Just two weeks after Splatoon 2’s release, and Nintendo’s plans for the game’s support are in full swing. There’s been a smattering of new weapons added over time, Salmon Run has settled into a particular rota and now, over the weekend, we were party to the game’s first Splatfest. OK, so there was the ice cream vs. cake battle in the run up to launch, but this was the first real one in the game. Ketchup vs. mayonnaise. No contest, right?
I’m slowly coming to appreciate the way that Nintendo manage Splatoon 2’s mutliplayer, as it feels more like an MMO with a regular rotation of activities, maps and modes. Splatfests are the ultimate example of this, as fleeting 24 hour events that take over from the regular battling, throw a big party in the Inkopolis Plaza and invite people to pick a side.
They’re bound to be a big draw as well, with particular in game bonuses – sea shells that let you upgrade your gear, for example – and the potential for bragging rights.
In a slight twist from the usual Turf War, once you’ve picked a side in the Splatfest, you can only team up and play alongside those that have chosen the same way as you, fighting against the other team, with each victory and loss going toward the event.
Lending the game a different tone throughout, teams would use ink coloured after mayo and ketchup, daubing the levels in red and an icky off-white. The levels were leant a different tone with battles at night, to match Inkopolis Plaza’s night time festival, and we were treated to remixed versions of the many songs in the game.
On top of that, while the regular rotation of maps continued, each pairing was now joined by a third, Shifty Station. It lives up to its name, without the same kind of grounded settings as the rest of the multiplayer maps. Instead, it’s maybe more akin to the single player, appearing as a collection of simple platforms, some of which move around, opening and closing particular routes through the map.
This was the first real time that I had the opportunity to play the game in a group, with four of us banding together and entering the team matchmaking mode. Then we sat and waited, often timing out as the game searched for other groups of four for us to lay against.
I’m torn on this point, because I can see why Nintendo keep groups and solo players separate in the name of game balance. Those who play together are more likely to be some of the more competent players in the game, and that’s something that’s going to be keenly felt when there’s only four players on each team.
Then again, with each player awarded a Ketchup Power or Mayo Power rating depending on player performances, it’s not like matchmaking couldn’t have been tried with mixed groups. In fact, keeping groups and singles separate did nothing to prevent me from facing off against teams with an average rating significantly higher than ours.
Locking groups away is a big part of why the matchmaking is so snappy and fast for most solo players. However, in limiting team matchmaking to only groups of four players – no more, no less – it also limits the pool of players and extends waiting times for those in a group. It ended up that I was sometimes simply chatting to other people as we all played solo matchmaking because we lacked a fourth.
Naturally, we couldn’t use the Nintendo Online App for chat during this, instead turning to Discord for voice chat, and it emphasises once again that Nintendo have got a really long way to go before they can match Microsoft and Sony with their online infrastructure.
And then there’s the result. Put simply, Team Ketchup was robbed. It was the presumptive victor from the outset, but it turns out it’s a bit difficult to overcome your rivals when you only get to play against them half the time. All too often we played against other teams made up of other ketchup players, and in those situations, the battles couldn’t really count toward the meta game. In fairness, it was a very close margin of victory for Mayo in both solo and team battles, and certainly much closer than many of the battles in the first Splatoon.
And that’s Splatoon 2 through and through. It’s Nintendo doing things its own way, for better or for worse. It’s a game that has got its hooks into me over the last few weeks, that’s for certain, with its short and sweet matches easy to dip into and the Switch’s handheld form making it convenient to pick up and play – plus the general appeal of this Splatfest. It’s not perfect, but I’m going to be playing for quite some time yet.