Splatoon

Mercurial Tastes

Things move in trends, right? Stocks, movies, music… they all follow popular trends. A “trend” should not be an indicator of “quality”. Popularity doesn’t equal artistic achievement. It CAN, but not by nature.

I’m trending in certain ways these days in regards to my tastes in games. There’s gaming elements I’m not feeling at the moment that will turn me off to games that I KNOW are objectively great… I’m just not in the mood for what they have to offer.

So how am I trending right now? For example, things I have no patience for at the moment include…

  • Inventory Management: It first hit me when I attempted to dive back into Skyrim after a long time away. As I guided my Red Mage character (half warrior, half sorceress) back into her home in Solitude, I realized that I had ten or so barrels scattered around the place full of groupings of potions and foodstuffs and armor and weapons. Skyrim is so full of collectibles that famously one of the running gags perpetrated by longtime players is the keeping of a room full of all the cheese they’ve found in the world. Right now, cheese hoarding seems way more appealing to me than trying to figure out which potions to carry with me and which to store in my basement. This is one of the reasons why I don’t see myself going back to Minecraft anytime soon, and I think this is where I should point out: I believe Skyrim and Minecraft to be two of the greatest games ever made. I just can’t bear the thought of organizing one more chest full of items at any point in my near future. (This is also what’s kept me away from Pokemon my whole life: Pokemon is a franchise that is designed almost completely around the concept of inventory management.)
  • Button-Mashing: Hyrule Warriors was one of my absolute favorite games on the Wii U, so I happily plunked down another $60 for Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition on the Switch. I have played it only in fits and spurts. While my Wii U play-through of HW was a cathartic romp against the forces of darkness, annihilating enemies by the thousands while playing through a fan-fic story based on the entire Legend of Zelda franchise, my time with the Switch version of the game has been defined by one constant mantra marching through my head as I play: “What am I doing with my life?” There’s no finesse or strategy involved in Hyrule Warriors. It’s just balls-to-the-wall stylish and cinematic obliteration of your enemies. That’s what I loved about it during the Wii U era. That’s what I hate about it now. (Bonus grievances: Hyrule Warriors also contains a surprising amount of inventory management, and the Adventure Maps through which you unlock most of the game’s bonus content are tedious time-sucks.) BTW: “button-mashing” is not simply relegated to rapid-fire combat games. The mindless button-mashing and inventory management of most JRPG combat is what’s keeping me on the fence about finally sinking time into Octopath Traveler and Xenoblade Chronicles 2, two games I should historically love but which I’m viewing right now as the gaming equivalent of plates full of Brussels sprouts.
  • Stiff Controls, Jerky Combat, Object Clipping: Yeah, that seems like three things, I know, but they’re all part of the same problem to me. They all speak to gaming mechanics that lack fluidity. I tried out the Dark Souls demo; it was my first time playing Dark Souls, ever. The difficulty of the game doesn’t scare me, but when in the course of the demo a skeleton killed me when his sword passed right through the stone column I had placed between it and my character, I knew I had played Dark Souls for the last time. This is one of the reasons I’m not feeling Skyrim at the moment. Like Breath of the Wild, Skyrim takes place in a captivating and beautiful (if less colorful and more foreboding) open world. That, though, is the end of the comparisons between the two games. Breath of the Wild is firmly an action-adventure game, and Skyrim is firmly an RPG. For the former, timing and skill take precedence over all else; it is legitimately possible to make your way to Hyrule Castle with three hearts and a pot lid for a shield if you’ve perfected the timing needed to deflect Guardian lasers. Skyrim is an RPG grinder with flailing combat that depends far more on your pre-fight preparations than your in-the-moment combat skills. Again: THIS IS NOT A COMMENTARY ON THE QUALITY OF THIS GAME. Look at older posts on this blog; I LOVE Skyrim. I just don’t want to play it right now. (Well, maybe as a sneaky archer, which is the build everyone keeps telling me I should be playing as, anyway.)

Let’s keep it positive for a second: conversely, here’s some gameplay styles I’m VERY into at the moment.

