Making the Grade: E3 2018 Edition

This is the fifth installation of my “Making the Grade” series, a temperature-check all of Nintendo’s major franchises and where they stand in the current scheme of things. The idea was always that I’d go back and update this list whenever there was some sort of major shift or big event. This time around, video game Christmas has just passed: E3 has come and gone, and with it the big gaming news dump of the summer.

As always, I’ve highlighted the franchises that have switched tiers, with a (+) for those that have been upgraded, and a (-) for the downgrades. As always, feel free to disagree.

Grade A: Fire EmblemThe Legend of Zelda, Mario Kart, Metroid, Pokemon, Splatoon, Super MarioSuper Smash Bros.

If anything, a few of the Grade A franchises have had their places re-affirmed. Fire Emblem continues to get treated as a top franchise, with Three Houses being unveiled at E3, and Pokemon, Splatoon, and Smash Bros. have all enjoyed strong expressions of support from the Big N over the past few weeks. Even Metroid got some love in the form of fan-favorite series antagonist Ridley finally being inserted into Smash as a playable character. Nintendo’s core franchises remain healthy and robust.

Grade B: Animal CrossingDonkey KongKirbyMario spin-offs, (+) Star FoxXenobladeYoshi

Animal Crossing sits anxiously in Grade B, awaiting the Switch release announcement that will surely boost it into Grade A. The largely positive reception received by Mario Tennis Aces and the newly announced Super Mario Party have reaffirmed the place of the Mario spin-off titles as a B franchise, Donkey Kong, Kirby, Xenoblade, and Yoshi sit comfortably where they always do, and in perhaps the most miraculous comeback in recent gaming memory, the Star Fox team has recovered almost completely from the disastrous Star Fox Zero; their Switch-exclusive playable appearance in Ubisoft’s upcoming toys-to-life space shooter Starlink was among E3’s most exciting surprise reveals.

Grade C: (-) Luigi’s Mansion, (-) Mario & Luigi, (-) Paper MarioPikmin, Pokemon spin-offs, Wario games

I’ve downgraded Luigi’s Mansion, the Mario & Luigi games, and the Paper Mario franchises as much as a reaction to the reaffirmed strength of the other Grade B franchises as it is a criticism of the franchises themselves. It’s hard to argue that those three brands belong on the same level as Donkey Kong, Kirby, the Mario spin-offs, Xenoblade, etc., etc. Also, there’s no E3 bump for the Pokemon spin-off games as I’m characterizing Pokemon Let’s Go! Pikachu and Eevee as “core” games and not spin-offs, a controversial opinion as these things go… but as these two games are remakes of the core Pokemon Yellow game, I think the “core” characterization fits them.

Grade D: (-) ARMSBoxBoy, Kid Icarus, (+) Mii Games, (+) Punch-Out!!

Not landing a spot on the Smash roster (yet) has really hurt the perception of ARMS as a long-term franchise. If ARMS never returns it will always be a question: did Nintendo accidentally push the franchise off of a cliff by releasing Splatoon 2 just a month after ARMS debuted? Conversely, the reveal that Smash Ultimate would include every fighter in franchise history helped keep Kid Icarus (Pit, Dark Pit, and Paluntena) in Grade D, while bumping up Punch-Out!! (Little Mac) and the Mii Games (Mii Fighters) from Grade E.

Grade E: Advance Wars, DillonF-ZeroMotherPushmo, Puzzle League, Rhythm HeavenNintenDogs, Pilotwings

Is Nintendo growing too reliant on its most successful IPs? Are they expecting the Grade A and Grade B games to carry the load? On the one hand, diehards would froth at the mouth over an announcement for a new F-Zero or Mother game, but neither franchise is a tentpole; releases from this Grade of games would have to be supplemented by a Grade A or B game, anyway… and even the B games are no promise. Nintendo tried to build a holiday season not too long ago around Star Fox Zero, and that was a disaster, to put it lightly. You can argue that coming off of the Wii U they HAD to bring out their big guns (and did; between Switch and 3DS we’ve seen new releases in each of the Grade A franchises over the past year and a half)… but when is it time to come back to the lesser known, less popular franchises? If people are upset over an upcoming holiday season centered around Pokemon and Smash, how would they react to the summer of Pilotwings?

