Beyond The Meme: A Defense of the Tenta Brella

They say to go big or go home, and we’ve already been home for a year, so…

I’ve played a lot of Splatoon 2 over the last few years, and if I’m known for anything in this game, it’s my bizarre brella shenanigans, mostly involving the Undercover Brella family. However, there’s a supersized version of this weapon class, and in my ongoing quest to become at least semi-competent with every weapon the game has to offer, I’ve been forced to confront my many nemeses: Sloshers, brushes, nozzlenoses, scoped chargers, and the Tenta Brella, a cross between Reinhardt’s shield, Symmetra’s photon barrier, and Joe Biden’s shotgun.

What I’ve discovered during this journey is that you can get at least some utility out of just out any weapons (provided you can find a controller that isn’t drifting; forget about using chargers otherwise). While this has only earned most of the weapons in my doghouse my begrudging respect (okay okay, I suppose the Kensa Sloshing Machine can slay out and the E-liter can zap people from across the map), I actually enjoyed my time with the Tenta Brella, even if I needed a bunch of ice and ibuprofen for my aching trigger finger after every session. The weapon still remains a bit of a meme within the community (it’s comically big, comically slow, and really hard to play well), time, practice, and a steady stream of buffs have convinced people to take a chance with the big brella, and even made it a viable weapon choice in competitive play.

Still…it’s a giant freaking tent on a stick. Can we really take it seriously? I believe the answer is yes, and it starts with the right approach.

The Details

There are three different Tenta Brellas kits available, but all share the following characteristics:

  • A seven-pellet scattershot launch that has decent range and painting ability, but fires with such a wide spray that it’s really hard to confirm kills unless they’re at point-blank range or you have exceptional accuracy. A one-hit kill is possible, but a two-hit KO is more likely, and three or four shots might be needed if you can’t square up your opponent.
  • A massive shield that has lots of health (700 HP, 200 more than the regular Splat Brella) and takes up a lot of space, and inks a nice wide path forward when it detaches from the weapon.
  • A glacially-slow fire rate (35 frames, compared with 16 for other Brella types) and the ink efficiency of a early-2000s Hummer (11% of your ink tank per shot!),
  • As a heavyweight weapon, it reduces your run speed by 8.3% and your swim speed by 10%.

As we can see, unlike the N-Zap (which does everything moderately well), the Tenta Brella has a lot of peaks and valleys in its attributes, which means we can’t just toss it into any situation and expect it to perform well. Thus, getting the most out of this weapon boils down to three things: preparation, positioning, and playstyle.

STOP! …Hammer time. (Image from Squid Research Lab Tumblr)

The Flavors

The Tenta Brellas comes with three different kits:

  • Tenta Brella (Squid Beakon/Bubble Blower): The original, and probably the most balanced of the three kits. Bubble Blower gives you a solid option for initiating a push into an area (think a rush to the basket in Clam Blitz or a zone retake in Splat Zones), and the weapon actually does a decent job of popping the bubbles by itself. The most effective way to deploy your special is through the use of what Etce calls “The Tech”: Deploying your brella shield and then unleashing your bubbles from behind it, forcing the enemy to work around both to hold the area and take your down. The beacons help you hold an area once you get it by cutting down the travel time from spawn, a useful trick when you’re dealing with reduced movement speed.
  • Tenta Sorella Brella (Splash Wall/Curling Bomb Rush): I’m really not sure what the point of the Splash Wall is on this weapon. Why toss out something that’s going to eat 60% of your ink tank when you’re already going to have trouble managing your ink supply, especially when you’ve got a mobile wall attached to your main weapon? There’s probably a use for it, but I haven’t found it yet. I have found a use for the curling bombs, however, and they represent another effective method for pushing into an area and forcing opponents to keep their distance.
  • Tenta Camo Brella: This is the most offensive-minded of the three kits, and quite possibly the best of them if you know what you’re doing (which I definitely don’t—my hammer game is a bit too stiff to be effective). Ink mines provide a way to help hold ground and track opponents intent on invading your space, and the Ultra Stamp lets you go on a short-range rampage while also providing a long-range threat to weapons that outrange you (it’s all fun and games until you toss your stamp like an Olympian and fry a charger from a mile away).

In terms of the best modes for the weapons: I would say the Tenta Camo Brella is a good option for Rainmaker, where you can open up lanes for the Rainmaker with either your shield or your stamp, and track you opponent’s movements with Ink Mines. In contrast, the vanilla Tenta Brella is a solid Clam Blitz play, using your beakons to help with mobility and your bubbles to advance to the basket. Both the camo and vanilla versions are good choices for Splat Zones, with bubbles, mines, and beakons to get you to the zone and help you keep it.

Tower Control is a tougher sell for the Tenta Brella, since you don’t want to release your shield and leave yourself exposed while tower riding (maybe that’s where the Splash Wall could be useful?), but it might be useful for redirecting foes through sub-optimal routes with your shields and specials. Turf War can be tricky as well, since you’re encouraged to explore the map and your limited mobility will hurt your painting effectiveness.

In truth, the mode you run the Tenta Brella on probably matters less than the map: If you’ve got a map with a lot of tight spaces and long corridors (Camp Triggerfish, Port Mackerel, Moray Towers), you’ll have the advantage; if you’ve got a wide-open map with lots of ways around you (New Albacore Hotel, Snapper Canal, Shellendorf Institute), you may want to think twice.

The Gear

Choosing the right gear to mitigate the weaknesses of your weapon is key, and you’ve got plenty of holes to fill:

  • Ink Saver Main: This is incredibly important on a Tenta Brella—we’re not quite at a “Run Speed Up on a splatling” level, but we’re close. Without any ISM, that 11% per shot adds up quickly, and you’re limited to just 9 shots before your tank runs out. Using 2 mains of ISM brings your ink consumption back on par with that of a regular Splat Brella, and took 13 shots to empty the tank when I tested it (adding another two ISM sub abilities upped the shot count to 14). Ink is at a premium with this weapon, so saving as much as you can is critical.
  • Ink Recovery Up: This can be useful too, as having none means it takes a looooong time to recover enough ink to fire a single shot when your tank is empty. I think ISM is probably more important, but a few subs (or even a main) of ink recovery wouldn’t hurt.
  • Ink Save Sub: None of these weapons have spammable sub weapons (in fact, you’ll likely never use the Splash Wall at all), so ISS isn’t all that helpful.
  • Run Speed Up/Swim Speed Up: To bring a heavyweight weapon back on par with “normal” weapons like a Splattershot, you’ll need roughly two subs of Run Speed Up and 1 main ability of Swim Speed Up. However, while this will help you get around, I wouldn’t say that either are a necessity. Instead, for lack of a better term, what I found more important when using the weapons was “pocket mobility,” or the ability to maneuver around quickly in a tight space, such as around your brella shield as it’s moving forward. Thus (at least in Turf War), I found a more important ability to be…
  • Ink Resistance: Normally I subscribe to ThatSrb2Dude’s “5 subs” theory (or at least three of those subs), and only run one sub of ink resistance on my weapons. With the Tenta Brella, however, I found myself getting bogged down a lot in enemy ink, especially when trying to reclaim an area by myself. By adding the Bucket Hat shown above, I was able to regain my vertical mobility (i.e., the ability to jump normally and quickly while moving through enemy ink), which helped me hop around to cover turf and avoid enemy shots (especially when the shield has been launched or is in those pre-launch frames after a shot).
  • Special Charge Up/Special Saver: At 200 points, Bubble Blower and Ultra Stamp can take a while to charge, so it’s worth considering a sub or two of Special Charge Up to speed up that process. If you find that you’re dying a lot, Special Saver can help you keep some of the hard work you’ve done charging that special.
  • Sub Power Up: This is specific to the vanilla Tenta Brella, because it can make your beakons much faster for your teammates. Just one sub will speed up the jump by nearly 12%, so on maps that are a mile from their respective Splat Zones, this can be a clutch add for your team (assuming they actually use the beakons, of course).
  • Special Power Up: In theory this increases the stamp/bomb rush duration and makes your bubbles larger/more deadly, but the improvements are pretty minimal (1 main gets you 12% bigger bubbles and about 6 tenths of a second more bomb/hammer time), so it’s probably not worth it given all the other bases you need to cover.
  • Object Shredder: This is a common option for bubble blower weapons, but unlike the Heavy Splatling Deco or Custom E-Liter 4K, I don’t find Object Shredder to be that useful on the vanilla Tenta Brella. By itself, the weapon will usually pop its own bubbles with two shots, and Object Shredder only occasionally cuts that number down to one. With so many other things to worry about, I’d skip this one.
  • Main Power Up: I mean, every other weapon uses it, so why not this one? MPU adds extra HP to your brella shield (one main gives it nearly 90 extra HP), so this one may require some research on your part: If you think your Brella shield is going down too quickly, trying adding an MPU sub or two and see what happens.

In summary, I’d say prioritize ink efficiency and mobility, add a few single subs that are always useful (Quick Super Jump, Bomb Defense Up DX), and tune the rest of your slots around your weapons and your game.

