks and crannies to ink/explore, Inkblot Art Academy reminds me a lot of Blackbelly Skatepark with its central tower and side alleys (though it lacks the slopes near the bases), and Humpback Pump Track has a large central hill for the teams to fight over and an outer ring that lets players outflank the opposition. My one complaint is that the nighttime motif of the Splatfest kept me from noticing any background details that might give the maps more personality.
  • Moray Towers is my favorite map in Splatoon, and the new ink rails offer a lot more options for attacking a team’s base. It makes it a bit tougher to defend your side than before, but there’s nothing more satisfying than sniping someone out of an ink rail. (I’m interested to see how the added sponges change up Port Mackerel, as that map developed a really bad reputation in the original game.)
  • I like the idea of rotating maps during Splatfest instead of sticking withe the same two or three the entire time. It helps ensure that people who can’t stand certain maps aren’t forced to play them all day.
  • don’t like the idea of randomizing your Splatfest for every match, so I’m really hoping that was just a temporary limitation for this demo.
  • I spent a lot of time with the Splat Dualies, and while they’re functional enough, they don’t suit my playstyle very well. I tend to rely on jump-dodging to avoid foes during combat, but the Dodge Roll leaves you ground-bound in kid form, and I didn’t find the roll to be as effective as avoiding shots.I probably won’t use them very much in the full game.
  • On one hand, the 5-6 disconnections/connection errors I got during the event aren’t bad in isolation. On the other hand, Splatoon has been rock solid for me ever since I upgraded my Internet (I see a connection error maybe once a month), so seeing an uptick in disconnections here was disappointing. Hopefully things won’t be as bad in the normal lobbies.
  • Honestly, I was underwhelmed by the new special weapons. Most were just okay, and the Stingray felt particularly useless (you could barely aim the stupid thing once it fired). Would it kill them to bring back a few specials from Splatoon?
  • The Splattershot, Splat Charger, and Splat Roller are still the same weapons people know and love, albeit with the few tweaks. The weapons felt like they consumed more ink than before, and burst bombs in particular felt a bit slower than in Splatoon (all bombs seemed to have a longer throw range, however). I stuck mostly to the main weapons, but that will change once I get my hands on some Sprinklers. (Happily, my beloved .96 Gal/Sprinkler combo has already been confirmed, as has my Quick Respawn Backwards Hat.)

Overall, I had a lot of fun with the Splatfest despite getting wrecked consistently by the opposition, and I can’t wait to try out the full game (especially the expanded single-player campaign) when it drops this Friday. Splatoon 2 seems to have pulled off the impressive feat of staying true to its predecessor while offering enough new material to “stay fresh.”

How Concerned Should We Be About Toxicity in Splatoon 2?

Image From Nintendo of Europe

Toxicity has been around for at least at long as humans have. (I can just imagine some caveman telling a fellow hunter “Hey man, could you stop throwing the fight here? You aren’t hitting anything with that stupid slingshot, and that sabertooth tiger is wrecking us.”) When the stakes are high in a team competition, there are bound to be people who openly question whether their teammates are doing what they should do to win. Toss in the relative anonymity and sour attitudes of the Internet, and online team games are ripe breeding grounds for toxic behavior.

Because of these concerns, Nintendo made an explicit choice to not include voice chat when it made its initial foray into the shooter genre with Splatoon. While the game still had a few “attack vectors” for toxic players to abuse (squid taunting, booyah spamming, going after other players on Miiverse), the lack of direct verbal communication kept the game from suffering from the massive toxicity issues that plagued its peers.

For Splatoon 2, however, Nintendo decided to include voice chat as part of its effort to establish the game as a serious e-sport. While this allows teammates to better coordinate their movements in battle, it also leaves players vulnerable to toxic teammates. Given that similar games like Overwatch seem to be going through especially turbulent/toxic periods right now, how concerned should Nintendo be about a similar cloud hovering over Splatoon 2?

I think it’s good news/bad news time…

  • Nintendo has obviously put a lot of thought into their voice chat deployment, and they’ve tried to limit contact between random players. Game producer Hisashi Nogami provided the following quote to My Nintendo News:

“The reason we included voice chat is because we wanted users who already know each other to enjoy the game more deeply using a communication tool that’s linked to the game…Voice chat can only be used when playing with someone you know, such as in private matchmaking; voice chat with someone you don’t know in random matchmaking won’t happen.” (emphasis added)

People are less likely to take potshots at players they know than at anonymous squids that they don’t, so these restrictions are good news.

