I gave Splatoon 7/10. Let’s get that out of the way. I wanted to love it, I really did. It was one of two games that finally convinced me I should get a Wii U at EGX in 2014, and it’s a new IP, from Nintendo! A new Nintendo IP is something to be celebrated as it doesn’t come around very often. What I played at EGX gave me hope for the game’s potential, but what I reviewed didn’t live up to that expectation.
Maybe I put it on too lofty a pedestal? I don’t know. What I do know is that when the major content update releases for the game in August, alongside all the incremental things that have been “released” in between, I shall be re-evaluating the game and seeing what has changed.
A review is a review; its purpose is to provide the reader with information as to the quality – and in regards to games, the content – of the product it discusses. Often a review is constrained by word limits, so there’s only so much information that you can include. This is a collection of my thoughts in detail as to Splatoon’s problems and what could be done to fix them.
1. The Stage Rotation
Splatoon’s stage rotation is just plain silly. Only two arenas are available for four hours at a time between the two modes. The biggest problem this poses is that what map you play is literally down to a coin toss, meaning it’s possible to play the same arena many times in a row. If a five year old is complaining to me that he’s playing the same map for the eighth time then there’s a problem – kids love repetition.
If anything, this system discourages long bouts of play, as four hours of similarity wears way too thin before the rotation comes in. Bookending these with Callie and Marie’s news items gets frustrating too, as it’ll pull you out of whatever lobby you were in to view it, dumping you back in the Shibuya-like central hub afterwards; I hope you weren’t too attached to those people you were playing with.
What makes this more annoying is that the section of the screens that displays the stages is large enough to house three items within it – it’s almost as if they planned to have this as three stages but removed the third before the game went Gold.
I’ve seen it argued that the two stage limit per rotation is good as it helps with learning the maps. This point is moot for one basic reason: the maps are so well designed that it’s impossible to not learn them quickly. Nintendo have created a fantastic set of play areas for you to splat each other in, then they’ve done whatever they can to stop you from playing in them. The layout is the same no matter which side you start from. The chokepoints and side routes are perfectly measured to assist you in getting past people guarding the middle routes. You can’t help but pick these up quickly. Making all stages available, at all times, would benefit regular players greatly.
2. Lack of Game Modes
Turf War was all anyone had until a large amount of people hit level ten, at which point Ranked Mode was unlocked for play; even still, Ranked mode only encompasses one single game mode (a zone control game called Splat Zones). And that is it. We have Splatfests about to launch soon along with Tower Control, and Rain Maker soon to come, the two latter modes being Nintendo’s take on Capture the Flag style competitive MP games.
These are interesting ideas but, once again, just one of these would have helped alleviate the feeling of sparse content at the game’s launch. What’s there is good, it just doesn’t lend itself to frequent play.
3. No Local Multiplayer
Local multiplayer is restricted to 1 on 1 and only has a single mode, a race to get points by popping balloons. It’s not the worst thing ever, but it’s not going to bring back those halcyon days of Goldeneye on the N64.
A four-way split-screen multiplayer option along with death match and Turf War modes would have fleshed this out nicely. Granted the fluid physics of the ink might hamper this slightly, but considering the skills of Nintendo’s developers, you’d expect them to figure out a way around this.
4. Poor Matchmaking
It’s impossible to buddy up with a pal and jump into games together. To join a friend in Spaltoon’s UI, one of you has to be playing a game already, and then the other has to join in on that person. Even then, you can’t jump straight in; you have to wait for the existing game to finish. That person joining can sit and wait for over two minutes before they finally get in, with only Squid Jump for company.
To make matters worse, there’s no guarantee you’ll be on the same team as your friend. The teams are randomised, so, even if you join their game the system often will drop you on opposing teams. This might be fixed in the friend teaming system as part of the August update, but while we keep pointing to August as the day when it all changes, we still don’t know what these changes will actually entail.
5. Disconnected Players Aren’t Replaced
You’ve just lost a game, badly. You look at those percentages and wonder why it went so wrong, then the results screen rolls into view. Your worst player had no splats, no deaths and no points. They disconnected and never played.
When someone drops out of a lobby for any reason, the system makes no effort to replace those players, meaning that you’re pretty much onto a loser every time this happens. It’s not fun, ever.
6. No Easy Way to Exit Lobbies
Once you’ve entered matchmaking there is no exit. None. That’s it, you’re stuck in there until you either finish the next game or turn off your Wii U.
Say you’ve just finished the last match and hit “Continue” instead of “Quit”, or you failed to change part of your loadout correctly before you decided to join matchmaking. Maybe you just found out that you quickly need to nip off to do something. Well, tough lucky, buddy, you’re stuck with your decision for another game, and woe betide you should you make that same mistake again.
Turning your Wii U off and then back on is a solution, but not a good one, as you’re left waiting for the game to boot back up afterwards, and then you have to watch Callie and Marie’s news bulletin… again.
One button would have fixed this. ONE. A single button that just says “Exit Lobby”.
7. Inability to Swap Loadouts While in Lobbies
You’re in a game, and you’ve realised that your weapon isn’t serving you well against your opponents; either that, or what your teammates are using doesn’t compliment what you are. So, you decide to change your weapon. There is no way to do this apart from dropping out of the lobby, changing your loadout and then re-entering the matchmaking system, putting you in amongst a different set of players. Frustrating if you’ve been playing with a bunch of buddies, as attempting to re-join them means you could be left with a two minute wait to re-join them.
This is exacerbated with the rollout of new weapons. Giving you an arena to test against static targets is one thing, going into a game with that weapon and finding out it’s terrible in a proper match made my heart sink. Knowing that I then had to drop out to sort it all out was aggravating. Especially so, as my son and I like to use different weapons, so we were constantly going in, playing a game, dropping out, switching weapons, over, and over and over. It normally ended with me just giving up and letting him play, even when he was practically making me take the controller off him.
Squid Jump is an ok diversion, but I’m fed up with it and don’t touch it any more. Why your loadout isn’t on there for easy changes while you wait for all players to join is something I just cannot understand.
8. The Content Roll-out
It’s not new information that Splatoon was released with content withheld. A lot of guns, arenas and game modes were in the data for Nintendo to unlock at their leisure. It’s been suggested that Nintendo have done this to lengthen the longevity of the game, to give us something new to get their teeth into at regular intervals.
The thing is, there wasn’t enough stuff there at the start. Only five arenas, which ends up feeling worse for the two-stage rotation. It’s all too easy for people to get tired of the existing game modes and maps – the repetition does grate over time.
As for new weapons, for me, the majority of them have been terrible. You’ll see the odd one when they’re released, but users will regularly default back to the regular set after a short period of time. The game has plenty of weapons, all of which are well balanced; it didn’t need more.
My biggest problem here though, is why wasn’t this content made available to the reviewers at the time? The ranked mode was there for us to try, but that was it. It’s hard to review potential, and impossible to review what isn’t there. Well, I say that, but it WAS there, it was all within the game data, why did they not at least open it up to review?
Splatoon IS fun. It is. I said as much in my review. It bursts with colour and character. It’s hard not to look at it and smile. The way your inkling transitions so well between kid and squid, zipping through ink, popping up to splat someone, laying ink down and then dashing off elsewhere…that flow is incredible. I just feel that the above things let it down.
I’d love to see Nintendo continue Splatoon as a franchise, and to do that we should examine what it gets wrong, as much as what it gets right. I’m sure that’s what Nintendo would want as well. Let’s celebrate a new IP, a good game, but let’s not ignore what it gets wrong. That way it can be improved for the (hopeful) next installment.