  • Platforming Finesse: I mean, this is a constant for me. I will go to my grave insisting that the SNES Aladdin is superior to the Genesis Aladdin because, even though the latter is gorgeously animated in the style of the film, the former is a parkour adventure through Agrabah and I’m all about that in my games. This is why my favorite Super Mario brand is the New Super Mario series; the non-powered up platforming of that series gives you the widest traversal toolset of the entire franchise . It is ALSO what puts Breath of the Wild and the later 2D Metroids at the top of those franchise heaps for me: I want traversal that is smooth and reflexive, always. Along these lines, I can’t recommend Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment enough. I also can’t recommend every game in the Shovel Knight franchise enough, though.
  • Stealth Mechanics: Mark of the Ninja is one of those games on the short list of titles that, as a Nintendo-exclusive gamer, I had always regretted missing out on. Well, like everything else ever apparently, it is now on Switch. I’m slowly dipping my toe in, and trying to savor it like a fine wine, but between its fantastic stealth mechanics (always give me options to get through levels beyond hacking-and-slashing everything, devs!) and its like-butter traversal mechanics, I am in heaven.
  • Strategy: I’m in the mood for different variations on video game chess. Perhaps, given my current aversion to mindless button mashing and irritating list management, I’m just at a point in my gaming life where I’d prefer to use my brain than my thumbs. Maybe NOW is when I’ll finally manage to get into Fire Emblem?
  • PvP: I’ve long been an offline gamer, but over recent years my time has been devoted more and more to online gaming, mostly in the form of Splatoon and Fortnite. Given my current predilection towards character fluidity and player-v-player? This is the perfect time, for me, for a new Smash Bros. to come into my life.

So what are my takeaways here? I dunno. Mostly that tastes change, and then change back, and that there’s a lot of games out there, man. Don’t force yourself to play anything you’re not in the mood to play just cuz you think you should. Games should be fun. Play what you like, and play what you like right now. Excelsior! #RIPStanTheMan

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How Nintendo Tells Their Stories (and Sometimes Doesn’t.)

I’m realizing that I spend a lot of time talking about stories in games and how games tell stories. I’m a writer with an MFA in Creative Writing, so I suppose it stands to reason that this is the sort of thing I’d spend too much time thinking about. Part of the universal appeal of Nintendo and their games, I’d argue, is the LACK of narrative in the stories their games tell. Gameplay is universal, after all. I’ll perhaps get some angry disagreement from people reading this, but the truth is that the amount of story Nintendo puts into their games is minimal compared to what other developers, specifically Western developers, put into their games. Not only that, but the style of storytelling in Nintendo IPs tends to differ from franchise to franchise. Here’s a brief analysis of the various styles of storytelling adopted by some of Nintendo’s major franchises. (Note: I specifically say “analysis” as opposed to “overview” because there are some questions regarding the narrative nature of a few of these franchises, questions Nintendo doesn’t seem in a great hurry to clarify.)

Super Mario – Either Princess Peach gets kidnapped, like, once a week, or the scenario suggested by Super Mario Bros. 3 is true: the Mario games are performances, and the characters are all actors putting on a show for the player. Super Mario Bros. 3 is framed as a play, with a curtain rising on the title screen and falling after the game’s credits roll, not to mention platforms through the whole game being bolted in place and the various background structures casting flat shadows like two dimensional set pieces. Each level ends with Mario (or Luigi) running offstage into the darkened wings, for goodness sake. So the Mario cast is simply play-acting these adventures for us, and in their time off they like to get together and race go-karts, or play baseball, or maybe pile in a car and play a board game.

The Legend of Zelda – Around the time of Skyward Sword, Nintendo released a bat-poop crazy official Legend of Zelda timeline, seemingly to please the fans who had desperately been trying to figure it out on their own. In order to force contradictory games together, Nintendo split the Zelda timeline in three places, leading to three alternate realities where the events of different games could take place (and apparently, very quietly, they reunited the timelines last month by officially inserting Breath of the Wild at the very end of all three.) While certain games do seem to refer to past or future games, there’s an argument that people need to pay more attention to the word “legend” in the franchise’s title. Legends are passed down from generation to generation, changing and evolving over time. The base story of the Zelda franchise is almost always the same: a struggle for balance between three triangular shards of an all-powerful artifact, each with a designated bearer in the form of a boy dressed in green named Link, a princess of the royal family of Hyrule named Zelda, and a thief/sorcerer/pig-monster named either Ganon or Ganondorf. These elements remain fairly constant, but it’s the DETAILS in the telling that change over time. The games in the Legend of Zelda series are telling the same story over and over, more or less. They are representative of the multi-generational retelling of the prevailing legend of the Kingdom of Hyrule.