The Playstyle

Unless you’re a umbrella savant on the level of Kayotaso or Gene Kelly, you’re not going to be doing a lot of slaying with this weapon. Tenta Brella are meant to support their teammates in any way possible using the totality of their kit. Playing this weapon like it’s the Tetra Dualies will likely put you in a bad situation where you’ll be too slow to react to your opponent’s actions, so it’s best to be measured and deliberate with your playstyle.

When it comes to using a Tenta Brella, there are two key rules of thumb to follow:

  • Be hyper-aware of your positioning. Brellas are only protected from one side, so you need to watch your backside as your taking a position (especially in solo queue matches, because no one else is going to do it for you). Long, tight corridors are your friend, as they limit how your opponents can approach you (and the obvious route is blocked by a giant tent), but in a more open area you should always be looking for cover to work around (a bumper, a corner, or some other obstacle).
  • Channel your inner pushy Bro-Country singer and always make the first move. With a weapon this slow, you don’t want to be the one reacting to your opponent’s decisions. Instead, you need to dictate the parameters of the engagement by being proactive, forcing your adversary to make decisions on your terms. If you take the first shot, by the time the opponent makes their countermove you’ll already have your shield up and ready for it, and when said shield inevitably launches forward, you can prep for the retaliatory advance because there are only so many ways around your tent. If you’re dealing with a charger or splatling, fire your first shot into cover and wait for the brella to deploy before stepping out into the open, forcing them to figure out a way around or through the tent to get you.

Getting a feel for the timing of the Tenta Brella is essential. It takes .75 seconds to open after a shot and 5.67 to regenerate after it launches, and with your slow fire rate you’re very vulnerable if it’s not around. Make sure you take these times into account when you initiate an encounter, so you don’t jump immediately into the fray and die before your brella has a chance to protect you. (Keep in mind, however, that network latency can throw this timing off, and sometimes leads to you getting shot through your shield.) If you’re stuck in a bad, brella-less spot and can’t retreat, make use of that “pocket mobility” and break your opponents’ ankles with dodges and jumps until your shield comes back.

While other Brellas are best with the shield attached (otherwise a Splat Brella turns into the world’s slowest curling bomb), you should expect to launch your shield at every opportunity, and base your approach to a situation around this. Since your barrier is only a barrier to your opponent, when they inevitably go around your shield you can simply swim underneath it, keeping a wall between you two as necessary. You can also play mind games with a shield: Just because it’s launched in a certain direction doesn’t mean you have to follow it—if you’ve got enough ink around you, you can take another route to flank and try to catch your opponent napping, or you can simply disengage and retreat to safer ground.

Keeping tabs on your teammates is extremely important as well, because let’s be honest: Everyone could use a a giant piece of camping equipment in front of them as they make a move. The big brella makes you the ultimate wingman, and if you see a teammate trying to do something and think you can help, get in there and lend a hand! This is especially true if your teammate has left themselves exposed via a panicked inkjet launch or an ill-advised super jump—a well-timed shield deployment could mean the difference between life and death. You can’t save them all the time, but you can save them some of the time, and sometimes that’s enough to make a difference.

Of course, there’s one potential downside you have to be aware of…

About that…any enemy bombs that hit your shield will explode on contact, and if you or any of your teammates on the wrong side of the shield when it happens, you’re toast. As with most things in life, please brella responsibly. 😉

The Conclusion

The Tenta Brella has a lot going for it, and if you can find a way to mitigate the downsides, you can get some serious value from it in nearly any context. While I will always and forever be an Undercover Brella partisan, I’ve come to respect what the Tenta Brella has to offer as a weapon, enjoyed the challenge of figuring out how best to use it. If you wish to walk the same path, hopefully some of this can assist you on your journey.

Now if only a Tenta Brella could protect me from Travis Denning’s latest single…

What Can We Expect For Splatoon 3? And What Do I Want Anyway?

“Knowing You,” Kenny Chesney, I’d rather talk about something that’s much more interesting.

Those who have followed the blog and/or my Twitter feed for a while know that I do two things in life: Listen to country music, and play Splatoon (often at the same time, which leads to some bizarre juxtapositions of sound and action; imagine racking up double-digit kills in an intense match while listening to “Last Cheater’s Waltz”). With over 2,300 hours and 4 X ranks in Splatoon 2, I’m probably more-qualified to discuss that game than I am to dissect anything Thanos has dropped in the last year, and so I was understandably hyped when Splatoon 3 appeared in last month’s Nintendo Direct.

I made some brief remarks about Splatoon 3 in that last post, but since I’m incapably of briefly doing anything (these song reviews seem to get longer every month…), I’d like to dig a bit deeper into the possibilities offered by Splatoon 3, and what we might expect from the game when it launches next year.

The Lore

To reflect the victory of Team Chaos in the “final” Splatoon 2 Splatfest, the focus of Splatoon 3 moves away from Inkopolis and over to the city of Splatsville and the harsh terrain of the surrounding Splatlands. There’s been a lot of excited speculation about the prospects of exploring a ruined civilization, but I think this is a bit misguided: Squid/octoling society is likely just as it was in Splatoon 2, with Inkopolis still standing and several fan-favorite maps from the first two games likely returning. (We’ll talk more about returning maps later, but if you think Moray Towers won’t be back next year, you’re crazier than I am.)

Instead, I’m most intrigued by the human angle of the story: We’re already canon in the game as an ancient race that went extinct due to “a climate apocalypse,” but that upside-down Eiffel Tower in the S3 reveal trailer suggests there might be a lot more to that story, and the developers are ready to tie this world a lot more closely with ours. So what does that mean for us?

  • It means the single-player environments are going to get a lot more recognizable. If the Eiffel Tower’s there, expect some more famous landmarks to be thrown in: The pyramids of Egypt? The Roman Coliseum? The Taj Mahal? Whether or not the campaign will be open-world or not, chances are we’ll be traipsing through more-familiar scenes. (They’d better include a Willie Nelson doppelgänger here, because you know he’ll still be alive twelve million years from now.)
  • It likely means the single-player levels will be a lot more “realistic,” for lack of a better term. The levels in Splatoon and Splatoon 2 were mostly floating-block sequences reminiscent of Mario Galaxy, but if this game is going to resemble the real world, then the levels are going to be more natural-looking, or at least have more platforms that obey the laws of physics (and fewer giant Game Boys floating in space).
  • I’m very curious to see how the designers expand on the human-extinction angle. Splatoon 2 has only been out since 2017, but a lot has happened since then, and if Nintendo wasn’t afraid to hide climate change in the background before, I wonder if they’ll broach subjects like the rise of authoritarianism and the possibility of a public health crisis in their Sunken Scrolls.
Image from Nintendo Life

I’m also intrigued by our new “little buddy” Salmonid that tags along with the protagonist through the first half of the trailer. Octolings went from enemy to playable character in Splatoon 2, but does this suggest a similar transition for Salmonids in Splatoon 3? While I doubt this (there’s just no obvious parallel to Inklings, unless “Salmonlings” become a thing), I wonder if there will a Mandalorian angle to the story: There could be something special about this Smallfry, and we must transport it across the desolate landscapes to its home far, far away. (The origins of Salmonids are completely undefined right now, so there’s a lot of world-building potential here.)

Much of this won’t translate to the multiplayer modes, but the single-player campaigns have been a surprising strength for the series (even if Splatoon 2‘s original campaign was the carbon copy of Splatoon‘s), so I’m looking forward to what this mode has to offer.

If the Undercover Brella doesn’t come back, I’m review-bombing this game on Metacritic.

The Gear

From a weapon standpoint, many of the existing classes were confirmed in the trailer (shooter, rollers, blasters, chargers, sloshers, splatlings – no dualies or brellas though, at least not yet), the headline was easily the introduction of the Splat Bow that can fire a trio of shots at an opponent. It’s hard to say how they weapon will behave without much gameplay, but the inking power of its shots in the trailer looked pretty minimal, so I’m guessing it will have a fairly long range to compensate, similar to a Splattershot Pro or H-3 Nozzlenose (or perhaps even charger-length?).

We saw a number of weapons get visual redesigns in the trailer (Splattershot, .96 Gal, Range Blaster, E-liter), but given how balanced the meta seems to be in competitive play right now, I doubt we’ll see a ton in terms of weapon stat changes (although the bow might shake things up a little). Just as with Splatoon 2, we’ll likely get a mixture of old favorites and new kits to play around with, and as much as I don’t like the game’s slow rollout of weapons (1-2 a week over many months), it seems to help maintain interest in the game over the long term, so I’m guessing we’ll see more of the same in Splatoon 3.

In terms of sub weapons…well, we don’t really see them at all in the trailer. In truth, I think there’s not a ton of room for improvement here: We have sprinklers, we have mines, we have bombs of every kind, we have sensors, we have walls, we have beacons big and small…outside of reimagining Toxic Mist, I think the sub weapons are in a good place.

The bigger question is the rest of the available gear (headgear, outfits, footwear). Games like this need a consistent stream of new content to keep players engaged, but with so much gear already available in Splatoon 2, I wonder if the franchise will run into a Pokémon problem: Every new game will have some shiny new gear to get peoples’ attention, but if every old shirt or kicks develops a dedicated group of fans that demand its inclusion, we’ll just end up with a bunch of gear that barely anyone uses that will eventual get cut and draw the usual ire on social media. Clothing items aren’t Pokémon, however, and Nintendo’s no stranger to absorbing slings and arrows online (hey, they ended up getting away with it in Pokémon Sword and Shield), so hopefully this won’t be a problem.

