It has become almost a routine. We watch people parade and clamor for the newest title touting minor improvements, fancier gear, but a re-hashing of the same gameplay with little variety in hopes of pleasing its devout fanbase to continue the good vibes while potentially ostracizing new players with an interesting hook. This has been Call of Duty’s M.O. for years on end. But as I’ve had time to fumble around for about a month or so I’m realizing that for better or worse, this is starting to become Splatoon’s M.O. as well.
But is this really a bad thing? Mirroring one of the most successful franchises in gaming history on a console that never really captured CoD‘s magic seems like a damn smart business decision to me. Nintendo is known plenty for its feverishly loyal fanbases for whatever comes out from its First Party doors (where’s this love for ARMS you fucks?) so finding the itch to scratch for its shoot-em-ups seemed plenty within the wheelhouse. In 2015, when Splatoon first hit the scene on the Wii U, the game was fucking awesome.
The concept of providing a turf-war style gameplay with a light Team Deathmatch vibe to play into the strategy of controlling enough turf within a tight 3-minute window spelled total success for the IP, especially when you gave players the ability to customize their characters with snazzy gear that could be customized with specific buffs to cater to your playstyle. It allowed peeps like me to look good than having to run their ass-kicking outfit, bitch on the battlefield every match. The story was…okay, but serviceable! It allowed newcomers to get a feel for the new ways to play this new game and provide a little lore to the deceptively dark past. Sure, there were only 5 maps on release (7 total within its first month), but the game was fun enough it was easy to pass. The gameplay was fresh, the concept was fresh, and it robbed hours of my life that I was willing to be held up for.
Splatoon 2 was quick to return in 2017 with the introduction of new hardware in the Nintendo Switch, and took the time to implement and build upon its foundation. New weapons! New Maps! Fucking Salmon Run! Salmon Run fucking ruled. It was a pretty pedestrian take on Horde Mode but it instilled such an interesting concept of playing Capture the Flag on Crack whilst multi-tasking multiple mini-bosses whilst rotating pre-determined weapons so you had to play outside your comfort zone and rewarded the willingness to expand your weapon knowledge and gameplay horizons. It expanded on its Splatfests, being more into the community and providing more aesthetic pleasures to your character. It expanded on its single-player with a paid expansion, which in equal parts I commend for continuing to take care of your fanbase and IP, but frown on since what was provided could have easily been in the game Day 1. But that’s business.
But despite all this the gameplay started to get stale. I played at least 150-200 hours of Splatoon before the 2nd one came out. And while the bells and whistles were genuinely interesting in the sequel, your casual mode was exactly the same. Ranked mode got a couple new modes that were tiny differences to the original modes in the 1st game. 2 years apart from each other and you’re given two new classes of weapons and a couple new specials. You were given 7 maps on release, 2 from the previous game. It’s clear to seasoned fans this game may have been rushed but you give it a pass because it’s on a new console. Makes sense.
Splatoon 3 almost became a myth. Updates for Splatoon 2 ended in 2019 with a couple Splatfests to keep the rabid fans happy. Everyone figured when the support ended it would be another game soon…right? And then months passed. Years. Before finally getting a trailer in early 2021 giving fans almost 18 months to chew on what was going to be the first Splatoon game in almost 5 years. I was fucking stoked! 5 years to chew on your creative bones, utilize the Switch to its maximum, and provide the quintessential Splatoon experience for fans who had been starving for new content. It finally drops in September, me and the ReviewBot boot it up…
…and it’s the same Goddamn thing from 2015. 5 years apart from each other and you’re given two new classes of weapons and a couple new specials. We’ve got 12 maps on launch, but seven are from previous titles. Salmon Run is back and while I can personally enjoy the new mini-bosses the game absolutely skullfucks new players with so many different bosses and information that I can’t imagine this being fun in any aspect for someone learning the ropes. Seriously, there are sixteen different bosses that all have a chance to show up at first glance. You have fucking homework for new players to properly enjoy Salmon Run. The aesthetics have always been pleasing and I love mixing and matching new styles to my guy, especially with the SplashTags and ending emotes and lockers and the Shop App. I’ll always love Splatoon for that, but I’m at the point where I love the idea of Splatoon more than the execution of Splatoon.
Since this game has catered exclusively to its faithful, it’s absolutely brutal to its new and interested. Splatoon’s Ranked Mode has built absolute monsters that when released upon the casual crowd can cripple a round, turning a brisk 3-minutes into what feels like hours. Splatfests turn off any sense of skill-based matchmaking where 4-person Death Squads running you over in a 70%-20% demolition is more common than one would hope. With the gameplay being 7 years into its groove, the devout come in head-shoulders-chest-waist-knee higher in experience and knowledge. Splatoon offers no remorse for those who step on the battlefield. I’m sure I’ll get a couple “Git Guds,” but for fucking Splatoon?
It has become almost a routine. We watch people parade and clamor for the newest title, touting minor improvements, fancier gear, but a re-hashing of the same gameplay with little variety in hopes of pleasing its devout fanbase to continue the good vibes while potentially ostracizing new players with an interesting hook to catch. This has been Splatoon’s M.O., whether we chose to see it or not. With how the title has sold within its first few months, Nintendo has tapped a market of gamers who have embraced the Splatoon world and have millions on millions of people stacking thousands upon thousands of hours in a title that speaks true to a heightened sense of individuality and untapped style in a high-skill gaming world dominated by drab scenery and ultra-violence.
But, I’unno man. 5 years and only getting this? I think these franchises are a lot closer together than they seem. And whether that bothers you or not is as all things, in the eye of the beholder. Lets just hope these quarterly updates rule.