Metroid – Of the “big three” Nintendo IPs, the Metroid franchise has the most traditionally linear storyline. (It also has far fewer games to juggle than the Mario and Zelda franchises, to be fair.) Though not released in chronological order, each title in the main Metroid series fits neatly into a place, with the first two games in the franchise, Metroid and Metroid 2: Return of Samus each receiving remakes later in life that massaged their stories to better fit into the now-established franchise lore. Not only that, but the two volume Metroid manga that establishes the origin of series protagonist Samus Aran is largely seen as canonical, and slots right in at the front of the chronological list. (You can see the Metroid timeline order here.)

Pokemon – Again: this is not my area of expertise, but the mainline Pokemon games all seem to take place on one world map inspired by the Japanese islands, with each game taking place in a particular region; the nation of Japan is, of course, similarly divided into regions. Every game tells a similar story, more or less: that of a young Pokemon trainer trying to collect every type of Pokemon in their region. The ultimate Pokemon dream game is the game that will unite that world’s regions into one massive Pokemon adventure… or at least that’s what I’ve heard. This just isn’t my jam, yo.

Animal Crossing – All Animal Crossing games tell the same story: the tale of a town’s struggle to get out from under the oppressive thumb of their miserly raccoon landlord.

Fire EmblemFire Emblem games follow a similarly sort of weird rule of connection as, say, the Final Fantasy games: they all carry thematic and mechanical similarities, they all seem to take place in different unrelated worlds and kingdoms, but heroes from the different games seem to cross over from time to time into the worlds of other games. This is really a reminder not to take this stuff to seriously, y’all. They’re just games. (Note: some franchise fans will argue for a connected timeline that branches off into various epochs and eras, but honestly, what’s the point? See also: Xenoblade Chronicles.)

Donkey Kong Country – The chapters-long epic poem recounting the adventures of a bunch of monkeys as they try to reclaim their bananas.

Kirby – Who gives a <expletive deleted>?

Star Fox – The ongoing storyline of the Star Fox franchise seems to be: how many times can we reboot the storyline of the Star Fox franchise? And one time, with dinosaurs.

Splatoon – Yo, the Splatoon backstory is actually pretty messed up. I’m not getting too deep into it; it’s like some creepy-pasta Slenderman stuff. It involves human extinction, unchecked evolution, and a race war. Kotaku has more to say on it here.

Smash Bros. – It’s either the tale of children’s Nintendo toys coming to life to do battle (Smash 64), a multi-universe character hopping crossover (Smash Bros. Brawl: The Subspace Emissary), or the never-ending mission of a small group of gamers to keep the Gamecube controller relevant.

Dr. Mario – What am I even doing with my life?

Tetris – Let’s just wait for the three film trilogy to really shore up the story arc here.

Pikmin – Tiny plant monsters and… uh… astronauts collecting giant fruit… you know what? It turns out the lesson of this entire article is to just shut up and enjoy your games. Not everything needs to be connected, you know? Cripes. (The Pixar Theory is a bunch of malarkey, too.)

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.

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.

Some GOATs

I’ve started playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on the Nintendo Switch. As this is Skyrim‘s first appearance on a Nintendo platform, this is my first time playing Skyrim. I don’t know if you guys have heard, but Skyrim is an amazing game. Holy shnikes.

I’m going to be writing a lot more about Skyrim in future posts. I’m only twenty hours into my first-ever playthrough (maybe more; time moves differently in Skyrim) and I’m already planning for not just my NEXT playthrough, but for my next THREE playthroughs.

Playing Skyrim has gotten me thinking on the topic of Greatest Games of All-Time. Is Skyrim on the list of Greatest Games of All-Time? Is Skyrim the greatest RPG of all time? Can anyone objectively make the case one way or the other for such a claim?

No. No they cannot. So I’m going to do it subjectively, instead, across a bunch of different genres and platforms. A note: this is not a definitive list of games. Mostly these are games I’ve played, so lots of Nintendo games appear on this list… though I’ll willingly put a game I never played on this list if I think it’s the definitively the greatest game in its genre. I should point out, though, that this is also not a definitive list of genres. In fact, I’m more than admitting to making up some of my own genres. And finally: if a genre seems to be missing, I either didn’t think of it or, more likely, don’t have a strong feeling on any one specific game being the GOAT in that particular genre. And finally finally: I’m painting with a very broad brush.

So don’t take this too seriously. Lord knows I didn’t. (Also: this may not be serious, BUT IT’S RIGHT. <– don’t take that seriously, either.)