Something that would help cushion the blow of lost gear is the complete de-coupling of abilities from gear: Any ability should be able to appear as a main or sub ability on any clothing item (although there may be some that are locked to main-only or sub-only). We’ve already got this functionality through Annie’s gear shop on SplatNet, but it should be incorporated into the main game and made as easy as possible (perhaps you can choose your main ability when you buy something, and be able to change it as many times as you want for a fee?)

What about new abilities for gear? There’s definitely room for improvement on this front (Bomb Defense Up DX still seems like its trying too hard to justify its existence, and Main Power Up feels over-represented in the current meta), but I don’t think the developers have to go too crazy here. Maybe movement enhancers for the new ‘squid roll’ and ‘squid surge’ techniques? Honestly, I think we mostly get more of the same in Splatoon 3, and I’m fine with that.

Finally, we have the eternal question of special weapons: Do we wipe the slate clean like we did for Splatoon 2, or mix some new ideas with some old favorites? So far, Splatoon 3 seems to be doing the latter: A reworked Inkzooka has prominent placement in the trailer, and what looks to be a multi-Stingray can be seen as well (its origin is obscured, but I wonder if it’s the crab robot that appears later?). While I constantly raise the question of reviving Echolocator, I mostly haven’t missed the original specials from Splatoon, so I’m content to see how the game designers decide to mix things up this time around.

Image from Nintendo

Game Modes

I know people are predicting new game modes for Splatoon 3, but from the standpoint of the main multiplayer game, I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t get one. Splatoon 2 didn’t add Clam Blitz until late in 2017 (and we’ve all been complaining about it ever since), so my guess is that we stick with the five primary modes we’ve got right now: Turf War, Splat Zones, Tower Control, Rainmaker, and Clam Blitz. (I know ThatSrb2Dude examined some of the unused modes from Splatoon 2, but neither of them look viable to me.) That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some changes to the existing modes: I feel like a lot of people complain about the volatility of Rainmaker matches, so maybe they do something to significantly slow your movement speed when you’re carrying the Rainmaker around. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a new Ranked mode added later in the game’s lifecycle.

Instead, what I’d like to see is some cross-pollination between the current modes:

  • For Ranked modes, I’d like to see some less-competitive options available for players who don’t want to stress about their ranking, perhaps along the lines of the For Fun/For Glory split in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. I enjoy ranked battles, but I don’t enjoy how salty I get from extended losing streaks, so I think being able to play the game in a no-stakes, Turf War-like atmosphere would be much more fun.
  • For Turf War, I’m honestly ambivalent about the idea of making it a formal Ranked mode, but I’d like to see some League Battle functionality migrate to the mode—specifically, the ability to form teams with your friends rather than being randomly tossed in to play with or against them. Getting only one or two matches together with a friend after a hour of playing can be a bit demoralizing, and I’d like to see us get the ability to play as duo or quartets (and trios too! If they can do it for Salmon Run, they can do it here).

Speaking of Salmon Run: If not salmon hunting, then some kind of horde mode needs to be in Splatoon 3. Given the dedicated community that has built up around the mode, I’d not like to see this mode continue, I want the bizarre availability restrictions of the mode removed, so people can play it whenever they want rather than only at specific times. Set up a map/weapon rotation system similar to that in regular Ink Battles (but on a longer timeframe; perhaps a day or two), get out of the way, and let the salmon runners run! Also, instead of continuously resetting scores to Profreshional 400, I’d like to see another higher rank option in the mode for those that can reach 999, similar to X-rank in regular Ranked Mode, or at least give them a little badge or something that they can show off for being an elite salmon player.

Could we see a new mode along the lines of Salmon Run? It’s hard to say: Perhaps an escort-like mode where a Rainmaker-esque object through an winding course against a varying number of enemies? My imagination fails me at this point, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

(And yes, Splatfests are coming back. Not bringing them back would be madness.)

Finally…how about the game let us make our own game modes? Instead of shoehorning a game like Hide & Seek into a Ranked mode, give us granular controls for Private Battles that let us play the game the way we want to. Also, how about making a public option for health care Private Battles, so that these custom games could be opened up to the masses? In other words, I’m for anything that helps people play the game the way they want to.

Image from Fandom.com

Maps

My attempt at map predictions for Splatoon 2 turned out pretty badly, so I’m not going to even try anything like that here. Still, there are some obvious candidates for readmission to Splatoon 3: Moray Towers remains wildly popular, and Wahoo World has become the map for ranked tournament matches, so to not bring them back would be lunacy.

In terms of “retro” maps, the one map I’d like to see return from Splatoon is probably Flounder Heights. No other map features the sort of vertical setup that Flounder does (Moray Towers drops in elevation as you reach the middle, while Flounder rises), so it might lead to some exciting playstyles when tossed into the Splatoon 3 meta. Bluefin Depot is a possibility as well, although I hear complaints about Camp Triggerfish’s split setup, so maybe not.

A new Salmon run map is also likely, and my off-the-wall idea would be something in between Shellendorf Institute and the Lost Outpost: A multi-level structure that players would explore inside as the tide got lower. Regardless, expect there to be more options for this mode, regardless of what form it takes.

Other Additions

  • I was asking for “player rooms” all the way back in 2017, and I’m getting some strong vibes that they might actually be coming to Splatoon 3 (especially given the way apartment buildings tower over Splatsville). It’s yet another fun customization option that players have been begging for (and frankly, the more Animal Crossing features that end up in Splatoon, the better).
  • Player reporting needs to be available through the main game, and not exclusively through the smartphone app. There should be as few barriers as possible to reporting morons who use offensive usernames.
  • Speaking of player toxicity: I’ve noticed a sharp rise in taunting, griefing, and other toxic behavior in Splatoon 2, and I’d like to see Nintendo do more to try to combat it. Here’s a suggestion: Mute all the audio but the ambient music after you die, so you can just pull up the map and not see or hear someone squid-taunting you in your death cam.
  • Precedent says we’ll get another Inkling amiibo triplet with Splatoon 3‘s release, but what about another amiibo set? I’ve already argued for a Grizzco-themed set that gives us the uniform items (we’ve only got the hat now), and our new little buddy from the trailer would look perfect as a plastic figure, don’t you think?
  • If there’s one thing I think the game already gets right, it’s the ability to mix-and-match any character with any hairstyles. There’s no reason to lock a style behind a gender, and I’m hoping more games will follow Nintendo’s lead.

At this point, I’m out of both ideas and breath, but I’m still overflowing with hype for Splatoon 3. Any way you slice it, I think we’re in for a treat when the game releases in 2022, and I can’t wait to learn more about it in 2021.

My Thoughts On The February 2021 Nintendo Direct

2020 threw everyone for a loop (to put it mildly), and Nintendo was not immune to the chaos: As the coronavirus sent developers to their home offices, new game development slowed considerably, and after Animal Crossing: New Horizons surged to unforeseen heights as people looked for virtual escapism, most of Nintendo’s major releases (Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, Super Mario 3D All-Stars, Pikmin 3 Deluxe) were ports of older games, and their presentations were limited to mini Directs and game-specific showcases. (Yes, we got Paper Mario: The Origami King, but the less said about that game, the better.) With the supply chain struggling and the coronavirus vaccine slow to roll out, it looked like we would get more of the same in 2021.

Instead, Nintendo spread the word on Tuesday that a full-blown Nintendo Direct would be dropping the very next game, teasing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate-specific content while promising to lay out the Switch’s release schedule for the first half of the year. The announcement was well-received, but the questions remained: Could Nintendo deliver the goods after all this time, and after all that’s happened?

After watching the Direct, the answer turned out to be an emphatic “yes.” The Big N brought big news on several of its major and not-so-major franchises (as well as some highly-anticipated third-party games), and overdelivered on their promise by discussing games as far out as 2022! After what felt like a bit of a content drought at the end of 2020, the company laid a number of intriguing cards on the table as they kicked off the new year.

