Different isn’t always better. Sometimes different is just different, and sometimes different is actually not as good. Nintendo has always strived to be different. The produced a lot of good with the Wii, and a lot of not-so-good with the WiiU. For the most part, it seems like being different will be good again for Nintendo with the Switch, but there are some areas where being different may not work out so well. Those are highlighted in Splatoon 2; a fast and fun team shooter that like so many underappreciated games form the WiiU era is getting new life on the Switch. However, Splatoon 2 is also highlighting some areas where Nintendo’s always doing things in a different way may not work out for the best.
Most of it has to do with Nintendo’s decision to make their online service based in a mobile app. Different? Sure, but better? I’m not so sure about that. I guess I can see where Nintendo’s going with the idea; the Switch is a mobile console, so why not use a mobile app to partner with it? Thus far, I don’t think the execution is convincing me of any benefits to this different approach. The main issue thus far is being able to chat with friends. To do that, I have to start an online lobby in Splatoon 2, that sends a notification to my phone, I open the room in the mobile app, and from there I can invite friends to a chat room. A bit convoluted, but workable, right? However, chat only works for certain modes, so if I just want to chat with friends while we individually play the single player campaign, or want to chat while we play some rounds of Turf War, well, too bad; that’s not how chat works. Why doesn’t it work that way? I have no idea; it seems to defeat the purpose of online gaming with friends if I’m being dictated to when and how I can chat with friends. Certainly Xbox Live doesn’t impose any such restrictions. Granted, this mobile app only supports Splatoon 2 right now, so maybe when it’s a fully functional service for the Switch as a whole things will be different…uh…but in a good way?
There are some other “different” quirks that I’m not so sure about in Splatoon 2. For one thing, when you get into a lobby for a multiplayer match, be patient. You can’t back out, you can’t change gear, you can’t do anything but wait. Most wait times aren’t very long, but the fact that you’re locked in once you reach the lobby screen with no options for, well, anything, seems a bit odd. Just being able to change up your gear would be nice; maybe there’s some balancing issue with allowing players to do that? Finally, there’s Splatoon 2’s co-op horde mode Salmon Run. It’s a fun, addicting challenge that is hugely enjoyable with friends, especially when playing locally. However, that mode is only available at certain times during certain days, and the schedule for those times and days seems entirely arbitrary. Why? It’s different. Does that make it better? I’m thinking anything that keeps me from having fun probably isn’t for the better.
However, Splatoon 2 is also a great example of how being different can be good for Nintendo. Splatoon 2 is certainly a different kind of shooter than others. The most immediate noticeable difference is its bright colors and cartoony characters. Also, playing as squid-people instead of soldiers and mercenaries adds another layer of quirky difference. Perhaps the biggest difference is the goal of this game; Splatoon 2 isn’t all about getting kills and having a high kill-to-death ratio, in its main mode, Turf War, it’s all about splatting paint on as much territory as you can. It’s fast, hectic, and surprisingly tactical. The great appeal with Splatoon 2 is you can just dive in and play, or you can get very strategic (you’ll just have to call up your friends if you want to coordinate with them in this “casual” mode, however). If you’re ready for some real challenge, there are also Ranked Battles and League Battles where team work, strategy, and having the right gear is essential. Toss in a fun single-player mode that provides a change of pace with some platforming challenges and the chance to earn boosts for the multiplayer game, and the aforementioned Salmon Run—a co-op horde mode that can be easy to lose a lot of time in—and you have a complete game package that offers a little something for everyone.
Splatoon 2 is a perfect example of how sometimes being different can be a really good thing. It’s a surprisingly fun and engaging game with a huge amount of variety and depth that belies is seemingly simple veneer. However, it’s also demonstrates how being different can sometimes not be all that great with a surprisingly convoluted online service for setting up chats and games with friends (though I must admit other elements of it work as well as any other mobile companion app for other shooters), and some odd choices for online matches (or I guess, the lack of choices when sitting in a lobby). Still, none of its quirks keep it from being one of Switch’s must own titles, especially if you can get a few friends together for an ink-splatting good time.
Splatoon 2 score: 5 of 7 – Splatoon 2 is a shooter that anyone of any age can enjoy; it’s family friendly and yet full of tactical and strategic depth. Plus, it has plenty of variety to keep you coming back for more, but also keeps most of its matches and modes fairly short, so it’s easy to pick up and play anytime you get a chance.
Switch Online service score: 3 of 7 – Honestly, I found it frustrating that there was not straight forward to just set up a simple chat for my friends and I regardless of what mode we might be playing. Hopefully that isn’t indicative of how the full service will function when Nintendo finally releases it. I think there may be some good ideas in having an online service as a mobile app, but right now the limitations are overshadowing any potential benefits.