The Obvious GOATs

Simulation: The Sims – I’ve never played The Sims. I was always afraid that if I started, I’d never stop. Still: it’s the only choice in this category, obviously.

MMORPG: World of Warcraft – I’ve never played World of Warcraft. I was always afraid that if I started, I’d never stop. Still: it’s the only choice in this category, obviously.

2D Puzzle: Tetris – How many puzzle games since the Russian industry-buster are just riffs on Tetris, anyway?

Sandbox: Minecraft – There doesn’t even need to be a conversation here. There is no competition. Next question.

Fighting: Street Fighter 2 – I was going to do two separate fighting game categories, 2D and 3D. But Street Fighter 2, in all of its forms, is the single greatest fighting game of all time. This pains me to say as one who personally prefers Smash Bros. as a franchise. But it’s the truth. In the fighting genre, there’s Street Fighter 2, and then there’s everything else.

The Not-As-Obvious GOATs

3D Platforming Game: Super Mario Odyssey – Yes, I know it’s brand new. It doesn’t meant that it’s NOT the greatest 3D platformer of all time. I’m of the mind that 3D Mario platformers stand alone as the nominees in this category, and the broadly applicable “Cap”-ture mechanic of Super Mario Odyssey (which results in dozens of platforming styles being included in one game), not to mention the giant playground of each level and the 999 hidden moons to find, puts SMO above Galaxy and 64.

2D Action-Adventure: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the PastZelda games set the standard for the action-adventuring genre, and A Link to the Past set the Zelda template that would be followed for twenty years, both in 2D and in 3D. Some revisionist historians will tell you Link’s Awakening or Minish Cap are superior games, but those people would be wrong. Shout-out to Super Metroid, which almost took this spot instead.

3D Action-Adventure: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Is it the size of the world? Is it the gorgeous art design? Is it the mobility of this game’s version of Link? Is it the dirt bike? Well, yes. All of these things help… but what truly places Breath of the Wild in this spot over, say, Horizon: Zero Dawn or Uncharted or Assassin’s Creed or Tomb Raider or any number of amazing games, is the physics system. Stop time and power up environmental objects with kinetic energy, or swing metallic objects with magnetic powers and use them to conduct electricity, or pay attention to the curvature of the hill you’re on to suss out which direction your bomb will roll in, or use ice blocks to change the path of a falling boulder or lift up a rusted old gate. Breath of the Wild asks you to think about and then manipulate the amazing world around you in ways heretofore unseen in the action-adventure genre, and if the way YOU’VE chosen to interact with your environment is not the way Nintendo’s developers meant for you to interact with the environment? Well, that’s okay, because the game is DESIGNED that way. The developers created puzzles with specific solutions, while at the same time handing players the environment manipulating abilities they’d need to shortcut those solutions. People have been saying Breath of the Wild forever changes how we’ll play open world games, but it seems more likely that it will forever change how we interact with puzzles and obstacles in open world games, closed world games, and every game world in between.

3D Puzzle: Portal 2 – Name a true 3D puzzle game that’s better than Portal 2. I’ll wait. Fine, yes, specifically, this is probably an action-puzzle game, or a puzzle-platformer. But it would top those categories, too, so I’m just going to roll them all together under the “3D puzzle” label and crown Portal 2 the champ.

JRPG: Final Fantasy VI – There’ll be a lot of 16 bit SNES bias in this list. The SNES is still probably my favorite console of all time. But the quintessential JRPG series is Final Fantasy, and the most JRPG-y of the Final Fantasy games are the 16 bit SNES games: IV, V, and VI. IV gives you set characters with set jobs. Cecil is a Dark Knight who becomes a Paladin; Rosa is a White Mage who becomes a White Wizard; Rydia is a Black Mage/Summoner, and that’s that. I enjoy that approach. V implemented the best version of the famed FF Job System, which allowed you to assign jobs to your four template characters as you saw fit. FF VI managed to do both at once: your characters had job specific actions and abilities, but could also learn skills across the spectrum of FF jobs via magicite equip. Sabin, for example, is a martial artist… but if equipped with the right magicite shards, he can also become a White Mage. It’s an extra level of JRPG-y planning (do you grant your 14 playable characters abilities that match their innate abilities, or do you try and turn them into jack-of-all-trade characters) that FFVI does better than any JRPG before or since.