  • However, the bar to becoming friends with someone via a Nintendo system is pretty low in my experience. I’ve gotten quite a few random friend requests from players who I’ve only known for a few Turf Wars or Mario Kart races, and I tend to accept them without doing a whole lot of vetting. I’ve also sent out a lot of friend requests to Splatfest teammates who I’ve never met, and they’re rarely rejected. (In fairness, I should note that I’ve met a lot of cool people via these random friend requests, so it’s not a completely broken system, just a risky one.) In other words, it’s not too hard to become friends with people you’ve never met and don’t know, and when it comes to toxicity concerns, that’s bad news.
  • Because voice chat is done through a separate smart-device app rather than the Switch itself, there’s an extra cost burden placed on players who want to participate in it:
    • You need a smart device (phone, tablet, etc.) that can run Nintendo’s app.
    • You need a suitable headset if you want to hear both your teammates and the in-game audio.

In other words, not just any random squid can jump into voice chat—you have to make a dedicated effort/investment to receive that privilege. It’s not much of a barrier, but it’s good news from a toxicity standpoint (if you’re going to say mean things to someone, you’ll have to pay extra to do it).

  • For players that don’t want to pay for the privilege of voice chat, however, there are freely-available tools like Skype or Discord that can allow players to communicate outside the scope of Nintendo’s walled garden. While this option requires some coordination ahead of time between players, it’s not hard to imagine people giving out their Skype user names as freely as they accept Miiverse friends. This is technically bad news, but these tools have also been available for players to use for the original Splatoon, and they don’t seem to have wrecked the community yet.

Overall, while I do think that the risk of exposure to toxic behavior is higher thanks to the inclusion of voice chat, the restrictions that Nintendo have put in place (both implicitly and explicitly) mitigate this danger somewhat. We’ll inevitably hear reports about the new voice chat feature being abused, but I don’t we’ll reach the widespread toxicity that games like Overwatch are experiencing right now. The key for players is basically to choose their friends wisely, and be considerate of others when  they chat with them.

There’s no way to completely eliminate toxic behavior, but if we all aim to be more understanding and less confrontational towards our fellow squids, we can minimize its impact and make the game more fun for everyone.

My Reaction To The ARMS (+ Splatoon 2) Direct

Yesterday, Nintendo aired a new Direct presentation centered on its next big Switch release ARMS, and closed with a small single-player trailer for Splatoon 2. While I’m not a huge fan of fighting games and really couldn’t care less about ARMS at this point, I was curious to see exactly what the game would include, and find out definitively whether or not there was enough here to change my opinion. Let’s dive in, shall we?

  • The character design is pretty decent here. There’s a lot of variety in both the aesthetics (standard fighters, ninjas, pop stars, autonomous robots, non-autonomous robots, etc.) and functions (each character seems to have some unique ability to distinguish them).
  • The arena designs, on the other hand, are not terribly inspired. They all look nice and have some small differences, but for the most part they seem interchangeable.
  • The various non-fighting modes are nice, but they look kind of shallow and may not have a lot of replay value. Dunking opponents through a basketball hoop made me laugh when I saw it, but I feel like both that and the volleyball mode would get old pretty quickly. Grand Prix reminded me of the old Mortal Kombat “climb the ladder” setup (which I never really enjoyed, but a lot of people did), and 1 vs. 100 has a Super Smash Bros. vibe to it (actually, I wasn’t a huge fan of that mode in SSB either). Andre from GameXplain muses in their Direct discussion that the single-player content here will be pretty light (perhaps even lighter than in Splatoon), and I think he’s on to something.
  • Back in my E3 post, I said that Nintendo should adopt the Splatoon-style approach of releasing more (free) content in the months after the game’s release. Not only is Nintendo doing this, but they’re going a step further a running a “Testpunch” event across two weekends to give players a taste of the game (and the company’s servers a taste of the loads they’ll see in production). This is a great move to get skeptics like me to give the game a spin with no strings (springs?) attached, and perhaps convince them to take a chance on buying the full game.
  • The highlight of the Direct for me was the Splatoon 2 trailer, and it was as good as I had hoped. The single-player mode has more enemy and weapon variety (although I didn’t see the “Hero .96 Gal” I wanted), and builds nicely on the lore from the original game. While I’m not 100% sold on the “evil Callie” theory that’s been floating around, it would certainly be an interesting plot twist. (I also like the Hero Suit design a lot more now—the clothing now screams “cool Squidbeak splatoon member” instead of “highway safety worker.”)
  • I’m starting to think Nintendo’s going to owe Blizzard some royalties with its upcoming titles, because I’m seeing a huge Overwatch influence in both ARMS and Splatoon 2:
    • The character roster in ARMS feels very Overwatch-like in its composition (very diverse) and some of its specific designs (Mechanica is basically a ten-year-old D. Va).
    • In addition to the similar Splatoon 2 special attacks (the Ink Slam looks a lot like Lucio’s Sound Barrier, while the Jet Pack makes me think of Pharah’s Barrage), if the “evil Callie” theory is indeed true, then she’s basically Widowmaker. (It’s too bad that Marie wasn’t the captured one, as her charger preference would have made her the perfect Widow clone.) Honestly, I’m kind of hoping for more of this sort of thing (the charger equivalent of McCree’s Deadeye would be both awesome and terrifying).