Grade F: Brain AgeCodename S.T.E.A.M.Chibi-RoboCustom RoboExciteGolden SunThe Legendary Starfy, Remix series, Sin & PunishmentStarTropicsWave Race.

It’s just a wing and a prayer for these guys.

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Final Smash

What’s so interesting to me about the newly revealed Smash Bros. game is the title: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. First of all? I’m glad Nintendo has gone back to an exclamatory subtitle. Melee, Brawl, and Ultimate are a just lot more fun to say than the clinical Smash for Wii U & 3DS.

Consider, if you will, the definition of the word “ultimate”. In the modern vernacular we tend to use the word “ultimate” interchangeably with “best.” This is not incorrect. Language, after all, is alive, ever-evolving. If a society of people recognize a word to carry a meaning it did not initially carry when it was adopted into the lexicon, than guess what? The word now has that new meaning. Language is not a science, irrefutable and factual. It is an art, a sculpture being ever remolded by humankind.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is fitting. Even before having played it, this IS, perhaps, the definitive & best game in the Smash Bros. franchise. Every character who has ever appeared in a Smash game is in Ultimate, something Nintendo trollfully revealed halfway through a character reel that was supposed to introduce a few of the returning characters and ended up introducing over 60.

The initial definition of “ultimate,” however, is not “best” or “definitive.” The initial definition of “ultimate,” is “final.”

It’s a silly assertion. Smash is one of Nintendo’s marquee franchises; why on Earth would it stop? Still, it can’t help but seem they’re rolling out every fighter to ever participate in the Smash Bros. tournament to allow them a final bow of sorts. Consider, also, the nature of modern video games and how early Ultimate is being released into the Switch’s life cycle. Nintendo has said they anticipate supporting the Switch for up to a decade, and here we are welcoming Smash Bros. in Year 2 of that life cycle.

Smash is different from a Zelda or Mario game. It’s what I call a never-ender: a game whose appeal lies not in the completion of a set of goals, but simply in the act of playing. Look at Melee; it’s still played competitively. Look at Skyrim; it’s 7 years old and people are still pouring hours into it. If Switch lasts a decade, Nintendo will have to start answering questions around Year 4 or 5 about where the next 3D Zelda is. Not so with Smash. Why on Earth would any developer with a clue sequelize a game like Smash onto the same platform upon which an earlier version already exists? The core Smash Bros. experience has remained the same since Melee, which polished the franchise guidelines established by Smash 64. This is a game that can, in the modern age of digital gaming, be upgraded and tweaked and freshened with patches and added content for the entirety of the Switch’s lifespan.

This also brings to mind the silly Internet debate over whether Smash for Switch was going to be a new game or “just a port” of Smash for Wii U. First off? I don’t care. I would have been happy with Super Smash Bros. Melee DX. But port, sequel… what’s the difference with a game like Smash? The game has been fundamentally the same in every iteration. That’s what people want. Imagine if Nintendo introduced a “new” Smash with a new rule-set for matches? People would lose their goddamn minds and immediately demand the return of “classic” Smash.

As it turns out, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a new game while somehow being a port at the same time, a port of the whole damn franchise. Also, we can assume Nintendo plans to remain in business beyond the Switch. To think Ultimate is going to be the actual last Smash Bros. game is silly. The “ultimate” in the title, the “final,” may therefore refer to something more human. Masahiro Sakurai has been the director of every Smash Bros. game to date, from Smash 64 to Ultimate. He has grown a ridiculous idea into one of gaming’s Crown Jewels, a massive celebration of the medium’s most important developer. I don’t pretend to follow the behind-the-scenes aspects of the video game business closely, but the buzzing that Sakurai-san is tired of the franchise has been around since Smash for Wii U/3DS was in development. It’s one of the reasons Smash for Switch was such a surprise to everyone when it was teased in a recent Nintendo Direct: it was widely assumed Sakurai-san either needed a longer break from developing a Smash game, or that Nintendo needed more time to convince him to come back for one more go.That Ultimate seems to borrow heavily from Smash for Wii U could be no accident: Sakurai-san, perhaps, saw the opportunity to expand an excellent game that was not widely played (remember, Wii U was an el bomb-o), leading to this hybrid port/new game that is Ultimate.

