Frivolous Waste of Time

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Archive for the tag “splatoon”

Splatoon 2 for Switch

After much speculation as to whether Nintendo would ever tackle a shooter, they knocked it out of the park from the get go with Splatoon. It was fun, unique and like nothing else I’d ever played. Splatoon 2 is a very conservative sequel by most accounts and likely only exists because a port of the original wouldn’t have looked good considering that some are already grumbling at the number of Wii U ports on the Switch. That said, the foundation is still strong and the new additions and tweaks are very good. I’m not going to go over the core mechanics of Splatoon 2 much, I covered that back when I reviewed the first one (https://frivolouswastesoftime.wordpress.com/2015/06/18/splatoon-for-wii-u/).

The core mode of Splatoon 2 is still the brilliant turf war, where teams of four have three minutes to coat as much of the map with ink of their colour as possible, with the winning team having the higher percentage. You still need to try to take out your foes to buy some precious time to dominate the map, but it’s not your main goal. Taking focus of shooting away from violence is so very Nintendo and I really do love them for it. After climbing 10 ranks, unlocking new weapons and clothing along the way, you can enter Ranked Battles, which have different modes such as a tower defence mode and one involving possession of the powerful ‘Rainmaker’ weapon. These are fun, but I was irritated to have to spend so long working my way back up to them. This game is very similar to the original; new maps and weapons make a difference, but the foundations are functionally identical. This makes the work back up to Ranked Battles a bit obnoxious, and limits the excitement of unlocking new weapons. Oh, I’ve got the Splat Roller back…cool. I imagine that this is an issue with almost any regular online shooter, but this is the only one I really play apart from the odd round of Titanfall 2. It’s an example of why I don’t like upgrade and EXP in online modes in FPS. I get why it’s there; you’re placed in a skinner-box and the little dopamine rush when you unlock something new is nice, but I’d much rather everyone be given access to everything upfront, with unlocks being purely cosmetic. I’m aware that this is a gripe with modern shooters in general, but it did impact my enjoyment of the multiplayer. Still, the core fun is still very much there and I don’t think it’s really possible to have a bad time playing Splatoon 2 online.

The major addition is Salmon Run, a really horde mode, where a team of four must defend themselves from wave after wave of enemies, complete with boss encounters. It’s surprisingly intense and a lot of fun, particularly when played locally. My ability to engage with Salmon Run has been limited by the fact that it’s only available at particular times. I’m reliably informed that this is par for the course for online shooters but I hate this. Some critics have been saying they like the pleasant surprise of Salmon Run popping up and being available, but as someone with a full time job and limited ability to play games, turning on Splatoon 2, wanting to play Salmon Run and not being able to is infuriating.

The single player is continued and improved upon. Story wise it’s basically the same; Giant Zap Fish is stolen from Inkopolis and you have to save it blah blah blah. The only twist is the role played by Callie and Marie, the Squid Sister pop stars of the first game. In a neat little twist, the final Splatfest of Splatoon, where Marie won the popularity contest over Callie, has greatly upset Callie and she has gone into hiding. I liked the way it tied back to the last game, but the actual plot still isn’t much, even if the world building remains surprisingly well thought out.

I really enjoyed the single player stuff in the first game, but it’s much better now. The levels are much more intricate and the platforming elements I loved from the first game expanded upon. A nice change is that the levels are based around a variety of weapons, rather than just the Splattershot in the first game. This means you have levels based around sniping with the Charger, or tanking through with the Roller, or using a variety of the other weapons. You can also replay these levels afterwards with any weapon of your choice, with the levels altering slightly to accommodate this. This adds a lot of replayability if you fancy it. Nintendo could probably have got away with giving this series no single player element at all, but I’m really glad they did.

There are some minor cosmetic upgrades, but mostly speaking Nintendo are sticking with the instantly iconic style they settled on for the first game. 90s American biker/graffiti culture is a weird cultural touchstone to tap in to, but it works undeniably well. The music is still as strong as ever, faster and exciting tracks mixing with the low key reggae relaxation of the lobby. The only real upgrade I could spot visually was that the actual ink itself looks far more real and silky. Once again, Nintendo prove that power isn’t everything; Splatoon 2 looks and sounds wonderful.