In the end, this Direct was a 90% no-op for me: I’m still not that excited by ARMS, and I was already super-hyped for Splatoon 2. Still, that last 10% is key, because the ARMS Testpunch might be the thing that finally gets me excited about that game. (At the very least, the event will be worth a good blog post afterwards.) With these two games and the mountain of 3DS titles coming this summer, Nintendo appears to be heading into E3 with the most momentum that it’s had in years.

Splatoon 2: A Wish List

Back when I started this blog, a wrote a post about what Splatoon could learn from its everything-but-Nintendo counterpart Overwatch, covering everything from team building to player customization. Now that Splatoon 2 has officially been announced, I think it’s time to revisit this topic and come up with a full list of the features I’d like added to the new game. Without further ado, let’s get to the list!

  • Turf War Lobby Updates. You know, the basic stuff: Let players change weapons inside a lobby, allow players to designate teams in casual matches, that kind of stuff.
  • Players of the Game. You don’t want to slow down the postgame stat reports too much, but I think anointing a ‘Player of the Match’ and displaying their stats and giving them a small XP/money bonus would be a pretty cool idea.
  • Stage Voting/Selection. Right now, a lot of players feel like how much they enjoy playing on a map is inversely proportional to how often it appears in the rotation. For me, it means that it seems like I’m always stuck on Hammerhead Bridge, and Moray Towers only comes out of mothballs about once a week. I’d prefer to see a Mario Kart 8-style voting scheme put in place, where players could select from an assortment of 2-3 pre-selected maps (or roll the dice with ‘Random.’), and the game would choose the map based on those votes (whether by majority rule, random single selection as MK8 does currently, or something else).
  • New Battle Modes. Splat Zones, Tower Control, Rainmaker, and even Turf Wars were interesting twists on classic FPS/TPS battle modes. I don’t have any specific recommendations here; I’m just in the mood for another fresh take or two on the battle scene, and consider this idea a vote of confidence for the Splatoon developers to use their imagination to create something fresh.
  • Skirmish Mode. Squid parties are a big thing in Splatoon, and nothing is more annoying than ending up in an ambiguous game where half the players are partying and half are playing seriously. Splatoon 2 should include a special mode similar to Overwatch’s Skirmishes, where there is no real objective and players are free to do whatever they want. Add some fun emote animations, increase the special charge rate, and (maybe) disable splatting, and you’ve got the perfect place for party squids to live without fear of persecution, while serious players can get on with their serious matches. It’s not a perfect solution, but I think just letting players know what they’re getting into ahead of time will help alleviate their saltiness.
  • Permanent Splatfest Gear. Overwatch’s answer to Splatfests were holiday-themed events that involved special game modes (Junkenstein’s Revenge, Mei’s Snowball Offensive, etc.) and new character skins. Unlike Splatfests, however, these skins could be used even after the event had ended (which makes sense, given that anyone that had paid real money for the skins wouldn’t have wanted them taken away). I think Splatoon 2 should follow the same method for its Splatfests (because Splatfests are definitely coming back), and let players keep their cool team shirts.
  • Playable Octolings. Picture this: An expansive single-player campaign, concluding in an epic truce between the Inklings and Octolings and allows the player to use Octolings in online matches. How is this not a good thing? If desired, Nintendo could even give Inklings and Octolings different strengths and weaknesses—for example, Octolings could deal more damage than Inklings with their weapons, but could not move or swim as fast. Regardless of how they’re implemented, the Splatoon community has demanded their implementation since the original game launched, so why not give the people what they want?