So perhaps this “Final” Smash is not the franchise’s final iteration. Perhaps, instead, this is Sakurai-san’s final go-around with Smash, his magnum opus that takes the best of the four prior Smash games and mixes them into a stew alongside a bunch of tasty new element. Maybe, perhaps, the grand bow being taken by every fighter to ever participate in the Super Smash Bros. series of games is not a curtain call for the franchise, but for its guiding visionary. Perhaps this is the ultimate curtain call for Masahiro Sakurai himself. Or maybe I’m reading way too much into this and in this case “ultimate” really does just mean “best.” Anyway, I main Luigi, hashtag-green-missile-for-life.

We’re in the Endgame Now

That’s a quote from Avengers: Infinity War. Did you see it? It’s dope. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is my number one non-Nintendo thing these days. Earlier holders of that title include, but are not limited to, Ghostbusters, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Wars, and the Harry Potter books.

Nintendo’s the constant, though. (Nintendo and the New York Mets, but one of those two things does not bring me endless torment and pain, and the other is a baseball team that plays in Queens, NY.) Like many gamers, I find myself sometimes feeling buried under the sheer volume of games in my library that I’ve started and not completed. Every once in awhile, though, a watershed event comes along that lights a fire under my behind to tie up the loose ends on some of these things. With Nintendo’s E3 presentation just a week away, and the expected influx of new announcements to begin trickling in over the next few months, I find myself at one of those, “I’d better get moving with the endgame,” moments. This isn’t as final as the last one I experienced: I knew I’d be trading in my Wii U for a Switch so as the Switch launch drew near I tore through Wii U games at a breakneck pace.

Truthfully, by the ripe old age of 39, I’ve been playing games for long enough that the single player campaign of any game isn’t going to cost me too much in terms of time commitment. What really trips me up are the never-enders; in particular, Splatoon on the Wii U and Splatoon 2 on the Switch. Still, I’m making an effort to pull myself away from inking and splatting online competitors in order to close the book on some of my first-year story-driven Switch purchases. (Interesting side note: I feel no such compulsion to finish Splatoon 2‘s single-player campaign. Despite enjoying the campaign of the first game, the campaign in the second just hasn’t grabbed me, even though it’s very much more of the same.)

I’ve already put a good-sized dent in my pile. I’ve gotten the main campaigns of Celeste, Steamworld Dig 2, Super Mario Odyssey, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild out of the way, for starters. I’ve still a ways to go, though. Here’s some of the stuff in my, “Finish this before Thanos snaps his fingers,” pile.

Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze – This isn’t a great place to start. I just got it, and already I’m about halfway through. It’s a tremendous platformer, one of the best I’ve ever played, and even the tacked on “Funky Mode,” the so-called “Easy Mode,” only serves to make the game less frustrating, not actually easy. I skipped this on Wii U, and I’m glad I did, as this game looks and feels gorgeous in handheld mode on the Switch.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle – This is a great game. I just take really, really, really long breaks between worlds. If I remember correctly, I’m up to the fourth and final world in the campaign. I’m not a big partaker of the active battle strategy games, but if Mario + Rabbids and Codename S.T.E.A.M. are indications of what that genre has to offer I should really look into more of them. What’s the best platform for X-Com, anyway?

Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment – I played about five minutes of Plague of Shadows and said, “Pass.” Plague Knight doesn’t control in any way I find enjoyable. I’ve played five minutes of Specter of Torment and found the opposite to be true about the high-flying Specter Knight. Now I just have to get back to it one of these days…

Minecraft – I know you CAN beat the Ender Dragon and essentially “beat” Minecraft, but as it turns out I don’t have anywhere near the amount of patience it takes to work my way there. Maybe if I find myself stranded on a desert island someday with nothing but a Switch, Minecraft, and a power supply… but even then, I’ll probably just try to recreate  Ocarina of Time‘s Hyrule from memory in Creative Mode.

Skyrim – Skyrim is addictive. It’s also repetitive: a lot of the missions, a LOT of the missions, require you to wander through a linear labyrinth hacking the heads off of cannon fodder until you reach a final boss that’ll kick your ass unless you spam healing spells and potions. It’s still a wonderful game, as I’ve previously documented, and even after I finish the main quest line (which I will) I can see myself going back and doing side quests for years. You know, like everyone else was doing five years ago.

