I’ve been playing this game almost nonstop for over a month now. I don’t understand what’s going on.

I have this check list of pros and cons and the number of cons grossly outweighs the pros. I keep thinking of something new that irks me, annoys me, downright angers me and–in typical Nintendo fashion–“expectedly disappoints” me.

That’s the funny thing about Nintendo. They are unfairly held to a higher standard. They’ve perfected—literally perfected—the art of game making, but it is a very specific kind of game that they make, with very “Nintendo” quirks, a very “Nintendo” look and very “Nintendo” mechanics. Those mechanics are so refined that when they occasionally don’t work (the way we expect a game from Nintendo to work), then their fans very harshly criticize them, in ways none of SquareEnix’s fans, or Konami’s fans, or Activision’s fans do.

On the other hand, fans have resigned themselves to the fact that Nintendo is simply not going to play ball the way other game-makers do. Detailed voice acting, cinema-quality cutscenes, and robust online features are not typical of a Nintendo production. After all these years, there’s no sense in expecting otherwise. Nintendo is not EA (and let’s all be thankful for that). They look at game making as an art form. They don’t play by everyone else’s rules as a result.

Read the internet Nintendo-sites about what fans want to see in their newest home console (codenamed “NX,” due, it seems, sometime in 2017). People are tossing out specs that would rival whatever Microsoft is planning for the next XBOX. People are expecting third parties to commit to it like they do to Sony because they expect it will have a 1 Terabyte hard drive and launch with online servers ready to host millions upon millions of gamers. It’s not going to happen. Nintendo will do what they always do. They will release an underpowered, gimmick-inspired machine that plays Mario, Zelda and Kirby, while countless other franchises like F-Zero and 2D Metroid sit on the shelf because no one at the Big N has thought up a special “hook” for them to justify their development (beside, you know, the fans wanting them).

The next system will be limited in what it can do relative to the competition. The cost will be less than what Sony and Microsoft offer, making them a perfect “second system” to either the PS5 or the XboxTwo (name pending). Because of that, no one will buy the third party offerings for the NX, opting instead to buy them on the higher-powered “first system.” The NX will become, essentially, a Nintendo-only machine, with long delays in between major releases, frustrated early adopters, and general disappointment that the system isn’t really “competing” with Sony and Microsoft (while Nintendo execs continue to insist that they don’t compete with anyone or worry what the rest of the video game marketplace is doing). Halfway through the NX’s life, fans will start to hear rumors and rumblings about Nintendo’s next home console, and the cycle will repeat, with fans sure that “this time” Nintendo will “get it right.”

I said all of that in an article about Splatoon because I feel like this game sums up my thoughts on Nintendo in general. I have about nine cons (avoiding things like criticizing the little mini game that you can play while waiting for a match to load; because they didn’t have to do that at all, so why be critical) and three pros (avoiding things like praising Nintendo for how well the stages are balanced, or the sharp framerate or all the little things Nintendo makes look so effortless)…

splatoon

CON: PLAYING OFFLINE IS POINTLESS

There are a few little side quests you can do, and there are people to talk to, but this is the most purely “online” game Nintendo has ever made. This is their way of getting in on the Call of Duty craze (about five years after its peak I think, but that’s Nintendo for you), but even Call of Duty has a more robust offline campaign than this.

CON: FRIENDS CAN’T PLAY ONLINE TOGETHER

Sure I can use friend codes to play with friends online, but the odds of me finding a friend somewhere outside of my home who (A) has a Wii U, (B) has this particular game, (C) is playing it at the same time I am, and (D) wants to devote the three hours I typically spend playing it (at a minimum) are slim to none. I’m much more likely to play with someone sitting right next to me in my living room, whether it be a friend coming over to visit or when me and my boys sit down to play. There is an offline multiplayer mode, but it is nothing compared to the meyhem and fun of the online battles. Why cant we both jump in and play together as two members of the four member team?

CON: NO COMMUNICATION BETWEEN TEAM MEMBERS

Speaking of your team. I find myself talking to them a lot. Usually at first it’s me yelling “if YOU will cover me, I will shoot that guy on the tower” or “YOU take the roller and go left, and YOU take brush up middle; I’ll go right with the gun and pick off enemies as they approach.” but of course they can’t hear me. I do a lot of yelling. Usually halfway through it’s me cursing the ground my idiot team members walk on because they either disperse to the four corners of the map, leaving me high and dry, or they bumble around and cover the same spot with ink because they don’t know the other one had planned on covering that spot and neither of them will leave to find another spot and I just WANT TO KILL MY OWN TEAMMATES BECAUSE THEY’RE NOT WORKING TOGETHER! But of course they can’t hear me.

Why? Because Nintendo.

CON: “CONNECTIVITY ERRORS” AND “THE SERVER IS DOWN”

Finally, when it comes to the online gaming…it doesn’t always work. And I know that sometimes an online game is going to have a server crash or something like that. I get it. But when you’re playing a ranked battle and you’ve lost two in a row (largely because of the previous “con”) and you finally have a victory in sight and then the game drops you like its hot…that can be a bit maddening. At first I thought it was my own internet connection being unstable, but nope. All the other online games I have work just fine. And my internet speed is plenty fast. A little googling shows this is a common problem and probably is the result of Nintendo not being very experienced with such an online-heavy game.

CON: GYROSCOPE CONTROLS

Sometimes I want to hold the controller and still scratch my nose. When that happens, I don’t want to suddenly look at the sky. Call of Duty doesn’t need gyro controls. GoldenEye didn’t need gyro controls. Why does Splatoon have to have gryo controls? I get that Nintendo wants to “show everyone what the Wii U Gamepad can do” but so much of that has come off as shoehorning ideas into games when simple, classic, traditional controls would have worked just as well without the occasional hiccups.