Of course, with any sequel comes the possibility of regression, and Nintendo’s made a few surprising decisions that might annoy players (for example, throwing out all of the existing special attacks). Hopefully Nintendo sticks to using a surgical knife rather than a machete when it comes to feature removal, and focuses on adding rather than subtracting in Splatoon 2.

There’s one final demand I have for Splatoon 2: A launch date that’s sooner rather than later. (“Summer 2017” better mean “early June” and not “late September.”) After all, the biggest demand from Splatoon fans is simply “MOAR SPLATOON NOW!”

Will Nintendo Lose More Than A Screen?

As part of its master plan to run as far away from the Wii U as possible, Nintendo announced that the Switch will have a single screen for gaming, bringing an end to its dual-screen era. For the most part, this is not really a big deal, as no other companies were doing anything in this space, and a lot of games didn’t make great use of the second screen anyway. However, there are a few Wii U games that may put Nintendo in an awkward position:

  • The games were very successful on the Wii U, and Nintendo would like to capitalize on their success by bringing them to the Switch.
  • However, these games made extensive use of the Wii U Gamepad, and thus will a) require a bit of re-engineering to work without it, and b) risk raising the ire of fans who had gotten quite used to using it.

There are two games in particular that I’m thinking of, and while I can see a way forward for both of them, one game’s path is a lot simpler and easier than the other. Let’s start with the easy case:

  • Splatoon. Nintendo’s quirky-fun shooter differs from most other games in the genre in a lot of ways, but one major difference was how Nintendo incorporated its second screen into matches: Not only could you see what territory had been painted what color (an important thing to know, since every inch of the map matters), but you could also instantly jump to a teammate or beacon anywhere on the map with a simple tap of the screen. Removing the second screen, therefore, means re-implementing the super-jump feature and finding a way to make the map available and easily-accessible on the main screen without it getting in the player’s way.Can It Be Fixed? Yes, but not without pain. For example, the map could be overlaid on screen with the press of a button, but would that distract players from inking turf? (Honestly, I can’t imagine that it’s more distracting than looking away from the TV to check the Gamepad.) Similarly, buttons could be assigned as ‘insta-jump’ controls, but you’ll need to figure out how to show the player which button corresponds to which teammate (something like the C-button display in Zelda: Ocarina of Time comes to mind). Beacons will be the biggest problem, since there could be up to 12 available for jumping, and are not tied to any specific area on the map. Good luck with that one, Nintendo
  • Mario Maker. This game could be a huge headache for Nintendo, as the entire GUI for building a level is based on the Gamepad. Getting the same functionality out of a standard controller is just not happening.Can It Be Fixed? The only viable strategy I see here is releasing a touchpad accessory exclusively for the Switch version of the game. (Nintendo did the same thing with the mouse it packaged with Mario Paint way back when, so the idea makes sense given the heavy influence that game had on Mario Maker‘s design.) Of course, such a move would kinda-sorta defeat the purpose of the Switch, given that hauling around an extra touchpad would make the system much less portable. My fear is that Nintendo’s recent 3DS release of Mario Maker is a sign that they do not see any viability in bringing it to the Switch, and thus are preparing to move on without it.

While I’m still definitely excited for the Switch, I’m a little nervous about how Nintendo might decide to port (or give up on) Gamepad-heavy games to its single-screen console. In the absence of any information until 2017, though, all we can do is wait and see what happens.

What can Splatoon Learn from Overwatch?

Let’s begin by stating the obvious: Splatoon was the breakout shooting game of 2015, and wound up as one of the best games released all year. With its unique objectives, colorful atmosphere, and funky-fresh attitude, the game completely reimagined what a shooting game could look like, opening a ton of eyes in the process.