Golf Story – I’m torn on Golf Story, one of the Switch’s early indie critical darlings. Don’t get me wrong: it has oodles and oodles of charm and personality. Still, the lite RPG elements haven’t hooked me quite as much as the simple 16-bit golf has. In short? I’m hot on the golf, but lukewarm on the story.

Stardew Valley – I know; you don’t really FINISH Stardew Valley, you just reach benchmarks. I’ve played a little more than one in-game year, finished the mines, and married off my character. It’s utterly charming and I’ve put a lot of time into it, and yet… chore simulators just don’t hold me long-term. Still, building your farm and tending your crops is oddly satisfying. I think I’m on the verge of becoming a homebody introvert hermit: I have little or no use for the townsfolk now I’ve taken a bride and I plan to leave my property as little as digital humanly possible. Can I add a beard to my character model?

Obviously, I don’t NEED to finish any of these games before the new batch of big Switch games come along. The old school gamer in me disagrees, though. Games have moved into online social experiments and competitions first and foremost, and it’s a wonderful evolution, frankly. It’s been embedded in my soul, though: games tell stories. They have beginnings, middles, and endings. Reaching the endgame is still a big deal to me.

I’m old, you know?

Like Fine Wine

The title of this post is a bad pun. See, this is a post about “ports,” which are games for one console that are transported as-are to another console or consoles. However, “port” is also a type of wine, so I’m saying that these ported games have aged as well as a wine has aged, which is to say they’ve aged very well.

The best puns are the ones you have to explain.

Last summer I decided, for no reason other than I decided to decide it, that after Pokken Tournament DX released Nintendo was going to call it quits on porting old Wii U games to the Switch. I honestly thought they’d be very eager to distance themselves from the disastrous former console ASAP, and move quickly to sweep Wii U under the rug. The only developers still working on Wii U games are indies dumping their quickie projects to the E-shop, and Ubisoft, and while the latter still publishes a Wii U version of JUST DANCE, it’s worth pointing out that they also still publish a Wii version of JUST DANCE. (Yes: a major publisher is still making Wii games as of October 2017.)

So, yeah, Wii U is done, and the quicker Nintendo forgets about it, the better. At least, that’s how I thought they’d approach Wii U’s legacy. Nintendo, as usual, seems to have had other ideas. Not only have Wii U ports NOT died out, but in recent months Nintendo is doubling down on them. Since Pokken Tournament DX we’ve seen released or announced BayonettaBayonetta 2Hyrule Warriors Deluxe EditionDonkey Kong Tropical Freeze, and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.

Is this good, bad, or just something? While on the one hand, it looks like Nintendo is leaning on Wii U ports to fill out a so-far slim 2018 Switch gaming line-up. On the other, these are all great games that came out on a console that absolutely flopped. Switch’s 2017 line-up was stacked: Zelda, Mario, Splatoon, and Mario Kart (itself a port) headlined a year of blockbusters that enticed gamers to jump on-board with the new hybrid console. 2018 was always going to slow down, at least pre-E3, and that’s certainly what we’ve seen. Consider, though: more people have already bought a Switch than ever bought a Wii U. Giving gamers the chance to experience a whole generation of great Nintendo games that so many of them missed can’t be anything but a good thing.

Hyrule Warriors was my second-favorite Wii U title, so I happily double-dipped. I don’t know that I’ll do the same for Captain Toad, and Bayonetta 2 still doesn’t do anything for me, but Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze is the one Wii U game I missed that I regretted so I’m glad to get the chance to play it again. It’s also worth noting that most of these Wii U-to-Switch ports have some level of new content: Mario Kart 8 included a new and improved Battle Mode, Pokken Tournament DX introduced six new fighters that weren’t available in the Wii U version of the game, Hyrule Warriors Deluxe includes all of the DLC from the Wii U version of the game as well as all of the new content and DLC created for the 3DS version of the game, and Captain Toad will feature new levels based on Super Mario Odyssey‘s kingdoms.

What else will make the transition from Wii U to Switch? I’d be surprised if we didn’t see any 3D Zelda games get a port, whether it’s the much-beloved Wind Waker HD, or if Skyward Sword gets a port over from the Wii. Lots of Nintendo fans seem to think Super Mario Maker is a no-brainer, but I remain skeptical: it’s a fantastic title but its design is so reliant on Wii U’s Gamepad. Even with the Switch’s touchpad tablet screen, I wonder if the title really fits there. Super Mario 3D World is an easy guess, and they could decide to try and salvage Star Fox Zero… but like Mario Maker, the excellent Star Fox Guard seems as though it may be forever trapped on the Wii U. Xenoblade Chronicles X could make the leap, as could Pikmin 3, but the former’s superior sequel already exists for Switch and the latter’s sequel has been long rumored as in-development.

