Thursday, June 18, 2015


My Splatoon review is up at Slant. Tl;dr: It's really cool, and totally original, but we'll see if it's sustainable. I did have a couple of save-it-for-the-blog thoughts, though, so… Here's the blog!

The lack of voice chat is a real shame, not just because chatting is fun, but because it really pushes against the game's best qualities.  A game this unusual demands new strategies, and without voice chat, it's almost impossible to try new things.  So games too often descend into either standard online dynamics or a bunch of colorful monads, which is both less enjoyable and less interesting than the bizarre plans people might concoct to master this very odd game.

But it's worth noting how very Nintendo the online experience is.  You don't talk to the people you're playing with; your main interaction is in the pre-game lobby, where you can see other people's characters decked out in unique costume items and displaying Miiverse drawings.  The only bonding experience is that everyone who plays must watch the day's unskippable video broadcast, which lays out what today's maps will be.  Nintendo has always been mistrustful of the internet, but it's really something to make a 2015 game that's visibly nostalgic for broadcast media!

The general good cheer of the Miiverse means it's friendlier than most online games, but it's also asynchronous, so instead of getting to know people, you see what they're wearing and try to get that style for yourself; there's even a sketchy back-alley character who makes knock-offs of clothing designs you just have to possess. This is the first Nintendo-made game to have such an interest in clothes that they release official– and pretty good-looking!– fashion shots.

This is a very different mood from other major Nintendo games.  While franchises like Legend of Zelda and Mario World are suffused with nostalgia for a rural idyll, Splatoon is gleefully urban in its emphasis on fashion, speed, and the anonymity of a crowd.  But it's very Nintendo in its commitment to recreating a specifically Japanese experience.  Most games follow the American model for online interaction, where the virtual game space is like a midwestern mall: cliques of young people talking shit and getting into fights, while respectable citizens try to enjoy the entertainment.  Splatoon's world is more like an online Harajuku, where anonymous individuals pose for each other but you're all basically alone.