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.