My specific thoughts on the presentation are as follows:

  • Nintendo didn’t mess around with the Smash Bros. reveal, leading off its presentation with the announcement that Pyra and Mythra from Xenoblade Chronicles would be the next fighters to join the battle. The announcement wasn’t a huge surprise (XC hadn’t had much representation in the game besides Shulk, and people have been clamoring for Rex and Pyra to be included for a while), but Pyra and Mythra are still a solid addition to the game, and their unique movesets and ability to swap freely should make for some really strategic gameplay. I’m not a Smash player, but I’m all in for this addition.
  • I’m not sure what to make of the Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout reveal for Switch. The game exploded on the Internet late last summer, but it fell back to Earth quickly and ultimately got its lunch eaten by Among Us. I’m sure it’s a decent game and all, but it’s fading fast – will a summer launch on Switch be too little, too late?
  • With the 3DS officially dead, it seems the Switch has decided to pick up the mantle as the RPG console, and it showed here: We got clips of Legend Of Mana, Monster Hunter Rise, Miitopia, Project Triangle Strategy, Bravely Default II, SaGa Frontier, and even some RPG elements in No More Heroes III and Mario Golf: Super Rush! I’m super hyped for many of these games (especially Miitopia, my 2017 Game of the Year), and I’ll hopefully have more to say on BD2 and Triangle Strategy once I try out their demos.
  • Speaking of Mario Golf: I haven’t played this series since MG: Toadstool Tour way back in the day, but that game was a lot of fun, and Super Rush looks to be a huge improvement. In addition to the classic golfing action, Speed Golf looks to add some seriously frenetic action (especially if you’re playing with friends, and especially especially if they’ve got decent online play), and a story mode that builds off of the acclaimed single-player mode from past titles. Mario Tennis Aces was a bit of a mixed bag based on the reviews, but MG: PR shows off a lot of potential, and I’m excited to check it out this June.
  • At much as I enjoyed Miitopia, I did NOT see it coming to Switch in a million years, but I’m super happy that it did (and not just because it means 3DS ports are just as much a possibility as Wii U ports are). I’ll never say no to more character customization options, and while I have no idea how they’re going to shoehorn a horse companion into the game, I’m all for anything that offers more options and/or assistance in battle (maybe now I can crush those pesky ham sandwiches!) The price tag ($50) ma feel a bit steep, but there’s a lot more content than you might think in the base game alone (which already $40 on the 3DS anyway), and who knows what else they might add? In other words, I’m excited enough to think about double-dipping for an HD remake.
  • I liked the Mario items in Animal Crossing: New Leaf enough that I recreated Mario and Luigi’s caps in the custom design app, so I’m happy to see the official versions return in AC: New Horizons as well. The warp pipes are a cool feature, especially for an island as hard to get around on as mine (always have your ladder handy), and they add a whimsical touch to an otherwise standard natural scene (or maybe that’s just my island because it’s overgrown with trees). AC:NH has done an admirable job holding my attention for nearly a year, and updates like these help ensure it’s keep us occupied for a while longer.
  • I liked Octopath Traveler enough to put it on my best-game list of 2018, so you better believe I’m ready for Project Triangle Strategy, bizarre working title and all. This game appears to be more of a tactical RPG experience similar to Final Fantasy Tactics and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, with some intriguing additions involving terrain interactions (burn it! soak it! shock it!) and a decision-driven “conviction” system that basically determines your character’s alignment and affects what might happen to you and what options you have available as the game progresses. I love the way it looks, and I’m excited to find out how it plays.
  • So, about Knockout City…I had fun with Super Dodgeball Advance back in the day, but this one looks like a cross between SBA and Fortnite, with your team working to knock the stuffing out of your opponents with standard dodgeballs and a few other interesting items (you can throw your teammates too?). I’ve watched a few gameplay videos on YouTube and it looks to be a fast-paced, chaotic experience, so if I get some breathing space among all these RPGs, I might have to try this one out.
  • Going into the presentation, there was a lot of speculation over what Nintendo would do for The Legend Of Zelda‘s 35th anniversary. Unlike with Mario, however, the anniversary was never actually mentioned in the presentation, and the obvious game to show (Breath of the Wild 2) was nowhere to be found. Instead, we got an Age of Calamity Expansion Pass, a full remake of Skyward Sword (which looks great, but isn’t a game I’m interested in), and some special Joy-Cons. Nintendo isn’t one to let something like this pass by, however, so expect a full anniversary presentation later this year.
  • Pokémon didn’t show up here despite its own anniversary either, but The Pokémon Company likes to do their own thing anyway, so expect a larger presentation from that franchise in the not-so-distant future. Let’s hope those Diamond/Pearl remake rumors are true!
  • And then there was “the last announcement for today”…
Image from Nintendo

I’d heard some predictions that new Splatoon content might be announced, but I had my doubts about it. In hindsight, I probably should have seen this coming: Online multiplayer games in this vein (Overwatch, PUBG, Fortnite) seem to have a much faster development cycle than other genres, constantly adding new features/items/abilities/etc. to keep players engaged, so it make sense that Splatoon 3 would beat, say, Mario Kart 9 to market.

Nevertheless, Splatoon 3 is coming in 2022, and as someone who has sunk 2,000+ hours into Splatoon 2 and written entire blog posts dedicated to the Undercover Brella, I am 100% on board with this. The introduction of the “Splatlands” gives the developers a chance to dive deeper into the lore of the series (what’s left of humanity besides an upside-down Eiffel Tower?) and cater to the Chaos faction that won the final Splatfest, while also not leaving behind all of the other stuff that made the first two games great. The game features more character customization options, more weapon types, more maps, more movement options, more special weapons (the inkzooka is kinda-sorta back?), and the confusing ability to spawn from a flying espresso machine and launch into battle (I don’t feel like it adds much to the game tbh). While there’s no evidence of Brellas in the game just yet (no sign of dualies either…), most of the remaining weapon classes are back, with certain weapons getting a redesign to suit the chaotic vibe of the game (admittedly I’m more a fan of the classic .96 Gal look). With over a year before launch (I predict an early summer release similar to that of the other games), Nintendo has plenty of time to fill in the gaps on things like Salmon Run, so we’ll be hearing a lot more from this game in 2021 (and by extension, you’ll all have to put up with me endlessly gushing over it).

So what’s the final verdict? Honestly, this is probably my favorite Direct since I started watching them, and after spending the back half of 2020 wondering if this blog would stop focusing on gaming entirely, I think we’ll have plenty of gaming content going forward (assuming I can get my hands on some of these games). I get that people may have gripes about what was shown off (no BotW2, Xenoblade characters aren’t that exciting, non-RPG fans had to suffer through a lot of trailers), but for me this was a nearly perfect presentation, and I’m excited to try some of these games out (starting with the demos and likely Bravely Default II). Nintendo kicked 2021 off with a bang, and I hope they’re able to keep the momentum going as the world trudges slowly back to some semblance of normality.

Is Nintendo Trying To Tell Us Something?

In sports, teams that focus on their past often do so because they have nothing to celebrate in the future. Is that what Nintendo is facing right now?

2020 was already looking like the Year of DLC for the Big N, headlined by the second Fighters Pass in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the Isle of Armor and Crown Tundra for Pokémon Sword/Shield, and the special events being rolled out all year long from Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Two other major announcements, however, caught me by surprise:

  • Splatoon 2, nearly a year after the “final” Splatfest, is bringing back the Ketchup vs. Mayo feud for a second grudge match in May. A special week-long demo event for the game has also been announced for April 29th.
  • Super Mario Maker 2, a game that has been mostly forgotten and hadn’t gotten a major update since last December, is receiving a huge update including the Super Mario Bros. 2 game mechanics, a World Builder (!) and all sorts of crazy new power-up items.

All of this is good news for Switch owners, but looking at the entire pile of news, I couldn’t shake one simple question: Why? Why was Nintendo dusting off titles it had seemingly written off months ago, slapping a fresh coat of paint on them, and trotting them back out in front of the public?

The short-term answer seems pretty straightforward: There’s gold in them thar hills, and Nintendo wants to grab as much of it as possible. With the coronavirus trapping us all indoors for the foreseeable future, the video game industry is seeing a surge in popularity, and the Switch led the way on the back of Animal Crossing’s success. With all these people hungry for content, Nintendo saw an opportunity to sell more people on prior releases like SMM2 and Splatoon 2, and used these updates and special events to draw in some eyeballs, drum up some hype, and bring in some more cash.

However, I wonder if there’s a concerning long-term message hidden amidst this hype. Nintendo likes to lay out its roadmap for 2020 early, but aside from Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, we still don’t know what coming for the rest of the year. Given everything that’s taken place so far this year…is it possible that nothing is coming?

“Nothing” feels like a bit of an overreaction: After all, you have to have one big title to sell for the holidays, right? …Except that COVID-19 has basically called every facet of pre-pandemic life into question, and Nintendo has already been affected by hardware shortages and developers contracting the virus. (We may have already seen the effects on this in Nintendo’s long-delayed, little-to-show Direct back in March.) Would it be a huge surprise if Nintendo had nothing new to show at E3 in a year when E3 itself has been canceled?

Nintendo generally gives us a lot of lead time for its biggest titles, and so far we’ve gotten very little information about future games. Here’s what we know:

  • A sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is in some unspecified state of development. We got a trailer at the end of E3 last year, and have heard nothing since.
  • Metroid Prime 4 is…well, it exists (we think). We got a splash screen back at E3 in 2017, and then an announcement in early 2019 that development had been restarted from scratch, and then nothing. At this point, I’m starting to think the game will miss the Switch entirely.
  • Random ideas like a Super Mario 3D World remake or Mario Kart 9 have been rumored for a while, but we’ve gotten no hard evidence that they’re even in development.

So where does that leave us? The summer and fall are looking as lean as the final years of the Wii U, and while Breath of the Wild 2 seems like the obvious candidate for a late-year release, we don’t even have a release year yet, and Zelda games aren’t exactly known for their quick turnaround times.