Western RPG: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Here’s something that happened in my first ten hours playing Skyrim: I returned to Riverwood, the first small town I’d encountered in the game as an escaped prisoner, to do some smithing and shopping. I stepped out of the trader’s shop only to hear a familiar roar and screech: the town was being attacked by a dragon. After heroically slaying the dragon, I realized that the two NPC’s who had given me shelter back when I’d first come to town, the blacksmith and his wife, had been killed in the battle; their daughter, a little girl, another NPC, was fully aware that she was now an orphan. It then became one of my in-game goals to save up enough money to buy a house and adopt this little girl whose parents had died because I wasn’t clean enough in my kill.

This was not a planned event. It is not part of an in-game quest. It is just a thing that happened.

That’s Skyrim.

Beat ‘Em Up: TMNT: Turtles in Time – I’m disproportionately fond of mindless beat ’em ups, but I’ve got some standards: 1.) They need to be fun. 2.) They can’t be impossible. 3.) They need dope moves. 4.) The soundtrack needs to wail. 5.) They’ve got to move quickly. River City Ransom is great, but has too many RPG elements and asks you to think too much. Double Dragon is a classic, but chugs along a little bit too slowly. Lots of the mid-90’s arcade brawlers are awesome, (The Simpsons, X-Men, etc.) but are designed to suck down quarters at a ridiculous pace. Turtles in Time is a 90’s arcade brawler designed for home consoles. It’s fun, it’s fast, it isn’t overly difficult, and the soundtrack is the TMNT theme remixed over and over (which might sound tedious, but is actually amazing.)

Level Builder: Super Mario Maker – The competition here isn’t stiff, save for one other game. Lots of level-builders are overcomplicated and hold a high barrier to entrance; Disney Infinity, for example, and though I’ve not played it I’ve heard the same about LittleBigPlanet. Super Mario Maker has the benefit of existing on the Wii U, crazily enough: an HD console with a stylus + touchscreen interface, perfect for a level builder. Mario Maker is built around a drag-and-drop graphical interface that speaks the language of the most popular gaming series of all time. It’s a near-universally appealing combination that lowers the barrier of entry to practically non-existent. And though the Wii U is far less ubiquitous than the Nintendo 3DS, the Wii U version of Mario Maker is obviously the superior version. Nintendo’s decision to leave online sharing out of the 3DS version of the game is one of the most terrible ideas they’ve ever had. It’s, like, Virtual Boy-bad. So why isn’t this in the “obvious” list? Because of one game that almost tops Mario Maker, and that game… is Lode Runner. Anyone who played it and built levels for it on IBM-compatible PC’s back in the early 80’s understands why.

Point-and-Click/Graphical Adventure: Sam & Max Hit the Road – There are lots of more famous LucasArts graphical adventure games. Day of the Tentacle, Fate of Atlantis, and Grim Fandango might all be better known, but Sam & Max Hit the Road holds the distinction of being a beautifully illustrated, brilliantly written, and legitimately great point-and-click adventure game… that is fully aware of how ridiculous point-and-click adventure games are. Besides: King’s Quest is the runner up in this category before any of those other aforementioned titles.

Star Wars: Star Wars Rogue Squadron 2: Rogue Leader – This is the only IP to get its own category, and rightfully so. There’ve been so many Star Wars game of such varying quality. Knights of the Old Republic could have taken this spot, of course, as could have Super Return of the Jedi or X-Wing. But few games drop you into the Star Wars saga quite like the arcade action of this early GameCube title, and it’s the game that initially sold me on the GameCube, to boot.

First-Person Action-Adventure: Metroid Prime – I’m cheating a little by including this on a list that already includes 3D Action-Adventure, but I wanted to give the perfection that is Metroid Prime its due, and yes, Metroid Prime IS better than either of its sequels.

Classic Arcade: Ms. Pac-Man – Are you a Pac-Man person, or a Space Invader person? The correct answer is, “a Pac-Man person,” and Ms. Pac-Man and its multiple maze styles is far-and-away the best game of the entire Pac-Man franchise.

Arena Shooter: Splatoon 2 – Shut up, yes it is.

