Nintendo’s brilliant online shooter Splatoon 2 deserves to be copied by other similar games. Not necessarily the fashion stuff or the whole “paint the floor” thing. Rather, some of the game’s smaller ideas....
Modern games are constantly changing. If you haven’t played your favorite game for a few weeks, you’ll probably be greeted by an update notification the next time you boot it up. You’ll click your way through a page or two of patch notes and pointers, then be back in the game.
Splatoon 2 takes a more interesting approach. On each new day as you boot up the game, you’re greeted with a short episode of “Off the Hook,” a TV talk show hosted by the enthusiastic gremlin Pearl and the lovely octopus Marina. They banter about the tracks of the day, keep you posted on upcoming events, and even discuss game updates as they happen.
It’d be nice to have the option to flip through these videos more quickly, but it’s a terrific idea in general. Over time I feel like I’ve gotten to know the two hosts, which in turn has helped me feel more rooted in and familiar with the world of the game. Why can’t all games have charismatic announcers who explain new features and updates to you?
Splatfest is Splatoon’s best idea. Or it’s my favorite, at least. Rather than structuring timed events as contests between established clubs, clans, or guilds, each Splatfest is centered around a common topic of debate. Cake or Ice Cream? Ketchup or Mayo? In the next one: Flight or Invisibility? (Flight, obviously!)
The reason Splatfest is so fun is that it encourages players to engage in a propaganda war with one another. The hub world of Inkopolis is populated with versions of other players’ characters, usually accompanied by whatever art their player has made using his or her Switch touchscreen. Some of the art is really good, and all of it plays a role in noisying-up the world of Splatoon 2 and making it feel alive.
I can’t think of another multiplayer shooter that feels as lively as Splatoon, because most other games don’t give players nearly as much space to express themselves. Meme wars are built directly into the game.
It all came to a glorious head a couple weeks ago when Splatfest rolled around. Finally players had something to argue about (other than furries), and the resulting meme war was consistently hilarious. Splatoon 2's designers have captured an essential aspect of the internet to an unusual degree, which is ironic given Nintendo’s (deserved) reputation for more generally failing to grasp the role of connectivity in gaming.
Splatoon falls so far short on a lot of basic communication stuff—chat, parties, etc.—that it’s easy to overlook the ways it gets communication right. There’s the whole meme/drawing/inkopolis thing I talked about above, of course. But it’s actually also really easy to convey important information during a game, thanks to quick verbalizations like “Ouch,” “This Way” and “booyah” that are tied to the D-pad.
Splatoon 2 is of course not the first game to do something like that, but the stripped-down options disguise a surprisingly flexible system. Rather than bogging players down with emotes and other complex and easily misinterpreted options, more games would do well to keep things simple, easy to use, and flexible.
More and more games are catching on to this one, which is a pleasant development. For years, it was assumed that a multiplayer shooter’s post-game roundup should show each player’s kills along with their deaths. Many games even average the two for you, assigning each player a kill/death ratio, or K/D. If your K/D was positive, you felt good. If it was negative, you felt bad.
Splatoon 2 is one of a number of other recent online shooters to ditch that approach. It keeps tracks of your kills (aka “splats”) and shows them at the end of the match, but because each mode is objective-based, it doesn’t actually assign you points based on them. Furthermore it doesn’t show how many times you died, which ordinarily kinda shames weaker players in front of the rest of the group. Part of the reason the game is able to ditch K/D is that Splatoon has no standard deathmatch game-type, where kills directly contribute to your team’s score. Which, hey, turns out is a perfectly valid thing to do.
At first I didn’t understand why Splatoon 2’s standard Turf War allowed me to play with my friends but didn’t always let us party up to guarantee we’d be on the same team. After many hours of Turf Warring, I get it. It’s impossible to go in with a party because Nintendo doesn’t want either team to have the advantage of coordinated teamwork. It keeps the playing field level, which is a blessing for solo players who fear nothing more than a coordinated pub-stomping from a well-oiled opposing team.
When my friends and I play Turf War together, we never quite know who’s gonna be on whose team for which game. We just hop into Discord chat and play the game.
At first I was annoyed by that, since I wanted to more actively team up (which we still can do if we get four people together and do League Play), but eventually I came to like it. It’s a more casual way to play, with lower stakes. My friends and I engage in some mild trash talk, but mostly just screw around and talk about other things.
Of course, it’d be nice to have the option to play in a party for Turf War, perhaps with a separate lobby. And yes, it’s ridiculous that we have to use an outside chat service to talk to each other while we play. But I still like how the standard mode shakes things up. Because we’re rarely all on the same team, it’s impossible for us to feel collectively responsible for our wins or losses. That makes it easier to talk about stuff other than the game, which makes for a more laid-back experience.
I mean for crying out loud, Nintendo. If you’re gonna make it this much of a pain in the ass to do integrated chat with my party, just cut the feature entirely.