There are other issues at play here:

  • How exactly do you top some of the titles that are already available? Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will likely never be equaled, so Nintendo might as well milk the game for all it’s worth. Same with Super Mario Odyssey: 3D Mario games are not that common to begin with, and how do you beat an open-world romp across the planet? And then there’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the best entry in the AC series by a mile and a game that will be incredibly hard to follow in the future. Games of this caliber take time, and unless Nintendo has managed to keep something under its hat for a while, we’re not seeing anything like them anytime soon.
  • When the Switch launched, Nintendo has most of its major IPs locked, loaded, and ready to roll out for its own new console. Three years later, however, the quiver is looking a little empty. I mean, what franchises are left to move to the Switch? Pikmin? Star Fox? Paper Mario? Unless Nintendo has another new IP in development à la Astral Chain, it’s either going to have start repeating its greatest hits or revamping some of its long-lost titles (Earthbound anyone?).

(Speaking of Astral Chain: I still think that cramming all those releases into the back half of 2019 was a bad idea because it didn’t give franchises like Astral Chain or Super Mario Maker 2 the space and spotlight to thrive. With 2020 looking this barren, I’ll bet Nintendo would like to have a few of those decisions back to fill out its current year.)

Part of me thinks I’m wrong because part of me thinks I have to be wrong: The holiday season is so lucrative that missing out on it would be sheer lunacy. However, things may simply be out of Nintendo’s control at this point: Many summer events are already canceled over coronavirus concerns (and some fall events are starting to look shaky, especially with experts warning of a second wave of infections). The Big N has never been afraid to take all the time they need to make a game meet their quality standards, and if COVID-19 slows them down, they’ll take the time to catch up before releasing their work. If that means leaning on the Crown Tundra as their crown jewel for the Christmas rush…well, no series prints money like Pokémon does, and unlike the rough Wii U years, Nintendo seems to be in a strong financial position to weather the storm.

So if this ends up year winds up being Animal Crossing and nothing else for Nintendo, don’t be too surprised. Every other facet of our lives has been turned upside-down this year; it’s only natural that video game release schedules would be affected as well. And hey, maybe this announcements will revitalize the Splatoon community or finally help Mario Maker recapture the magic of the original game. At the end of the day, we can only play the games we have, and we games we have are all already pretty darn fun.

Singing In The Rain: A Defense of the Undercover Brella

USBs: Not just for spreading malware anymore.

Weapons in shooting games are generally offensive-minded (that’s why you use them, right?), but there are a rare few that also provide some defensive benefits, improving your safety while undermining that of your opponent. Overwatch‘s Reinhardt and his massive shield (which he can’t actually attack with) are perhaps the most-famous example, but Splatoon 2 provides a few options of its own with the its Brella weapon class, which was newly introduced for this game.

Splat Brellas provide a personal shield that can protect you from enemy fire and launch forward to ink a protected path, while Tenta Brellas are Reinhardt-sized nightmares that trade speed for power and frighteningly-good coverage. (Little-known fact: When Alan Jackson finished putting a hole in his wall, it was a Tenta Brella that provided the cover for him to drive a truck through it.) Like Reinhardt, however, you can’t shield and shoot at the same time (holding ZR makes the shield deploy and eventually shoot forward), forcing you to constantly spam the trigger to allow you to fight back. For someone as paranoid about repetitive motion injuries as I am, this was a total turn-off. If only there was a weapon that let me shoot and shield simultaneously without developing carpel tunnel or worrying about my shield departing at the worst possible moment.

Enter the Undercover Brella, which is best described as the inverse of the Tenta Brella⁠—it’s smaller, weaker, faster, and stays by your side until the bitter end (i.e., until a sharking paintbrush corners you).

Tenta Brella Splat Brella Undercover Brella
Shield Size Monstrous Personal Personal
Shield Strength Great (700 HP) Good (500 HP) Weak (200 HP)
Launches? Yes Yes No
Fuel Efficiency Hummer (10%/shot) Half-Ton (6.35%/shot) Hybrid (4%/shot)
Movement Speed Slow Moderate Fast
Fire Rate Really Slow Pretty Slow Kinda Slow
Range Above Average Below Average Slightly Below Average
X-Shot Kill X = 1-2 X = 2 X = 3-4

The rule of shooter games, of course, is if a weapon is super-good at one thing, people will exploit that strength and find ways to play around its weaknesses. Thus, the Tenta Brella (after a few serious buffs) is now a viable weapon at the top levels of play, while the Undercover Brella (which does a few things well but does nothing truly spectacular) is barely seen even in Turf Wars. If it wasn’t for the Ink Armor special of the Kensa Undercover Brella variant, you’d likely never see the weapon at all.

I, however, fell in love with the plucky-but-wimpy Undercover Brella, and have managed to get a ton of mileage out of it even at higher levels of ranked solo queue play. I spread the gospel of this thing almost as much as I preach about Midland, and I’m here today to convince you that this Brella deserves both a bit more respect and a bit more representation in ranked play.

So what does the Undercover Brella do well? Consider the clip, which highlights some of the weapon’s strengths:

  • The Undercover Brella is a great placeholder weapon: You find a place, and you hold it. With its less-than-stellar damage output and fire rate, you’re not going to win a ton of 1v1s battles. Still, your shield/shot combination gives you just enough health and firepower to make slayer-types think twice about challenging you head-on, and its light weight gives you the mobility to hop around and sidestep longer-range weapons (most longer-range weapons will try to keep their distance and avoid stepping to you). The result is a lot of drawn-out stalemates while the opposing team tries to figure out how to approach the weird guy that’s waving their umbrella around. Throw in sloping terrain or obstacles that discourage flanking and provide plenty of hiding places (such as the walls and bumpers in MakoMart above), and suddenly that Brella doesn’t seem so wimpy anymore.

In game modes centered around a fixed or slow-moving point (say, Splat Zones or Tower Control), time is money, and any second spent flailing around trying to move the Brella is a second that counts toward our objective. It’s a bit less effective in modes that require more-aggressive play like Rainmaker and Clam Blitz, but you can get some mileage out of being the first one through the door during a push.

  • The kits complement different ranked modes surprisingly well. There are three variants of the Undercover Brella: The basic vanilla kit (VUB), the Sorella version (USB), and the Kensa set (KUB). Let’s start with the kinda-sorta-meta kit first:
    • The Kensa Undercover Brella: Ink Armor is a useful special weapon in any mode, and while charging it isn’t the quickest thing in the world (at 200 points, it’s equivalent to running an N-Zap ’85), it’s not overly onerous either, and it’s the only Brella of any variety to support armor spam. Torpedos are a great sub weapon because they provide bomb support, solid paint coverage, and will also home in on nearby enemies, letting you flush out sharking opponents and force them to defend an attack from an awkward angle. This kit is more amenable to advancing and taking positions, so it’s the best option of the three for modes like Rainmaker or Clam Blitz.
    • The Undercover Sorella Brella: This thing is a beast in Splat Zones. Your default stalemate capabilities and solid painting coverage keep enemies from gaining a foothold on the zone and let you maintain map control, Splat Bombs are generally useful and let you attack from a safer distance, and at 180 points the thing absolutely farms Ballers, which a) gives you a get-out-of-jail-free option if you’re focused down, and b) as seen above, it gives you a quick and effective way to initiate back onto the zone if you lose it. On smaller maps with lots of cover (Moray Towers, MakoMart, Walleye Warehouse, and even Humpback Pump Track), this weapon is practically unmovable. It’s a great Splat Zones choice, and Baller gives you options in Rainmaker and Clam Blitz as well.
    • The Vanilla Undercover Brella: You never forgot your first Undercover Brella, but while this is my favorite Brella of the bunch, it’s also got the weakest set of the three: Ink Mines offer only limited control and visibility, and Splashdown remains a below-average special even after its recent buff (it’s just too easy for opponents to shoot you out of the air). It’s got very little push on its own, and doesn’t seem to defend as wide an area as the USB, which is why it doesn’t offer as much utility in Splat Zones. Tower Control, however, is a different story: You’re defending a dinky little piece of ground that moves along with you, so your mines are always in position to offer chip damage, and nothing says “Get off my plane tower” like Splashdown, especially if you’re super-jumping to a teammate. (Being able to farm Splashdowns at a mind-blowing 150 points doesn’t hurt either.) From there, you can use your mobility and the tower’s center pole to dance away from enemy shots (and occasionally step in front of the pole to avoid pressure from behind). The combination works far better on this mode than it has any right to, and it’s the only weapon/mode combination in which I’ve cracked the moderately-fabled 2300 barrier.

The true moral here is that good teammates are worth their weight in gold.

In other words, there’s a Undercover Brella for any occasion, even Turf War (it’s tolerable range and solid painting capability

  • If you’re ever in a 2v1 or 3v1, you’ve got an ace in the hole: The Undercover Brella is actually a vampire. Nintendo has been buffing the heck out of this thing trying to get people to use it, and one of the coolest post-launch abilities it received was auto-regenerating its shield if you got a splat or assist. That means that if your position is good and your aim is true, you can step out into the open and tank a few shots, knowing that if you get the KO, you’ll get a fully-restored shield to work with again. While I wouldn’t call this a terribly aggressive weapon, it’s a middle best for a center of the fight rather than the edges, and it life-draining functionality allows you to take calculated risks when you have to. (Even better, the Main Power Up ability speeds up the shield regeneration process in general, so you Kensa Pro mains in the audience might already have a workable gearset for this thing!)