Strategy: Codename S.T.E.A.M. – #SorryNotSorry

The Too-Close-To-Call GOATs

2D Platforming: Super Mario World or New Super Mario Bros. 2Super Mario World is the obvious overall better experience… BUT New Super Mario Bros. 2 is the quintessential classic Super Mario experience: a 2D platformer that speaks the clearly established rules of the Super Mario universe (Mario World riffed on those rules quite a bit) that includes the key extra elements that have since defined the franchise, including fireballs, raccoon flight, Star Coin collection, and wall-jumping. Mario World is a unique, exciting experience, but New Super Mario Bros. 2 is a perfect distillation of everything that makes the franchise work. It’s not groundbreaking in the least (and therefore sometimes comes across as slightly boring) but it’s the Super Mario formula polished to an immaculate shine.

Racing: Mario Kart 8 or FORZA – I suppose I could have done two categories: arcade racing and sim racing. But I’m splitting the difference because although I don’t have a lot of experience with FORZA, the little bit I’ve played has been revelatory: it’s easily the best simulation franchise out there, as far as I’m concerned. Mario Kart 8, on the other hand, is the greatest game in the greatest arcade racing franchise of all time. Essentially, I don’t know enough about sim racing to do a whole separate category for it, but I wanted to acknowledge FORZA‘s greatness.

2D Action Platformer: Mega Man 2 0r Mega Man X or Ducktales or The Magical Quest Starring Micky Mouse or Aladdin (SNES) or… – Such a huge library of great games exist in this genre, and Capcom was the undisputed master of the form back in its heyday, as illustrated that my entire “can’t decide” list is made up of Capcom titles.

First-Person Shooter – See, my favorite FPS ever is the original Star Wars: Dark Forces, but even the guy who keeps insisting Codename S.T.E.A.M. is a top-ten all-time game isn’t silly enough to think Dark Forces is the best FPS of all-time.

The Quilling Fields

Right off the bat, I’ll explain that “The Quilling Fields” is a pun. The Killing Fields is an award-winning 1984 film, and a quill is a repurposed goose feather used for centuries as an ink-delivery instrument; the pun is meant to suggest that Splatoon 2, an arena-based shooter in which ink replaces bullets, features a great deal of aggressive confrontation.

I’ll admit: it’s a bit of a reach.

The pun is also not the point. The point is that Splatoon 2 is here and the first Splatfest (Splatoon‘s monthly competition event) has happened, and now that we’ve really had time to dive in we can start figuring out just how different Splatoon 2 is from its predecessor.

On the surface… well, it isn’t any different. The basics of Turf War, Splatoon‘s bread-and-butter, remains the same: two teams of four inklings splat it out over the course of three minutes to try and cover a map with their team’s color of ink. There’s also a solo campaign that plays very much like the solo campaign of the first game, a Ranked Battle that consists of three different modes, all returning from the original game, and then a horde mode, branded as the game-within-a-game of Salmon Run. Aside from Salmon Run, Splatoon 2 seems a whole lot like Splatoon, right down to the recycled weapons and gear you can buy for your inkling. In fact, the only real differences lie in special weapons (all new, no returning) and the maps (two reworked from the first game, and six new.)

So you start playing Splatoon 2‘s Turf War, and it feels like Splatoon. And you play, and you play, and you play some more, until finally, you realize… something’s different. You can’t put your finger on it, maybe, but… this game feels faster, more aggressive, more VIOLENT than Splatoon. Yes… yes, you’re quite sure of it. The problem is, you can’t figure out WHY.

And then you look at the maps.

So let’s do some compare and contrast. From Splatoon:

Urchin Underpass is a series of winding passageways and fences joined in the middle by a ravine filled with trees.

Walleye Warehouse is a long, narrow stage with secret side passages tucked away to the left and the right for flanking.

Arowana Mall is similar to Walleye Warehouse: long and narrow with side-passages and elevated walkways.

Saltspray Rig is a series of narrow walkways and lifts running south of a wide, open area at the top of the map.

Blackbelly Skatepark is a series of peaks and valleys with two large, rounded ends on either side.

Now let’s look at the Splatoon 2 maps:

The Reef is a square.

Starfish MainStage is a square.

Inkblot Art Academy is two squares very slightly overlaid with each other.

Sturgeon Shipyard is a rectangle.

Humpback Pump Track is a rectangle with a slight bubbling in the middle.

Musselforge Fitness sucks. Also, it’s a square with two little outcroppings.