Splatoon 2 is more of the same, which is not a bad thing. Being able to play handheld on the Switch is a revelation and I hope this allows the series to grow in a way it never really could on the poor Wii U. With many free maps and weapons to come, I look forward to dropping back into Splatoon 2 for as long as Nintendo keep supporting it, or even Splatoon 3.

Splatoon 2 (artwork).jpg

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Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for Switch

I had thought that Mario Kart 8 was as close to perfect as the series could get, but it turns out I was wrong because Mario Kart 8 Deluxe manages to improve upon it. Wii U owners, such as myself, may be frustrated that they’re getting a re-release rather than a new game, but I’ve seen Mario Kart 8 take-off on the Switch on a way it never did, or ever really could, on the Wii U.

I won’t talk about the general handling or the tracks or anything like that, because I’ve already covered that in my review for the original game (https://frivolouswastesoftime.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/mario-kart-8-for-wii-u/) and the two DLC packs, which are included here (https://frivolouswastesoftime.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/mario-kart-8-dlc-pack-one-for-wii-u & https://frivolouswastesoftime.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/mario-kart-8-dlc-pack-2-for-wii-u/). Suffice it to say that the handling is perfect and the tracks diverse, exciting and wonderful.

I’ll focus instead on what is added. I’ll begin with one of the most controversial additions, the introduction of ‘smart steering’ to keep you from falling off the tracks and an auto accelerate option. Some people (utter pricks) have criticised their introduction, saying that it ‘plays the game for you.’ Having these features on do not give you any real advantage, as you will always skip shortcuts and never really power slide or boost effectively. You might win in single player 50CC matches but that’s basically it and I don’t think anyone will consider that to be the core Mario Kart experience. It is something which allows the very young, or perhaps disabled gamers, to access and enjoy the game. How anyone could view this as a bad thing is beyond me. However, one tiny niggle is that the smart steering is put on automatically when you start, and this isn’t really indicated to you. It should default to off and then need to be turned on, not the other way around. This is literally the biggest flaw in the game by the way.

There are a couple of interesting changes to the core gameplay from the original. The first is the ability to hold two items at once, Double Dash style. In practice it doesn’t really change things too much, but it’s something nice to differentiate itself from the original product. I suspect that the more significant change will be the introduction of a third level of boost on the power slide, this time sending up purple sparks. The tracks aren’t designed for its use, with few corners lasting long enough to activate it, but the boost is massive and it feels amazing when you do pull it off. Neither of these changes mess with the almost perfect mechanics of the original game, but offer something a bit different nonetheless.

Easily the biggest difference in the re-introduction of a proper Battle Mode, which has been somewhat neglected after it’s arguable heyday in Mario Kart 64. There are plenty of different modes, from the classic balloon battle to the shine catching game from Double Dash. There are new courses too, with the most striking being one based on Splatoon, complete with soundtrack. The Inkling boy and girl are also introduced as racers in this game. The new Battle Mode rounds out and expands an already rewarding package.

All said though, the best addition to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is more a function of the Switch console than the game itself. Portable, instant local multiplayer is a game changer. The Switch’s appeal may not be as immediately obvious as the Wii’s, but I think this feature is a system seller. Each player can use a separate Joycon to split0screen race, anywhere you go. The single Joycon isn’t the most comfortable controller in the world and I don’t think anyone will be preferring it to a Pro Controller, but it does work, much better than you might expect. I’m not a fan of online gaming generally; I love multiplayer, but I usually only get that rush of excitement when I’m in the room with whoever I’m competing. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe shows me a vision of a bright future for local multiplayer, something which for many years has been steadily dying.

As a final point, I’ll share a video of what I was doing on Saturday night. For clarity’s sake, I’m the guy who’s amazing at Mario Kart, not the guy who’s amazing at rapping. I’m a good rapper at best. This guy is called Mega Ran by the way and he’s great, go see him. Support independent musicians.

https://www.facebook.com/MegaRanMusic/videos/10154717487563473/

I love this console and I love this game. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is essential.

 

Splatoon for Wii U

I always wondered what it would be like if Nintendo took at crack at a shooter. As they tend to do at pretty much everything they try, they absolutely nailed it and offered something completely unique that even those who think they’ve seen it all will be surprised by. The lack of significant local multiplayer doesn’t truly let it reach this place, but Splatoon is many ways does what Mario Kart does for racers and Smash Bros. for fighting games.