Of course, this weapons is not considered for a reason, and if you play it, you have to be very aware of its shortcomings:

  • All the vampiric power in the world won’t save you from a bad angle. You can stare down multiple enemies with a UB, but if you can’t see all the whites of their eyes in the same glance, you’re doomed. If you’re ever attacked from multiple angles, you need to swallow your pride and get the heck out of Dodge. This means that maps that are too open (The Reef), too big (New Albacore Hotel), or offer too many ways around you (Shellendorf Institute) are probably not ones you want to bring a Brella to.
  • Certain weapons are your Kryptonite, even in a 1v1. Do not, under any circumstances, try to go toe-to-toe with a paintbrush, and avoid challenging blasters unless you’re confident that they have horrendous aim (or you can get close enough to make them shoot past you). Short-range, high-damage weapons that benefit from a damage multiplier against shields (Sploosh-o-matics, anyone?) can also be a problem if they get too close, so try to keep them at a distance with your range.
  • UBs are great for holding an advantage, but not necessarily for gaining one. Stalemates are only good for whoever benefits the most from the status quo, so if you’re stuck keeping an opponent at bay deep in your own territory, you’re not helping much. Ballers and Ink Armor can assist with a push, but without follow-up from your teammates, you’ll likely just find yourself in one of those triple-teamed, bad-angle situations discussed above.
  • Above it all, remember that you’re a brawler, but not a slayer. UBs are a three-shot splat at best (which means four shots 75% of the time), and landing that many hits against a highly-mobile enemy like a dualie player is an exercise in frustration. That said, always be ready to be the third person into a scrap (this isn’t hockey, so there’s no game misconduct penalty for doing so) to help chip in against a distracted opponent.

Be ready for your teammates to silently judge your splat counts after every match.

Given all this, it’s safe to say that the Undercover Brella is not a jack-of-all-trades that the N-Zap is. (It’s more of an eight of clubs, truthfully.) However, I’d argue it’s also not the useless weapon the current meta would have you believe: It the right situation, Undercover Brella can be formidable, even downright scary at times, and players can find a surprising amount of success behind its canopy. Now get out there and help me change the meta for good!

Breadth Over Depth: A Defense Of The N-Zap ’85

Hey, it looks like my music post view numbers are growing again. Time to once again squash their momentum with another random gaming post that nobody will read!

If it wasn’t readily apparent from my Twitter account, I play a lot of Splatoon 2. While I’m not a true competitive player by any stretch of the imagination, I’ve had some decent luck surviving the Hunger Games facsimile that is the ranked mode solo queue, mostly by playing flexible support weapons that focus on the main objective. I wouldn’t say I have a true “main” weapon, but among my win totals there’s one particular ink-flinger that stands out:

Weapon Wins
N-Zap ’85 474
Undercover Brella 276
Hero Splatling Replica 184
Kensa Charger 181
Splattershot Jr. 179
Neo Sploosh-o-matic 164
.96 Gal 154

I switch weapons like Carrie Underwood switches wardrobes during an awards ceremony, but in Splatoon 2 I find myself drifting back to the N-Zap ’85 when the money is really on the line. It’s served me quite well in ink battles, which is why I was so surprised to hear renowned competitive Splatoon player ThatSrb2Dude be so down on the weapon in one of his videos from several months ago.

Dude’s argument essentially boils down to this: When comparing the Splattershot Jr. and the .96 Gal, it comes down to the role you aim to fill in a match.

  • The .96’s incredible combination of power and range gives it some solid slaying support in addition to its support abilities.
  • The Jr.’s unparalleled paint coverage and oversized ink tank make it the ultimate support weapon for map control, armor spam and bomb spam.

In comparison, the N-Zap ’85 is more of a “tweener” weapon: It has better accuracy and slaying power than the Jr. and is more efficient at map control and ink consumption than the .96 (plus it has bombs instead of sprinklers), but it doesn’t excel at any of these things (and in fact, at 200 points it’s also the slowest-charging armor weapon of the trio). It’s a “jack of all trades, master of none” sort of weapon, which is why Dude dismissed its potential in the competitive scene. As someone who’s had a lot of success with the N-Zap ’85, it was only natural to wonder: Did the critique have merit? Should we all be throwing our N-Zaps away and using different weapons instead?

Let’s consider both questions individually:

  • Does Dude’s critique hold water? It actually does, for the simple reason that he was careful to specifically define the parameters of his argument. Competitive Splatoon and ranked Splatoon are two very different animals, and Dude’s argument focused solely on the former category, where players use voice communication tools, plot their strategies for each map and mode beforehand, and work to fill a defined role during the match. Therefore, when choosing a weapon, you’re generally looking for something that best fits the role you intend to fill.

If you plan to be a pure support player who eschews slaying in favor of map control and bomb span, the Splattershot Jr. will be your weapon of choice because it’s the best tool for the job. Similarly, if you’re looking to play aggressively and chip in to help your slayers, no other weapons can fill that role like the .96 Gal can. While the N-Zap’s flexibility could let you fill either role credibly, it won’t fill either role optimally, which means you’d be better off doing one or the other and making sure your teammates can handle the role that you don’t. From a competitive standpoint, the N-Zap ’85 doesn’t make much sense to use.

That being said…

  • Should we be using the N-Zap ’85 at all? In fact, there is a role for the N-Zap ’85, and it can be found in the swirling mass of chaos we call ranked solo queue.

In competitive Splatoon, you’re safe to optimize a pure or aggressive support build because you know that someone else is around to do what you can’t. In ranked solo queue, however, there are no such guarantees: Teams are randomized, and players’ communication options are limited to ‘This Way!’ and ‘Booyah!’ At any match at any time, you could find yourself in any position and forced to play any role (as least for slayer and support weapons; backliners can be a bit more choosy with their positioning). With so much uncertainty, optimizing your build to fill a certain role can be dangerous, as none of your teammates may be willing and/or able to cover other tasks. (This is why I find the Splattershot Jr. so frustrating to play in ranked mode: If none of your teammates can hit a shot, the game devolves into me doing figure-eights around the middle of the map with three Splattershot Pros in hot pursuit, all the screaming “WHERE THE #$%& IS EVERYBODY?!?!”

In other words, in ranked solo queue, you’d better be prepared to fill darn near any role, and your weapon better give you the ability to actually pull it off. This is where the N-Zap ’85 shines:

  • If you need to slay, you’ve got the accuracy and range to make it work.
  • If you need map control, you’ve got the painting power and ink efficiency to make the entire map your color.
  • If you need bombs, you’ve got Splat Bombs to pitch in.
  • If you need Ink Armor to give your team some extra defensive bulk, you’ve got that too!

Being a jack of all trades is perfect for Splatoon’s ranked mode, because you’re likely going to have to fill every one of those trades multiple times in a single match. If you’re running the N-Zap ’85, you can be confident that your weapon will give you the power to do whatever you have to do to win.

The N-Zap ’85 may not be a top-tier competitive weapon when you’re trying to squeeze every last advantage out of your competitive squad, but it’s a great choice for a mode that’s as random and chaotic as Splatoon’s normal ranked mode. You can adapt to nearly any playstyle, you can plug any holes that your team comp lacks, and you can find value somewhere in your toolkit no matter what pieces are around you. If you’re trying to make headway in this crazy environment and break into the higher ranks of play, I’d say the N-Zap ’85 is a decent place to start.

Why Splatoon 2 Needs In-Game Reporting RIGHT NOW

It’s all fun and games until the racists show up.

Nearly two years after its release, Nintendo’s Online app for the Switch remains virtually useless outside of a handful of games, and is relegated to being an overcomplicated voice chat system for everyone except Splatoon and Smash Bros. players. I’d toyed around with the thing for a while, ordering gear and checking out recent battle records, but I’d yet to really find a must-have use case for the program.

And then yesterday happened.

For the most part, Splatoon 2 has been able to avoid the toxic sludge that surrounds most competitive online games, mostly by limiting the ways in which players can directly communicate. You can taunt, you can tilt, and you can spam “This Way!” for the entire match, but you can’t lob personal insults at someone unless a) voice chat is explicitly enabled in a match, and b) both players actually have the app open and connected to the system (which is easier said than done). There is, however, a small loophole: Player screen names, which give people ten characters to say anything they want, which is more than enough to let someone’s idiocy shine through.

In other words, it’s possible to get stuck on the same team as someone whose screen name was literally “The N Word,” which is what happened to  me last night. Using a name like that is completely and unequivocally wrong, and regardless of whether you’re eight or eighty, you deserve to be disciplined if you do it.

Sadly, this is not the first time I’ve encountered someone using such racial slurs in their name, and in the past I’ve reported such players whenever I encountered them. This time, however, there was a problem:

  • Splatoon 2 has no way to report inappropriate player behavior within the game itself. Instead, you’re forced to use to Switch Online app to access SplatNet, find the match and player in question, and file a report. Again, I’d done this in the past, but…
  • Recently, Nintendo released an update to the application that included a bunch of performance updates, bug fixes, and one seemingly-innocuous change:

    Supported iOS versions changed. To use this app, iOS 10.0 or later is now required. (emphasis added)

    Unbeknownst to me, my iPad was so ancient that Apple had cut off support for the darn thing back during the Obama administration, which meant it couldn’t run iOS 10.0, and by extension could no longer run the Switch app. Long story short, there was some idiot running around using racist terminology in Inkopolis, and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.