You see the difference? Whereas Splatoon‘s maps were all sorts of crazy shapes and sizes, the initial launch maps of Splatoon 2 are, more and less, big and open square-ish shapes. In most of Splatoon‘s maps you could run and swim and hide in nooks and crannies that were tucked away all over; the common Splatoon mantra of, “You could play a whole game and never see an enemy,” actually applied. Splatoon 2‘s maps, though, are designed to push opposing teams together. On Splatoon 2‘s maps (and this may change as more DLC maps become available) there are very few places to hide, especially as compared to Splatoon.

The result of this? Splatoon 2 is a game that (though the actual movement physics of the player characters may not be any faster than in its predecessor) is played in arenas that encourage conflict and clashes with the enemy. A lot of the “you can run and hide” element of the original Splatoon is gone from Splatoon 2. Smaller, more open maps also means that the tide of battle can change very quickly; just because your team is losing a Turf War battle in Splatoon 2 with 10 seconds left in the match doesn’t mean you’ll still be losing when time runs out.

Another thing the Splatoon 2 map designs avoid are bottlenecks. In the first game, Arowana Mall and Saltspray Rig had natural lock points that got swarmed with inklings, and whichever team threw the most combatants at the bottleneck tended to win the match. Walleye Warehouse was one of my favorite Splatoon maps, and upon reflection I realize it’s because the entire stage was a bottleneck; with the proper load-out and enough ink coverage it was relatively easy to hold the line in Walleye Warehouse all by yourself.

A lack of natural in-stage bottlenecks has resulted in a terrain-based nerf of one of Splatoon‘s most popular weapon classes: the Charger. While I presume the Japanese game is still loaded with deadeye sniping (unlike Splatoon, which ran on international servers; Splatoon 2 runs on regional ones), Charger use has steeply declined, at least in the North American game. And lest you think this is all just coincidental, that I’m reading into these early maps too much, I’d like to direct your attention to the weapon that has skyrocketed in popularity: the Aerospray.

The Aerospray was known in Splatoon as THE go-to painting gun. It featured an incredible rate of fire and ink coverage, but individual shots were weak and the gun’s range was roughly 33% shorter than that of the comparable N-Zap. I used the Aerospray more than 50% of the time in Splatoon, and decided to use a more aggressive weapon when I started up on Splatoon 2. Given my hours and hours and hours and hours of experience with the Aerospray, I was in a unique position to realize that opposing Splatoon 2 players were splatting me with it from well further out than the Aerospray should allow. That, I realized upon retreating to the test range, is because the Aerospray now has a reach equivalent to that of the N-Zap, and the Sploosh-o-Matic, a weapon that had practically zero range in Splatoon, now has range equivalent to that of the first game’s Aerospray, at nearly double the attack power. And while I’m nowhere near as well-versed in the Sloshers and the Ink Brushes as I am the Aerospray, I would swear that the range on those weapons has been boosted as well.

Between the increase in range for these guns and the maps purposely designed to promote team-vs.-team conflict, I think it’s pretty clear that the Splatoon 2 development group decided to push a greater emphasis on combat than was done in Splatoon. Splatoon, though, wasn’t exactly a conflict-free game, so if you bump that up the Splatoon 2 experience becomes that much faster, that much more frenzied, and (although inklings immediately respawn upon being splatted) that much more lethal.

Hence: the Quilling Fields.

Okay, it doesn’t work.

Featured Image source: https://www.imore.com/how-get-started-playing-splatoon-2-handy-tips-and-tricks-beginners

The Nintendo SWiitch (That’s Not a Typo)

It was hailed as the end of an era. The reveal of Nintendo’s top-secret next console, codenamed NX, a hybrid system that was one of the worst-kept secrets in video games, was going to end the age of the Wii, the one that began in a blaze of glory as the Wii became a “must have” item, and ended as smoldering ash as the Wii U became a “what’s that” item.

Into this world came the Switch, with the promise of a new Legend of Zelda and Splatoon and 3D Super Mario, and Skyrim and NBA 2K and Minecraft, all in year one, all great news for Nintendo platform loyalists starved for new (or at least remastered) content, all now playable on the go. Oh, along with these no-brainers came a few choice reminders that, you know, Nintendo will always Nintendo. For example: at the Switch reveal conference, live-streamed around the world from Japan, an event that many expected to be a fresh new start and a clean slate… but which Nintendo used to announce not one, but TWO games that seemed as though they were designed for the motion controlled Wii: the ice cube simulator 1-2-Switch and the Plastic-Man fighter ARMS. 1-2-Switch was indulged and largely ignored, and while I still think there’s a place for it on college campuses this fall (drunken wizard fights, anyone?) it certainly isn’t something anyone would point to as a hit, and it just as certainly should have been a system pack-in, not a full-priced separate launch title.