There aren’t many more Wii U games I’d need to see make the leap, honestly, and none of them are the no-brainer purchases for me that Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze and Hyrule Warriors Deluxe were. After all, I’m one of those suckers that OWNED a Wii U. Still, bringing nearly the entire first-party Wii U line-up to Switch would be entirely defensible, and who would lose in that scenario? Not Nintendo, who gets to recycle little-played great games to pad out the line-up for their new hit console, and certainly not gamers, who get to experience an entire generation of Nintendo games they may have missed. The possibilities, quite frankly, are intoxicating.

Because a “port” is also a wine. Get it?

 

That’s So Meta

A brief mea culpa: I’ve been busy. As you may or may not know if you follow Me & Nintendo, I write a lot of stuff NOT about Nintendo. I mean, not here, but I do. To that end, I’ve been back in school pursuing a second Master’s degree, this one in Creative Writing. My thesis is due this week. It’s about done now, but, you know… that’s where I’ve been.

Mostly. I’ve also been playing Splatoon 2.

I love Splatoon 2. The biggest problem I have with Splatoon 2 is I’m trying to write a general Nintendo blog but I don’t want to play anything else but Splatoon 2. I’m so into Splatoon 2 that I tend to spend a fair amount of time scouring the Internet reading up on the metagame in Splatoon 2.

The “metagame,” as I’ve come to understand it in gaming parlance, is an umbrella term that refers to the underlying factors beyond the surface rule-set that dictate in-game results, particularly in a competitive online game. To understand the metagame of any online fighter or shooter, you’ll need to understand terms like “hit box” (the designated area in the virtual two or three dimensional space in which a “hit” is registered on an opposing character or item as a result of an attack), “frames” (a reference to the number of animation frames it takes for a player command to be executed), and other various damage percentages, respawn times, traversal speed, etc., etc. Splatoon 2‘s meta is easy to learn but difficult to master.

Every competitor in Splatoon 2 starts from the same base: each Inkling character model has the same stats irregardless of hairstyle, gender, or pants. If given a neutral playing field and no stat improvements, every Inkling would run at the same speed, swim at the same speed, absorb ink at the same rate, and so on and so on.

Stats are impacted by the “primary abilities” and “secondary abilities” on each of the three pieces of gear (headpiece, shirt, footwear) with which you equip your Inkling; each piece of gear has one primary slot and three secondary slots. The abilities in Splatoon 2 can increase your foot speed, decrease the amount of stored ink consumed by your weapons, increase the charge speed of your special weapon, decrease the amount of damage caused by stepping in enemy ink, decrease the amount of “splash” damage (i.e. damage caused not by direct impact from an opponent’s weapon, but by secondary impact, say from the outer edge of a Splashdown or by the indirect splatter from a Blaster shot), etc., etc. The primary abilities and secondary abilities are stackable… but secondary abilities are weaker than primary abilities and each new stack diminishes in effectiveness, essentially assuring that you’ll never be able to “max out” any ability to 100%. For example: attempting to run through enemy ink greatly slows your Inkling down, but if you equip gear with a primary ability of Ink Resistance Up, your Inkling will be able to run 10% faster across terrain covered in enemy ink. Add a second piece of gear with an Ink Resistance Up primary, and the ability stacks… but the laws of diminishing returns only allow the second ability to increase your speed in enemy ink by another 8%. Add a third, and it goes up by another 6%. Putting Ink Resistance Up in secondary slots starts your speed increase at 2% and diminishes from that point on. Courtesy of the Splatoon wiki Inkipedia, here’s a graph that charts the diminishing impact of each additional primary or secondary Ink Resistance Up ability:

The world is divided up into two types of people: those whose eyes glazed over at the prior explanation and the follow-up graph, and those who instead rolled those eyes and said, “Uh… we know. Who doesn’t?” But these conversations: the exact percentages to which “buffs” (gamer-speak for “improvements”) and “nerfs” (or “downgrades”) impact the metagame? These are the details upon which competitive gaming turns.