This, as you might expect, really made me angry. The Splatoon community has worked really hard to build a positive, inclusive environment for players to enjoy, and now I was forced to stand idly by when some jerk flaunted their bigotry? Are you telling me the only thing I can do is vent in my own little corner of the Internet? WTF, Nintendo?

Of course, this moment also forced me to check my privilege: Maybe I couldn’t do anything now, but at least I had the opportunity to do report this sort of stuff before. What about the people who can’t afford a smartphone or tablet, or who aren’t allowed by their parents to have one, or who don’t want to install the app because of data privacy concerns? If a person of color jumps into Splatoon 2 and sees someone like this idiot running around, do they have to just let them go if they don’t have the extra accessories required to report it? This is also completely and unequivocally wrong, and Nintendo needs to rectify this issue now by adding in-game reporting functionality to Splatoon 2.

On some level Nintendo already realizes this, because in-game reporting is already a thing in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. However, cheaping out on retrofitting games like Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe by making such functionality exclusive to the app is not good enough, because it places unnecessary barriers between people who want to do the right thing and the thing they actually want to do. Reporting offensive players is key to maintaining the fun, family-friendly atmosphere that the Big N has always prided themselves on (and perhaps deluded themselves about), and when players are restricted from calling out the offenders, the situation can go downhill in a hurry.

It’s your move, Nintendo. If you want to keep that squeaky-clean image of yours, it’s time to put your money where you mouth is and return some power to the players.

Splatoon 2 Is Complete. Where Does Nintendo Go From Here?

Image from Nintendo Life

With the arrival of version 4.3, Nintendo has declared Splatoon 2 an officially finished product, with no future additions planned besides minor balance tweaks. On the day of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate taking over the planet, I decided to take stock of what we ended up getting in the second iteration of Nintendo’s colorful shooter, and see where direction the franchise might take in the future.

First things first: As usual, my predictions from my last Splatoon 2 post were not terribly accurate. I called a few new Kensa weapon packages and the inclusion of the Ruins of Ark Polaris for Salmon Run, but neither the new Ink Battle map nor the Octoling hairstyle options I foresaw materialized. (In truth, I knew my Ink Battle map prediction was toast the moment I tried to take pictures with an amiibo and realized that 23 maps + Inkopolis Square fit perfectly onto two screens.) This gives us a good starting point for Splatoon 3:

  • Include Octolings from the start, and give them as many customization options as the Inklings: They’re DLC now, but they should be full-fledged citizens in the next game, and they deserve the same treatment as their predecessors.

Now, let’s consider the jump from Splatoon to Splatoon 2 for a moment. The biggest thing to notice is there was a lot more there there in the sequel:

Splatoon Splatoon 2
Characters Inklings Inklings and Octolings
Single-Player Modes 1 (Agent 3) 2 (Agents 4 and 8)
Ranked Modes 3 4
Horde Mode None Salmon Run (5 maps)
Amiibos 8 8 (+ Smash Bros. Inkling)
Maps 16 23 (+ Shifty Stations)
Abilities 24 26
Weapons 91 127
Sub Weapons 10 13
Special Weapons 6 + 4 Bomb Rushes 10 + 5 Bomb Rushes
Headgear 70 144
Clothing 121 258
Footwear 67 153

One possibility is to continue this trend into Splatoon 3, and just have more of everything Splatoon 2 had. However, I think certain items (especially clothing) have reached the point where there’s just too many options to ever use them all. (Then again, we hit that point in Smash Bros. years ago and no one seemed to care…) Therefore, I think to take these on a case-by-case basis:

  • The number of Ink Battle Maps should increase to 35-40, with a 60-40 split between new and old maps. Fresh new maps get people excited, and old maps placate longtime fans (of which we can officially claim exist now) of the series.
  • The number of maps available during to usual two-hour period should be increased from two to three. With so many maps available, players may end up going weeks without seeing certain ones in the rotation, so this increases the chances that people will get to play on all the maps. We know it’s possible thanks to current Splatfests, so now we just need to make the change permanent.
  • All four Ranked game modes should return, and a fifth one should be added. That’s pretty much what happened in Splatoon 2, so I would continue the tradition in Splatoon 3. Five remains a manageable number of game modes, and it helps ensure that people will encounter a game mode they like more often (I’m for anything that makes Clam Blitz show up less often…).
  • Gear additions should be minimal, and main gear abilities should be completely untethered from items (and should be available in-game, not in-app). Gear seems to be running into the same problem as Pokémon: New stuff gets people excited, but there’s already so much out there that a bunch of it is bound to get ignored (but heaven help you if you get rid of anything, because everything has a die-hard fanbase that’s as rabid and dedicated as a congressional lobbying group). Any gear additions in Splatoon 3 should be minimal, and the focus should be on allowing items to have customizable main/sub gear abilities that let people get whatever stat boosters they want on anything (and thus gear choices can be based completely on freshness, the way it should be). Annie’s shop should be promoted back to a physical location in the new plaza, and she should offer the ability to change main gear abilities for a (substantial) fee.
  • In fact, let’s get rid of the smartphone app entirely, and make all of the statistical information available in the main game. The Nintendo Switch app remains pretty useless at this point, with SplatNet being the only reason people would actually install it. Unless Smash World takes off (and frankly, it doesn’t look very interesting right now), the Big N should just cut its losses, ditch the app, and make the data from SplatNet easily accessible through the main Splatoon game (maybe as a ‘record house’ somewhere in the plaza?). I like having access to the data, but I don’t like having to use the app to get it, especially when said app serves no other useful purpose.
  • The game should add a new weapon class or two to switch up the meta and give players something new to master. The game’s been pretty good about increasing combat diversity over time (Sloshers, Splatlings, Brella, Duelies, etc.), and honestly, I’m blanking on any obvious additions to the current weapon types. I’m sure some are out there, however, and a snazzy new class or two for Splatoon 3 would help add replay value (more weapons to mess around with!) and also give people more opportunities to use some of the late-added subs and specials by including them in more kits.
  • On the other hand, I’m pretty happy with the sub and special weapons right now, so I wouldn’t make any changes unless the idea is really cool. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the new sub weapons included in the Kensa collections, so I think we’ve reached a decent balance with the options we have now. On the special side, while I’d still be okay with bringing Echolocator back (especially since merging Cold Blooded with Bomb Defense Up was the only way to make Cold Blooded actually useful), I think we’ve got a good crop of special weapons as is, and since I’m assuming the control paradigm will not shift the way it between the Wii U and the Switch beween Splatoon 2 and Splatoon 3, there’s no need to throw them all away and start over again.
  • While Abilities still need a little tweaking around the edges, they can jump over to Splatoon 3 mostly intact. It’s a bit early to judge Bomb Defense Up DX and Main Power Up, but otherwise most every other Ability seems to have found a niche in the current meta. Respawn Punisher is the one ability I might throw out (it’s the only one that has negative consequences), but even that can be useful in the right context (and thanks to SplatNet, you can avoid it if you don’t like it).

Finally, let’s talk about what Splatoon 2 can learn from other games in the genre. Specifically, I’m thinking about Fortnite‘s new Creative Mode, which allows players to customize their environment and design different minigames. While I probably wouldn’t go full-on Minecraft with Splatoon 2, I wouldn’t mind a mode that allows players full customization of the rules (times, weapons, even whether splatting is allowed or not), letting players put together Hide-and-Seek, Laser Tag, or simple squid parties that anyone can join. I seem to keep getting stuck in these awkward half-battle, half-party matches that are no fun for anyone, so giving players a dedicated space to interact and play in peace (while letting the diehard battlers do their thing as well) seems like a huge step forward.

  • Include a ‘custom’ game mode (with full rule control) that anyone can join, not just friends. That way, players can say “Hey, I want to do X today with Y rules,” and find other people doing exactly that.

In short, while I think Splatoon 2 is a mostly-complete game with lots of options and customizations, there’s definitely some room for growth for the franchise in Splatoon 3 and beyond. (Can’t wait for Splatoon Ultimate in another decade!) I’m content with the present, but I’m also very excited for the future.

Is Another Splatoon amiibo On The Way?

When Nintendo fails to make an obvious move, you have to wonder: Are they not going to do it…or are they just not going to do it yet?

Last week, the Big N finally gave us a glimpse of the gear provided by the upcoming  Octoling amiibos, and as usual, the reveal brought the usual amount of surprises with it. The new gear will be part medieval fantasy, part nightmare fuel (what is that creepy mascot, anyway?), and all very much in line with the current Halloween push (even if these figures aren’t coming until December). While I’m totally on board with the new looks, I was surprised that Nintendo decided not to bring the Salmon Run gear to regular ink battles. The programming and modeling work for these items was already done, and the look is certainly fresh enough to fit in with Splatoons 2‘s bright-and-crazy vibe, so why not take the easy win and bring the Grizzco gear to Turf Wars?

Then again, as I look back on a tweet I posted last July…maybe Nintendo’s thinking about scoring a touchdown rather than settling for a field goal.