However, for all its awesomeness, the game had some glaring flaws when it launched, most notably an overly-simplistic online lobby setup and a general lack of game modes. While Nintendo did a laudable job of patching these holes with free updates, even now there remains a lingering sense that the game could be made even better.

Enter Overwatch, arguably the Splatoon of 2016 (both are shooting games that came out in May, became smash summertime hits, and were/are well-positioned to claim some year-end hardware during the award season). Where once the cool kids hung out and talked about Inklings and save-scumming, they now hang out talking about ultimate skills and how much they hate Bastion. (Seriously, the dude gets so much flak that even Alex Rodriguez feels sorry for him.)

Given that Splatoon 2 is almost inevitable, what could Nintendo take from Blizzard’s new behemoth to improve their inky shooter? Here are some possibilities:

  • Building Teams for Turf Wars. Let’s start with the obvious one. Overwatch, like most other FPS games, allows you to form groups of up to 6 players to take on the world in the game’s various modes. Splatoon belatedly added squadding as an option for Ranked Battles, but it’s time to extend Twin, Tri, and Quad squads down to Turf Wars.
  • Declaring a “Player of the Game.” Having a single “Play of the Game” doesn’t make sense for Splatoon, since these are usually earned in Overwatch through well-placed alts that kill multiple enemies, something that Splatoon’s special weapons are not terribly effective at doing. (Some of them have the potential for mass mayhem, such as the Kraken and Inkzooka, but they tend to be used tactically against a single, specific opponent.)

    Instead, Splatoon could anoint a Player of the Game based on their overall performance in a Single Match. While the winner of this award wouldn’t be much of a mystery in Turf Wars (Spoiler: It’s either the squid with 2000 points or 8 splats), but Ranked Battle calculation could be a lot more interesting: Who inked the most turf within the splat zones? Who spent the most time on the tower? Who carried the Rainmaker the farthest? Without a single play to key on, the PotG winner would just be announced via a static screen displaying the pertinent statistics.

    Winners could receive a small point/money bonus (say, 200p), and players over Level 20 could gain an extra experience point or two. Overall, it would be a nice way to reward players for their Splatoon prowess.

  • Offering a variety of PC types. While Splatoon focuses on gear and weapon customization to trick out your standard Inkling, Overwatch offers a smorgasbord of unique characters with quirky and fun personalities, albeit ones with static weapon choices. The natural question is: Why can’t we have both?

    Splatoon could do an awful lot by offering a few variations on their generic Inklings (and indeed, some superfans on FimFiction have already brainstormed some neat ideas). Adding different types of Inklings, each with a stat set, on top of the existing gear and weapon options would add some fun options for new players while giving power users more opportunities to tune their Inklings to their play style.

    (Of course, we haven’t even touched on the idea of making Octolings or other existing characters playable. Callie and Marie, anyone?)

  • Match Stage Selection. Oh wait, Overwatch doesn’t have the either. (Or does it? Such is the danger of discussing a game you’ve only ever seen on livestreams…)

Of course, in some ways what Splatoon should not learn from Overwatch is as important as what it should. I would personally recommend that Splatoon avoid the following:

  • Increasing the map size. Overwatch maps are massive compared to Splatoon arenas, which works well when the objective is concentrated in a certain area (secure a certain spot, move an object along a static path). Larger maps, would sap the fun out of some Splatoon modes:
    • In a Turf War, players could conceivably all go their own way inking every corner and crevice of the map, and never actually engage the opposing team. This could be countered, however, by increasing the number of players on each team.
    • In Rainmaker, a team with the lead can effectively play keep-away with the Rainmaker on the current maps. Imagine how frustrating it would be if the maps were even bigger!
  • Adding any sort of chat capability. Limiting team communication to “C’mon!” and “Booyah!” was a polarizing issue, but I believe Nintendo made the right call, especially given the company’s stance on shielding younger players from the horrors of the Internet.
  • Loot boxes. The gear purchasing/ordering system is fine as is. (Although I wish Spike would just freaking fill in the $%&@ gear sub-abilities the way I want him to…)

Let’s be clear: Splatoon is an excellent game as it stands right now, probably the best that the Wii U has to offer (you’re darn right I went there, Smash Bros fans). With a little inspiration from its most recent competition, Nintendo could take their newest IP to a whole new level, and make a whole lot of gamers happy in the process.