Truthfully, the diminishing returns from stacking abilities in Splatoon 2 dictate that no one ability is going to imbalance the game too severely… but as with most competitive online games, imbalances happen, and the player community finds them pretty quickly. Take the Tri-Slosher, for example. The Tri-Slosher is a bucket-type weapon that allows the player to hurl three bucketfuls of ink at once in a wide fan in front of them. The idea is that while it gives better turf coverage, the actual ink thrown is weaker than from the standard Slosher, which throws a narrower stream of ink slightly further, and straight ahead.

However, when Splatoon 2 was first released, the Tri-Slosher’s ink throw was only slightly weaker (in terms of percentage of damage dealt) to that of the Slosher. Combined with its wider arc of ink distribution the Tri-Slosher quickly became the serious Splatoon 2 player’s go-to weapon. It was like walking around the battlefield with an “Instant Splat” button. So in an update patch to the game, patch 1.3.0 to be precise, the Tri-Slosher was “nerfed”: the developers reduced its damage output by 10% and reduced its throw range by 9%. It doesn’t seem like much, but it was enough to knock the Tri-Slosher off of the list of top tier weapons. In fact, the patch SO nerfed the Tri-Slosher that update patch 2.0.0 would eventually buff the weapon’s peak damage output BACK to where it had started, while keeping the 9% range nerf in effect.

And this is how the developers of competitive online games continuously work to balance the metagame.

I don’t run a YouTube “Squid Research Lab,” and I’m not running side-by-side comparisons of how each stacked ability buffs or nerfs a particular aspect of the game. I do, however, have my favorite abilities. I like to pair Ink Resistance Up and Bomb Defense Up, defensive abilities that help me survive in the higher ranked rounds full of high-level, top skill players. That’s my current go-to combo, but that combo changes. A lot. I also like the abilities that buff ink usage: Ink Saver (Main) and Ink Saver (Sub), which decrease the amount of ink used by your main weapon and sub weapon, respectively, and Ink Recovery Up, which increases the rate at which your Ink Tank refills (although just recently while studying the meta I realized that Ink Recovery Up is nowhere near as effective in Splatoon 2 as it was in Splatoon. I may start backing away from that. Hmmmm…) Other favorites include Special Charge Up, which increases the rate at which your special weapon charges as you ink turf, and a headgear-only primary ability, Tenacity, which charges your special weapon faster relative to the amount of competitors fewer your team has on the field than the opposing team.

Did I say this was simple?

The real metagame lies not with gear, but with weapons. Like all good competitive shooters, Splatoon 2 is balanced in such a way that there isn’t one weapon that dominates the field. And if one emerges, as the Tri-Slosher did for a time, it gets re-balanced by the developer, the sort of thing that can only happen in the age of online gaming. (Game developers take a lot of crap for releasing buggy games that need post-launch patches, and rightfully so. But the ability to adjust the competitive balance of a player-vs-player game post-release is one of the best parts of the Internet age of gaming.) Splatoon 2 has a LOT of weapons and weapon types. I have spent way too much time figuring out my favorites. Here’s some commentary them:

Splash-o-Matic – For some reason, in the first Splatoon, I hated the Splash-o-Matic. I can’t remember why but I never did well with it. So in Splatoon 2, I ignored it until literally a few nights ago. I’ve spent all of Splatoon 2 trying to fine a “main;” a weapon I could default to. In Splatoon that weapon was the Aerospray, but in the more aggressive and combat-focused Splatoon 2, an inking-focused weapon like the Aerospray (wide spray, short range, weak impact) leaves you vulnerable. So in my frustration at not being able to find “the one,” I turned to the Splash-o-Matic. I did so because I realized: I hate going up against players wielding the Splash-o-Matic. Why is that? After a round or two of using I realized it’s because the Splash-o-Matic has the highest rate of fire in the game, and the most accurate ink stream of any shooter. Seriously, it’s like shooting with a fire hose. I was knocking out Brella shields left and right with ease. So right now, and these things are always subject to change (especially since I’m not crazy about the sub-weapon load out on either of the two Splash-o-Matic options), but right now? I’m maining a Splash-o-Matic.