The first lesson that Splatoon teaches you is that this is not a game about killing. Rather than bullets your weapons fire ink and the objective is to cover as much ground as possible before your opponents. In the main mode, two teams of four have three minutes to splatter the map, painting over each others ink and furiously combating the middle ground over percentage covered. You can kill your enemies and taking them out gives you a big advantage, but it’s not at all what this game is about. It is mechanically similar to other shooters, but the differences end there and if you try to approach Splatoon like other shooters you won’t make much headway. There are currently six maps available at the time of writing, but Nintendo seem to be adding new ones fairly regularly post-release. There’s a siginifcant amount of weapon variety to suit a variety of playstyles, from the assault rifle-esque Splattershots to the sniper rifle style Chargers to the glass cannon chaos of the melee paint roller. There’s an impressive sense of balance and, at least so far, it seems that people are simply picking a playstyle then enjoy and going with it rather than everyone being forced to play the same by a metagame. There’s a levelling system, with new weapons and gear (which give you bonuses) becoming available as you go. When you hit level 10 the ‘Ranked Battle’ mode becomes available. I don’t particularly care about the ranks themselves, but I love the new mode, which is essentially a standard ‘King of the Hill’ mode where one or two small areas are taken by each side. The first to hold for 100 seconds, or the team which has held on the longest after five minutes, wins. The combat becomes much more intense in this mode and makes a nice change from the more whimsical and less combative ‘Regular Battles.’

I haven’t even touched yet upon how good the core mechanics feel, or even how they work. There are some games where simply the act of getting from point A to point B is fun, and Splatoon is one of those games. For every bit of surface covered with ink, you can turn into a squid with a touch of the button to zip through the liquid, popping instantly back into human form when you need to cover some more turf or take out a foe. This includes climbing up walls, forcing you to re-evaluate the game space. This mechanic is a lot of fun, although part of me wishes that the potential for verticality was explored further. It’s a classic example of a simple yet joyful mechanic and one which I would love to see expanded upon in sequels.

Alongside the online multiplayer is a slightly bare bones if highly satisfying single player campaign. These see you work your way through around 25 levels, fighting octopus monsters and traversing the environments. The squid-ink powers offers probably the best platforming that I’ve ever seen in a shooter, which is an admittedly low bar, but Nintendo could have made an entire game based around the platforming in Splatoon. The bosses are a real highlight; they’re not particularly difficult, but they’re inventive and fun. I say they’re not hard, but the final boss is an absolute monster; it’s seriously intense. I actually started to get what I now call ‘The Bloodborne Sweats’ tackling that beast. There’s some other stuff too, like some amiibo functionality offering challenge maps and a forgettable local multiplayer mode, but the single player story and the online multiplayer easily offer plenty of value for money.

Before you kick into your first time playing Splatoon, the player is quickly beat round the head by the engaging and complete world that Nintendo has created for the game. The whole vibe of this game is delightful, with just enough world building to give you context but not too much to get in the way of the fun. There’s also a rather morbid backstory to this world which I rather enjoyed. The single player story itself is fairly standard; a giant electric fish which powers Inkopolis is kidnapped by an alien squid DJ and you have to get it back. Well, ok, maybe not so standard.

Splatoon looks and sounds beautiful. Right out of the gate Nintendo created a brand which deserves to be as iconic as anything else they’ve done. I can’t imagine that a focus group went anywhere near this. There’s a big influence from something I’m going to call, in my utter ignorance, Harajuku fashion. The game runs at Nintendo’s standard 60FPS, putting the other consoles to shame yet again. The music is great as well, with lots of lovely bloopy reggae jams which sounds a bit like a cross between the music of Mario Sunshine and Animal Crossing. The core mechanics of Splatoon are incredibly solid, but I don’t know if this game would have caught on nearly as much as it has if it wasn’t for its instantly charming and recognisable style.

What more can I say? People have been begging for a big new Nintendo IP for years and here it is. I can only hope that Splatoon lives a long life as Nintendo nailed it pretty much out the gate here. Splatoon-Controller-Layout

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