I had a chance to check out the Splatoon Global Test Fire this week. I was already sold on the game, but playing it was such a blast that I preordered as soon as my one-hour timed session ended. A few thoughts on Splatoon:

I love how Nintendo decided to roll out this ‘demo.’ The Global Test Fire was only available for three one-hour chunks over the weekend. This accomplished several things by congregating everyone into the same place at the same times: Matchmaking was not a problem, since everyone was playing concurrently. Nintendo was probably able to do some stress testing on their servers, which can only help the final release. Perhaps most importantly, the limited access made it an event. Playing the game became a special thing, and there was time enough in between sessions for word-of-mouth to spread, bringing more people into the fold.

Splatoon_THUMB_mediumThe GTF was somewhat limited in scope. There were only four weapons, two maps and one mode. You and a team of three other match-made players are tasked with capturing as much of the map as you can.

We often talk on the show about Nintendo’s willful ignorance of what the other major players in the industry are doing. Sometimes it works well (most game design choices), sometimes it doesn’t (most hardware decisions.) In this case, I think their choice to once again blaze their own path works out in their favor. Splatoon, at least in this mode, is first and foremost about controlling territory. Shooting other fools in the face is a secondary concern. This important distinction is why I enjoy the multiplayer so much and why I suspect a lot of the hardcore competitive multiplayer dude-bros won’t. I usually steer well clear of the multiplayer modes of CoD and Destiny. I don’t like going head to head against someone that has the time, inclination and skill to grind through matches all day long, then get shirty about it over voice chat with the poor sap they just wasted for not doing the same. In Splatoon, I don’t have that problem.

Since the point here is to take territory, not even to hold it, I can just run around painting to my heart’s content. I can avoid direct confrontation, if I so choose, and focus on spreading my team’s gooey influence wherever there isn’t someone from the other side standing guard. I’z in ur base, painting your floor. I’ll let my teammates bring the pain on the bad guys, while I contribute in my own way. In short, I get to play the game how I want to play.

largeThis being my preferred playstyle, I’ve fallen in love with the Splat Roller, a massive paint roller that lays down a carpet of paint in front of you. I’ve heard it said that the Splat Roller is overpowered, but since the offensive capability is fairly limited, I don’t feel that’s the case. I can’t attack well from a distance, so face offs don’t usually go my way, but if I can sneak up from behind, it’s over. While this worked well for me, my rotating teammates seemed to be doing as well or better with the Splattershot (rifle), Splattershot Jr. (pistol) or Splat Charger (sniper rifle).

All in all, I’d say Splatoon is really well balanced. Sometimes I was at the top of the leaderboard, sometimes the bottom. Some times I had the most kills, most times I didn’t. My win rate seemed to be around 50%, though since it was a new randomly generated team each time, that doesn’t mean much. A mix of wins and losses incentivized me to keep playing in ways that prolonged dominance or domination streaks wouldn’t. It’s not fun to suck all the time and creaming the competition would (I’d imagine) get old after a while.

I do want to make sure I talk about the lack of voice chat. Having played it now, I am fully convinced that Splatoon does not need voice chat, not even as an option. Nintendo is making the right call here. Among all the voice chat supporters in this issue, absolutely no one debates Nintendo’s core reasoning: People are dicks on the internet. Everyone knows this, and since Nintendo’s prime audience is kids, they have decided that they don’t want to expose the little squidlings out there to just how horrible the human race is. I think that’s a fair place to leave it.

The detractors out there say that Nintendo needs to get with the times because every game has voice chat now. People expect it. They certainly do, when it comes to Call of Duty. But this is not CoD. This is Splatoon, a new franchise with no established game design to remain consistant to. Besides, Nintendo has never been one to put something in just because everyone else does.

The key issue to consider is: Does this game design require voice-assisted coordination to be successful? Having played it now, I feel that it does not. The matches are short. They’re designed to be a mad scramble. Each player is supplied with a map of the full terrain with the colors marked out on it in realtime, so that each player can see where people are and what ground needs to be covered (…literally). Figuring out what areas need of the map your attention, getting there and claiming it are all part of the design. Because where is the fun in you just sitting there and taking orders from your team’s master strategist? Each player is in charge of their own destiny. Moreover, working collaboratively but not necessarily coordinatedly is part of the intended design as well. In addition to competing directly with the other team, there needs to be that risk of you and your teammates wasting effort. A successful team needs four people paying attention to the map and maximizing their efforts for a full three minutes. These are calculated design choices, included intentionally to make the game more interesting, just as a mini mushroom power-up in a New Mario game would be.

Splatoon_Wii_U_gameplay_screenshotI’ve heard people say “Well, it would be nice to be able to tell the other guy with a Splat Roller that I’m going right and he should go left.” Well… then… do it. If you see him go right, then you go left. Look at the world around you and react to the needs of the match as they happen. It makes the game more interesting that way. This is not a Destiny raid where you need to coordinate three sub-teams of two guardians each and send them to control points and… no. Just paint the damned ground your color. This isn’t rocket science. If you’re obsessed with setting up snipers at all the choke points, a) you’re more worried about fighting the other team than taking territory and will probably lose because of it, and b) you’re taking this way too seriously. It’s supposed to be fun. Remember that? Fun? It’s a thing we had back when we were kids, like the target audience of this game still is.

I hear the topic of opt-in voice chat come up often too. “People should be able to choose to have voice chat if they want to.” Yeah, genius? How well is that going to work in practice? You’re a big, bad strategeryist and you get put into a random match with three other strangers. You want to tell them what to do, only they’ve all opted out of voice chat because they don’t want to be screamed at by a basement-dwelling manchild or lectured to by an asshat with a Napoleon complex. So where does that put your little superiority trip now, hmm? Opt-in would not work in practice, so let’s stop pretending that we, the internet, have come up with the panacea solution and once again out-thought the world’s oldest video game company. Excelsior! No.

splatoon_amiibo.0So, I’m really stoked for the launch of Splatoon in a few weeks. The drawback to the demo was that I didn’t have much time to experiment with all of the main weapons, so I’m really looking forward to having a chance to mess around with them a bit. I also find myself experiencing that burning itch to hunt down the Splatoon amiibos for the sake of the unlockable missions. Perhaps there’s a balm or an ointment to help with that…


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