Clash Blaster – The original appeal of the blaster-type weapon was that it offered a one-shot kill that fires faster than a charger type weapon (but slower than a shooter), and at  mid-range instead of at long range. The Clash Blaster ignores that profile: it’s a rapid fire short-range blaster that takes three hits to kill. It has become very popular, though, especially because like all blasters, the Clash Blaster’s pellets damage outward from their explosion points. They’re the perfect weapon for firing directly up onto the tower in Tower Control and popping an Inkling you can’t even see. Also, the Clash Blaster is the only lightweight blaster (all of the others hinder movement to some degree) and its rate of fire is such that it’s hard to escape the second and third blasts after you’ve been slowed by the first. The Clash Blaster is derided among some serious Splatoon 2 players as requiring little to no skill… but it’s in the game, and if it’s in the game, it’s fair game.

E-Liter 4K Scope – The E-Liter 4K Scope is the most powerful charger (Splatoon‘s version of sniper rifles) in the game, with the longest available range. I enjoy picking up an E-Liter from time to time and going with it, but I’m not as talented with it as the point-perfect Japanese charger players. Really, I’m only effective with it on certain maps and in Tower Control and Splat Zone modes, two modes where you know enemy Inklings will be semi-contained in specific areas and therefore easier to track.

Heavy Splatling – The original gatling-type weapon, the Heavy Splatling offers a good defensive alternative to the more unwieldy E-Liter. I’ve made good use of it in Clam Blitz and Rainmaker, using it in concert with its Ink Wall sub-weapon to both defend my team’s goal and help a teammate carrying the Rainmaker or Super Clam advance to the enemy goal. Wielding the destructive power of the Heavy Splatling and rat-a-tat-tatting an Inkling or the Rainmaker Shield into oblivion is one of the most satisfying actions you can take in the game.

Jet Squelcher – The Jet Squelcher is my long-range shooter of choice. Less powerful than the .96 Gal or Splattershot Pro but with a much longer reach, the Jet Squelcher is great for holding turf in Splat Zones or for splatting the Rainmaker carrier at a long distance. There aren’t many weapons that can outreach the Jet Squelcher, and it comes alongside my favorite special weapon: the multi-enemy targeting Tenta Missiles.

Glooga Dualies – One of Splatoon 2‘s biggest additions was the dualie class of weapons, double-fisted pistols that enable a dodge roll while firing. Dualies are popular, but the Gloogas are not. I like them because, frankly, I enjoy the dodge rolling aspect of the Dualie class but I have trouble getting used to it. The Glooga Dualies feature a slower, more controlled version of the roll, and as an added bonus: after rolling, the Gloogas combine their streams into a longer range, more powerful ink burst until you move again.

Splattershot Jr. – This is the weapon you star Splatoon 2 with, and even far too many hours into the game I find it to be the best of the short range shooters: great rate of fire, nice ink coverage, moderately powerful, conservative ink usage… and they come equipped with the triangular splat bombs, the game’s signature (and best) sub-weapon.

 

Splat Bombs & Tenta Missiles – I’ve already referenced these throughout, but this is my favorite sub weapon and special weapon. The splat bombs will arm as soon as they touch the ground and explode just a heartbeat after that, faster than suction, auto, and curling bombs, and much harder to avoid. Tenta Missiles are the most annoying of the Splatoon 2 special weapons (followed closely by Ink Storm and the Stingray), as they lock onto you and force you to move out of whatever position you may have been holding.

That’s all for now. I also enjoy the Sploosh-o-Matic, the Octo-Brush, and the Range Blaster, but right now my go-to’s are the weapons I’ve listed above. I figured it was about time for this deeper dive into Splatoon 2‘s meta for one reason and one reason only: My Splatoon 2 total playtime has just passed my total playtime for Breath of the Wild.

I really do love this game.

Better, Stronger, Faster

I’ve always loved 2D platforming games with slick play control. I mean, of course I did. I cut my gaming teeth in the age of the NES, where every other game was a developer’s attempt to knock Super Mario Bros. off of its pixelated throne. If you didn’t like platform gaming in the 80’s, you didn’t like gaming.

I can only imagine the amount of hours I’ve put into platformers and action-platformers. The entire Super Mario series, most of the Mega Man and Mega Man X series, Ducktales, Aladdin, Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse, Super Metroid… those are just some of the games I poured hours into, as I just riff on them off the top of my head. (Bionic Commando and the Castlevania series… there’s two more. Shovel Knight. There’s another.)