A few months later, ARMS came along, a motion control weirdo springy-armed boxing game in which the motion controls are optional. That previous sentence describes both an evolution of and a reaction to the similarly motion-controlled games for the Wii. From the Wii era Nintendo seems to have learned that people like to decide for themselves whether or not they want to use motion controls in any particular game. Just as it is in ARMS, the motion controls in Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe are completely optional. The evolution lies in the technology: the original Wiimote tracked motion through a combination of accelerometer (which detects velocity) and infrared technology (which detects location). The Joy-Con, aside from containing technology eleven years newer than that which inhabited the Wiimote, is equipped with an accelerometer and a gyroscope (which accurately measures location). Fair point: the Wii MotionPlus add-on accessory for the Wiimote contained a gyroscope as well, but nothing beats having the tools baked into the console from the world “go”.

The difference, then, between ARMS and a lot of the Wii-era games? The motion controls in ARMS are remarkably precise, and the game is not prisoner of the “waggle controls” that plagued so many Wii titles, that feeling that you’re flailing about blindly and have only rudimentary control over your on-screen avatar’s movements. On the Wii itself it was Skyward Sword that came closest to fulfilling the initial promise of what that system would be, but it’s ARMS, a game for a console meant to move Nintendo past their Wii/Wii U days, that feels like the near-perfect execution of what Nintendo had hoped Wii games would be all along.

The comparison between the Wii U and the Switch is obvious, of course; both consoles come with a tablet-like touchscreen. Unlike the Wii U, though, the Switch is not a second-screen device. But, as many of the Wii U’s critics noted during that console’s “heyday” (a term I use with the utmost looseness), the best use of the Wii U’s Gamepad was not as a second screen (with a few select exceptions). It was best used for off-TV play, and with the benefit of hindsight, the Wii U ends up looking an awful lot like a prototype version of the Nintendo Switch. The off-TV experience on Switch is better in every way, of course, with a true HD screen and a capacitive touchscreen in place of the Wii U’s resistive touchscreen… not to mention the Switch’s take-anywhere-ableness, as opposed to the Wii U Gamepad’s reluctance to function at distances greater than ten feet from the base unit.

I put this comparison together just the other night while playing Splatoon 2. I do a lot of my gaming at night; I’m a night owl and my wife is a morning person, so after she and the kids go to bed is when I get a lot of my Switch on. This means I’m less likely to play the Switch in TV mode (she’s also a light sleeper), so about 95% of my Breath of the Wild play-through was in handheld mode. Handheld mode, though, is not ideal for Splatoon 2, especially since I absolutely can not play Splatoon without motion controls. So after a few hours of uncomfortable handheld gaming, I decided to put the Switch in tabletop mode and grab my pro controller… except the pro controller was all the way across the room, so I instead went with split Joy-Con play.

It was a revelation.

I’ll try to describe the experience, but if you’re playing Splatoon 2 (and why wouldn’t you be?) you should really try this out for yourself. The left Joy-Con is primarily for directional input and morphing into squid form, and the right Joy-Con, which is the Joy-Con from which Splatoon 2 reads gyroscopic input, is used for aiming and firing your weapon. The precision aiming I was able to pull of with the right Joy-Con was a substantial improvement over anything I was able to pull off with the Wii U Gamepad over the course of the 300+ hours I put into Splatoon, and a gazillion times better than trying to aim while waving the Switch around in handheld mode. I was fighting off entire teams of Inklings by myself, and then I switched over to the Splat Charger and started popping squids like nobody’s business.

That’s when I realized that the Switch does not mark the end of the Wii era. Rather, it is the culmination of what the Wii and the Wii U promised but didn’t deliver: HD off-screen, truly portable play with pinpoint motion controls. The Switch’s success will rely on Nintendo’s ability to keep their new flagship awash in a steady stream of games more than it will anything else, but one other thing worth noting is that they have been preparing this console for a very long time. Ten years of in-the-wild market research, probably closer to fifteen years of development, have come together to bring us the natural offspring of both the Wii and the Wii U: the Nintendo Switch. For Nintendo’s sake, given the explosive success of the Wii and the implosive failure of the Wii U, let’s hope the Switch (or the SWiitch) takes after mom, and not dad.

Yes, of COURSE the Wii is the mom. Geez.