CON: TEXT TEXT TEXT TEXT

So. Much. Scrolling. I kept waiting for the gun salesman, after his tenth paragraph explaining the newest gun in stock, to pull a “Kaepora Gaebora” and ask me if he should repeat that or just say it over again. Every time you turn on the game you have to sit through those annoying announcers tell you what the two stages of the hour are. Talk to the cat outside the lobby and it’s a text bubble. Talk to one of the NPC’s around the single player campaign, and it’s a text bubble. Over and over. This isn’t 1993. If it’s not too much to ask, can we cut down the text bubbles, or at the very least have a way to skip them entirely if you stumble upon them? It used to be, a simple press of the “B” button pulled your right out of the conversation. Not anymore. Now you have to sit through War and Peace before you can buy shoes.

CON: NINTENDO “VOICE ACTING”

Consider this a “part-B” to the previous entry. I am so sick of Nintendo’s “gibberish” voice acting. They use it for everything now. They use it in Zelda, in their RPGs, and almost every game not named “Star Fox.” Which raises the question: If they can do it with Star Fox (and they usually do it well), why not all their other games? Mario can spout off a few words. Why not Princess Zelda? It’s just another example of Nintendo cutting what they consider a non-essential corner.

CON: LIMITED BY DESIGN

You only get two levels, that as far as I can tell are selected randomly back and forth after each battle, every hour. I understand Nintendo’s decision: It keeps the online community from being too spread out, and since Nintendo games aren’t usually known for their strong online presences, it’s smart to keep the ones you do have online, in one of only four places (two ranked battle sites, and two regular battle sites). But still, when the battles are usually over within three minutes, you’re looking at some twenty playthroughs before the hour changes. That’s a long time to see the same two arenas over and over. At first it’s fine because you’re honing a strategy, but eventually it wears you down.

CON: REPETITIVE TO THE POINT OF SHALLOWNESS

Play a non-ranked online fight, and it’s the same three minute go-round every time. Sometimes your team is filled with geniuses, sometimes not. Sometimes they run in circles or jump right into enemy fire, and sometimes they actually display some creativity. Either way the only constant is you. I pick a weapon and go with it (usually a roller), never stopping to change because then I’d lose my team. I play and I play and I play. “Do you want to play again?” it asks. Why yes I do. For the tenth time. Over and over. And after an hour, the levels change but nothing else does. It’s still the same three minute go-round. Ranked battles have a little more variety with the Tower fights and the Zone battles. But that’s it. If that’s the game when you start playing, that’ll be that game when you quit after your 15th fight. That combined with the worthless single player campaign and limited local-multiplayer modes and you have perhaps the most shallow major release by Nintendo in ages.

Group those nine cons into two categories: There’s problems on a technical level and problems on a design level.

And yet…

splatoon-2

PRO: IT IS SO MUCH FUN

The reason I keep going back, and keep playing even after two hours, is because I play it with a big stupid grin on my face the entire time. Sometimes Call of Duty feels like work. This game never does. It is a true “game.”

PRO: IT IS HILARIOUSLY ADDICTIVE

Yes it’s shallow, but so were all the best arcade games of yesteryear. After the first level of Pac Man, you’ve literally seen it all. The game just speeds things up to make it interesting, but that’s it. Donkey Kong is four stages of jumping over barrels and hammering fireballs. Tetris is the same five pieces and the same narrow board. That’s it. Those games are classic and just as addictive and “pick up and play” as ever. Start up a Zelda play-through and you can expect a good five hours before the “game” even starts. Metal Gear Solid is now more movie than game. This game is like dropping a quarter in the machine. You just hop in and start playing. And when it’s over, win or lose, you drop another quarter in and keep playing some more. I once had a night where I started playing just as my kids went to bed (around 9:30pm) and when I was finished I looked down to see it was 1am. I couldn’t stop.

PRO: IT IS HARD WITHOUT FEELING FRUSTRATING

There is nothing better in a game than knowing you know how to solve the puzzle but are just not good enough yet to do it. This game never makes me hate it. It makes me hate myself for getting careless or for not paying attention behind me, etc. As much as I yell at my screen at my teammates for their boneheaded decisions, they are probably yelling at me for something I did. I have never felt like the game was cheap, however. I suppose it helps that your opponents are almost always other human beings, and not the AI. Either way, I’ve never once lost and felt like the game was cheating in order to artificially increase the difficulty. Because of that, no matter how many times I lose, I am always ready to go back and play it again.

~~~

Each of the three pros basically explain the same thing: The game is just too much fun. The cons may outnumber the pros but the pros are so much greater in terms of the emotion they bring out. All of Splatoon’s mistakes vanish away when you steal a glance at your map and see that your color is dominating the board. The thrill of seeing your tower closing in on its destination in a ranked battle more than makes up for the occasional “connectivity error” or “gyroscope go crazy” moment.

The game isn’t perfect. But it’s so much fun so often that it doesn’t matter.

If that’s not Nintendo in a nutshell, nothing is.

9/10 – a must buy

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  • Tara Sorensen

    The wii U doesn’t use friend codes, and it’s very easy to play with friends. When you go in the Lobby for online play, there is an icon that says FRIENDS and you select that and then you choose a friend to play with. Very Simple.

    • Matthew Martin

      You’re right about friend codes (Wii U has “friends lists”), and I know about the “play with friends” feature, but my complaint was that me and the guy sitting next to me in my living room can’t both play online together.

      As unique as the gamepad is, it’d be nice if it allowed for me to play using my TV screen and my son sitting next to me to play looking at the game pad. It can be done in offline multiplayer, but not online.

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