As such, 2D action-platformers hold a special place for me as a gamer, and now, as a 30-year veteran of the genre, I have to ask myself: have the platform games gotten easier, or have I gotten better at them?

It’s a question that I’ve pondered as I’ve played my way the past month or so through two of the Switch’s more highly acclaimed indie titles: Celeste and Steamworld Dig 2. Starting with Celeste (which surprisingly enough is my first of the brutal-core genre of platformers popularized by Super Meat Boy and 1,001 Spikes), something that has surprised me as I’ve made my way through the game is… yes, it’s difficult. And if you go for the strawberries, there are certain jumps that’ll take a great deal of time and practice. But just traversing through the regular game (and mind you, I’m not finished) has been challenging, but nowhere near the glorious nightmare I’d been led to believe it would be.

I treat 2D platformers as exercises in virtual parkour. I always have. It’s why I greatly preferred the Super Nintendo version of Aladdin to the gorgeously animated Sega Genesis version of Aladdin. Yes, the Sega game looked like the movie and the SNES game looked like second-rate Aladdin fan art, but the SNES game was a fluidly acrobatic experience of handsprings, backflips, and parasailing, while the Sega game was a chug-along sword-swinging trudge with poor collision detection. I played all of two levels of the Sega game, but played through the SNES game several dozen times.

Steamworld Dig 2 is nowhere near as unforgiving as Celeste. Upgrades are plentiful and powerful, and though I could see myself going back to the game using the challenge upgrades designed to make the game harder, it was while playing SWD2 that I was really reminded how second-nature 2D platforming has become for me over the past many years. Again, Dottie the robot is the recipient of any number of fantastic traversal upgrades, but by a third of the way through the game (I’ve finished this one) I was hook-shotting and jet-packing my way through the tunnels and temples buried beneath the game’s surface not just with ease, but with flair.

It helps in the case of both Steamworld Dig 2 and Celeste that the controls, much like Aladdin back in the day, are pinpoint-precise, quick, and responsive. Still, it sort of amazes me: my biggest gaming thrill to this day is quick-step hair-trigger parkour traversal of my digital avatar across terrain and enemies, be it air-dashing with Madeline, hook-shotting with Dorothy, hand-springing with Aladdin, or… jumping off of the Master Cycle, whipping out my parasail, pulling out my bow, and slow-motion head-shotting a bokoblin with Link.

It’s been awhile since I’ve made a Breath of the Wild reference, hasn’t it? I was probably due.

NEStradamus

Back on November 17th, 2017, I made a bunch of mostly tongue-in-cheek predictions for Nintendo’s 2018. (You can look at that list here.) Well, here it is, March 20th, 2018, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t dumb-luck stumble into some things. Let’s take a quick look at my grade thus far:

Old Super Mario Bros. – I predicted a 2D Super Mario Bros. based on the old-school snippets in Super Mario Odyssey. Nothing doing yet, but this was actually the pick I was most confident in.

The Legend of Zelda: Something of Something – Essentially, I declared that we wouldn’t go all of 2018 without something released with the Zelda brand. Well, here comes Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition.

Super Smash Bros. Melee DX – What we DO know is that we’re getting a Smash Bros. game in 2018. Is it going to be Melee DX? Melee 2? Smash for Wii U for Nintendo Switch? Something completely new? I dunno, but Smash is coming. That much I got right.

Ubisoft’s South Park gamesThe Fractured But Whole is coming in April. The Stick of Truth is almost sure to follow. Hopefully.

Donkey Kong + Minions: Banana Brawl – DK has since been announced as a playable character in Mario + Rabbids, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is on its way to Switch.

WarioWare: Switched Off – Right franchise, wrong platform. WarioWare Gold will be landing this year on Nintendo 3DS.

Batman: Arkham Adventures – This was and still is the biggest pipe dream on the list.

Paper Mario: The Two-Thousand Year Door – I pegged the wrong GameCube franchise for a return. While Luigi’s Mansion is coming back to 3DS, nothing yet on any paper doors, a thousand years old or otherwise. YET.

Portal 3 and Portal HD Collection – No, but Bridge Constructor Portal is ALREADY HERE.

I’m obviously psychic. Clearly we’re minutes away from the announcement of Codename S.T.E.A.M. 2: Even Steamier.