Amiibo releases have been few and far between this year (and I’ve publicly questioned whether they’re worth buying at all), but Splatoon 2 is the one series that appears to be using them effectively: Of the eight figures slated for release this year, six of them have been associated with the game (Pearl & Marina, the Octoling trio, and the Smash Bros. Inkling). While Smash Bros. will likely add to the figure release numbers by the end of this year (K. Rool, Simon Belmont, Smash-specific Isabelle, etc.), the fact remains that if Nintendo still wants to make money off of amiibos, Splatoon players are still willing to buy them.

I didn’t talk about the Grizzco gear in my last Splatoon post, so let me make another prediction here: I think a Salmon Run-themed amiibo set will be coming sometime in 2019, bringing a host of old (and perhaps new) Grizzco gear with it.

Image from the Reno Gazette Journal

First, let’s address the question of what the figures would actually look like. The first two seem fairly obvious:

  • The Mr. Grizz statue/wood carving seen after entering the Salmon Run area.
  • A standard Chum, complete with frying pan.

The third, however, is a bit of a mystery. None of the Boss Salmonids really stand out to me, but some seem a bit more unwieldy as a figure than others (Stingers are too tall, Steel Eels are too long, and Maws are rarely visible long enough to be terribly distinctive). I see either a FlyFish or a Scrapper as the most logical choices, with the special Goldie boss as a wildcard. (Just having a 2-pack similar to Pearl & Marina is also a possibility.)

Next, let’s talk about the gear giveaways:

    • Wearables: The Salmon Run hat, overalls, and boots would be given out by one figure, similar to how other full sets are handled. (While the overalls and boots fit together as if they were a single item, I imagine that they are actually separate items that the game draws on the PC just like any other clothing and shoes.) The special-weapon packs on the hat  could be included by default, or might only appear when a player actually has their weapon charged in an ink battle.
    • Weapons: We’ve seen several weapons that were designed specifically for Salmon Run, and while they might be a bit OP for Turf Wars in their current forms, they could be tweaked to just be re-skinned versions of existing weapons:
      Grizzco Weapon Ink Battle Equivalent
      Grizzco Blaster Clash Blaster
      Grizzco Brella Undercover Brella
      Grizzco Charger Bamboozler
      Grizzco Slosher Explosher
    • In-Game Bonuses: This is an avenue Splatoon 2 hasn’t really explored, but a co-op mode like Salmon Run would be the perfect place to allow players to power up via amiibo. Because everyone is working together, having an amiibo unlock a third special attack charge or grant a character bonus (speed, attack, etc.) benefits the entire team, and thus wouldn’t be seen as an unfair advantage (except by the Salmonids). It’s a longshot idea, but it’s definitely a possibility.

In the end, I think bringing the Salmon Run gear to ink battles in Splatoon 2 makes too much sense not to happen, and by tying it to amiibo, Nintendo can create yet another revenue stream that shouldn’t annoy the player base. Creepy mascots are all well and good, but when an opportunity like this comes knocking, Nintendo shouldn’t ignore it.

What’s Left To Add To Splatoon 2?

Image From Nintendo Life

Does anyone else get the feeling that Splatoon 2 is getting sacrificed on the altar of Smash Bros.?

Nintendo has now announced that Skipper Pavilion, the latest new map for Splatoon 2will also be the last new map for the game. It seems like an odd decision, given that we just started paying for online play and Splatoon 2 remains one of the most-active games on the Switch. With Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on the horizon, however, perhaps Nintendo feels the need to marshal all possible resources to support a game that is assured to be a mega-hit for them (and has a lot of moving parts to maintain).

The first thing Splatoon fans need to do is refrain from panicking. New content updates may end at the start of 2019, but that doesn’t mean special events like Splatfests will end as well. Despite the official end of new ARMS content in 2017, we’ve still seen a number of Party Crashes held this year, and Nintendo knows it has to do something to avoid having a angry mob of squidkids and octokids on their doorstep. (Also, why would they make all these recent Splatfest changes if they only planned to run them for another few months?) My guess is that these fests will continue through at least the balance of 2019.

That being said, it’s worth considering what content is left to add for Splatoon 2. There are still a few things leftover from Splatoon that could be ported to the sequel, and Nintendo has teased a few new sub and special weapon options, but what else could be packed in before the clock strikes midnight on 2018?

Let’s break down the potential additions by type:

 Maps: First, let’s look back at my attempt at predicting which original maps we would see again:

Returning Map I said… As of now, I’m…
Arowana Mall Yes Right
Saltspray Rig No Right
Urchin Underpass Yes Wrong
Walleye Warehouse No Wrong
Bluefin Depot No Right
Camp Triggerfish No Wrong
Flounder Heights Yes Wrong
Hammerhead Bridge No Right
Museum D’Alfonsino Yes Wrong
Mahi-Mahi Resort No Right
Piranha Pit No Wrong
Ancho-V Games Yes Right

Apparently I would have been better off just flipping a coin, but I digress…

Nintendo took care to say that Skipper Pavilion would be the last new map added to the game, and with 23 maps already in the rotation (compared to 16 in the original), we’re pretty close to the saturation point on these things. Still, with two months in between the Pavilion’s release and January 1st, I expect to see at least one more original map return to the rotation.

In terms of which map it could be, I think it’s either:

  • Flounder Heights (this is the one I see mentioned most online, so it’s seems to have a large, devoted fanbase), or
  • Museum D’Alfonsino (it’s a fairly dynamic map, and recent Shifty Station designs indicate the Nintendo is not afraid to experiment).

I could see Mahi-Mahi Resort returning as well, but not the others (RIP Saltspray).

I’d also like to see Nintendo expand the map rotations to include a third map in every two-hour session. It’s getting to the point where I go weeks without seeing some of the maps (for example, I still haven’t seen the reworked Starfish Mainstage), so throwing a third map in would increase the chances of playing on each stage.

Finally, there’s another avenue of expansion that seems to be getting ignored: Salmon Run maps. There are only four of them right now, so adding another one for people seems like it would have a better ROI than yet another Turf War map.

Gear: From what I can see, we’ve basically gotten every piece of gear from Splatoon in Splatoon 2, with the exception of clothing that requires external licensing agreements (the Squid Girl outfit, the CoroCoro and Famitsu sets).

I’m torn on whether or not to bring these items back to Splatoon 2. On one hand, there’s so much gear already that I’ll never possibly get around to wearing it all. On the other hand, these special sets were really cool and fu to use (especially the Squid Girl one). If Nintendo can find a way to get Snake back into Smash Bros., they should be able to work something out with Masahiro Anbe, right? If I had a guess, I’d say we’ve got all the Splatoon gear we’re going to get, but I wouldn’t mind being pleasantly surprised. 🙂

We’ve also got the Octoling amiibos coming out later this year, although I’m not sure what sort of gear they’ll give us (maybe the original outfit from the Octo Expansion, or some of the Japanese-exclusive clothing like the Sennyu Suit?). Nevertheless, I don’t see a lot of expansion on this front.

Weapons: We’re getting some surprise new sub and special weapons, so I imagine Nintendo will pair them with some new weapon kits similar to the Kensa collection rather than retro-fitting older weapons. The Kensa collection was pretty basic from a main weapon perspective, so I expect our  subs and specials to be paired with newer weapons types (Sloshers, Splatlings, Brellas).

These new developments beg the question: Are there any special weapons from Splatoon that might make sense in Splatoon 2? The one that sticks out to me is Echolocator: It’s not reliant on a separate map like Inkstrike, it’s not an OP invincibility move like Kraken or Bubbler, and it might make for some interesting changes to the meta (Cold-Blooded could become useful again!). Besides that, however, I don’t see anything returning from the original game.

Could we get a new main weapon type? I doubt it, as Nintendo likes to give players more kit options and so little support time remaining, we’d probably just get stuck with a single version of whatever the weapon is.

Character Customizations: This could get interesting, as there’s an obvious area that could use some improvement. Octolings are still limited to two hairstyles per gender while Inklings have six, and players have been clamoring for some more options ever since the DLC came out, so adding more styles here feels like an easy win for Nintendo. Pants options still aren’t terribly numerous either, but I don’t hear a lot of complaining about this anymore, so I think we won’t get anything extra here.

(Personally, I wouldn’t mind separating ‘face’ and ‘head’ headgear options into separate slots, but that feels like a major change that would better suited for the inevitable Splatoon 3.)

Game Modes: I don’t see anything changing on this front. Adding something like a fifth ranked mode would require a lot of testing and tweaking that would likely stretch into 2019, so unless Nintendo decides to surprise us with something next year, what you see is what you get.

Something Else? Nintendo likes to surprise people, so could there be some totally off-the-wall in the works? I’d never say never, but the only crazy thing I can think of is my customizable “room” idea from before. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Here’s my prediction: We get one last blowout update for the holidays, which includes:

  • A returning Splatoon map
  • A new Salmon Run map
  • A branded weapon pack that includes the new subs and specials
  • Support for the Octoling amiibos
  • New Octoling hairstyle options

Yes, it’s hard to admit that the end is nigh, but just like with the original game, I expect Splatoon 2 to last far beyond the end of official support.  Super Smash Bros.Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee!, and other new games will cut into the player base, but there will be enough Inklings and Octolings around to keep the game vibrant for years to come.