If you don’t lap up 3 NES games a month, Nintendo will vaporise you and your savefiles


Splatoon 2 (2017)

When I paid full whack for Splatoon 2, I already knew that I was being a bit of a fool to myself. After all, it was Nintendo’s attempt at an online shooter, neither of which they can do very well. We all should have known that Nintendo’s approach to online play was going to be a stinker right from the very start. After all, you’ve never even been able to play so much as a DVD on any of their consoles, their last few consoles have been notably lacking in horsepower, and then there was the Virtual Boy. They’re not exactly forward thinking or tech-savvy, you might say.

So when the plans and features of their upcoming Nintendo Switch functionality were revealed, and gamers were expected to pony up cash for the first time, it was yet another don’t-know-whether-to-laugh-or-cry moment that Nintendo are famous for.

Look, when it comes to local multiplayer, even on separate consoles, Nintendo are the masters. From 4-player Nintendo 64 to Game Boy Advance 1-cartridge linkup to being able to fully transfer Mario Kart 7 to other 3DS’s without the game, they have it all covered. That’s why the Switch is so impressive, with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe being fully portable and coming with two controllers plus a screen, wherever you go. But once a pesky Internet signal gets involved, Nintendo suddenly foul the bed.

You take the wonderful Pictochat on the DS – a terrific laugh back in the day, an excuse for anyone in the room with a DS to draw and send genitalia to each other, or race each other to fill the entire chatbox with black ink. But then the not-much-anticipated Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection launched, or rather it didn’t launch, because it was about as much use as a traffic light to a cyclist and was widely derided at the time. The Nintendo WFC brand was quietly retired at some stage, and nobody even cared enough to rejoice.

At the early time of the DS and the Wii online, I didn’t have wireless internet – merely wired broadband. Can you imagine that one now? I couldn’t very well plug my DS into the desktop computer, but I ought not to have worried because Nintendo released a dongle for wireless play purposes, the attractively titled Nintendo Wi-Fi USB Connector.

The word dongle is dreadful in of itself, but also because nothing called a dongle in the history of all mankind has ever worked correctly. It might as well be called a doohickey or a gizmo, because it has about the same success rate. It crucially meant I couldn’t play Tetris DS online against Japanese gods, not until we got wireless internet. And this made me very sad indeed.

So we know that Nintendo’s online policy is rubbish anyway, and that’s before we even get to Friend Codes and lack of voice-chat. You have to love Friend Codes, really – because Nintendo don’t want PUSSY_DETROYER69 griefing other players on Mario Kart online, you’ve got to exchange phone numbers instead to add each other.

You will feel patently ridiculous trading Friend Codes with even your best friends. And when you do, you’ll find that you can’t even speak to them during the game anyway. No voice chat, of any kind, and that’s held true from the Wii right through to the Switch. I do vaguely recall being able to speak with friends between rounds of Smash Bros Wii U online, but come on. They now want you to download a separate app for your phone and speak through that instead, rather than having native microphone and chat support.

Any reason at all for that, guys? Why wouldn’t I just use Whatsapp instead? Which I’ve had to do before for Mario Kart and Splatoon 2. Nintendo did release a ridiculously cumbersome peripheral called the Wii Speak, for use with  Animal Crossing and seemingly no other game ever. Other than this, they seem allergic to the idea that players might actually speak to each other, in case some 6-year-old Japanese boy hears a random Spanish curse word. Why go the long way around like this all the time?

Now, with all of this chequered history in your mind, consider this – Nintendo now want to start charging for this abuse. It is 20 quid a year, which is paltry, but that’s not the point. I don’t mind paying 60 notes for PS Plus, because over a full year that’s next to nothing either. I almost never play games online, maybe an occasional race on F1 where I’m decapitated at Turn 1 anyway, but that’s all. There’s also the free PS Plus games which are wonderful to get, but I don’t play them either. I think I probably just pay it because I think there’s value in it. And you don’t have to be some marketing master to recognise that consumers will always pay where they feel there’s value.

But I’m struggling to see where this value might be. It seems that Nintendo’s online plan, still shrouded in mystery, is merely going to be a continuation of the threadbare service we’re getting for free currently. The three apparent selling points, or two really when you consider that one of them is the online play that we’re already getting (just about), is cloud-saves and a NES game streaming service.

However many bags of money Nintendo made from the previous Virtual Consoles are now seemingly unnecessary. The whole service appears to have been scrubbed, and now it’s back to the NES. By signing up to Switch online, you can bag yourself the likes of Super Mario Bros 3. A great game, of course, but you’ve got to be joking me. Everyone in the world has SMB3, or some way of playing it. It is not a selling point, and nor are the other 19 NES games, 10 of which we still don’t know but you can bet your life one of them will be Urban Champion.

I love retro gaming, but the idea of having Balloon Fight on my Switch doesn’t appeal, to say the least. And if it doesn’t appeal to me, just who do they think they can sell on the deal with that? Anyone with an interest in the NES would have bagged themselves a NES Classic, and then regretted it shortly after when they realise that only about 6 NES games hold up. So that’s out.

Next up is cloud-saves. Nintendo’s decision to forbid players from backing up their own saves is draconian, and now it emerges that Splatoon 2, alongside Pokémon and others, still won’t allow you to cloud-save anyway. And, of course, in Splatoon 2 another horrendous decision was made in tying your online rank with your save file.

So leave your Switch on the subway and your 800 hours of progress in the game is wiped and you’re back to being a Level 1 scrub. You’ll pay twenty lids for that, need I remind you. It won’t even matter so much because, as anyone who bought Mario Tennis Aces can testify, Nintendo don’t really go in for any kind of matchmaking either.

What is strangely unprecedented is that Nintendo seem almost apologetic about the state of their upcoming online campaign, or at least that’s what I garner from the way they’ve been so cryptic and non-forthcoming with details. We know it will release this month, and smart money says it’ll be a disaster. But perhaps my mockery should give way to sympathy, because Splatoon 2 is certainly going to be affected negatively here. There is a perfunctory 1-player mode in the game, not especially compelling but decent as a kind of tutorial. It’s the online play that everyone’s here for. But will the majority of them still be there next month? One has to wonder.

The goal of Splatoon 2 is to cover more territory in your colour ink than the opposition team does. There are other modes, like Capture the Crustacean and King of the Marine-Biologists (or something like that), but it’s all about covering enemy turf with your own discharge. So you’re really spending more time shooting the walls and floors than shooting the enemy, which means even your dual-analog-fearing girlfriend can play. Actually, to double down on this casual sexism, girls do seem to lap up Splatoon 2. But twenty quid can buy you a lot of wine, you know?

You play as an Inkling, a sort of urban grime artist slash squid creature, who carries ink-based weaponry and has the ability to transform into a squid and swim quickly through your own coloured ink to quickly get around the battlefield. The maps you’ll be battling on change every so often, but there’s only ever two in rotation at any given time, which is naff.

Each match is a three-minute ink armageddon, where you just have to hope the three pilchards on your team aren’t too predictably stupid. Or worse, that they aren’t whatever the Switch equivalent of AFK is. This happens too many times and naturally it’s absolutely infuriating each time. Get a proper game going though, and it’s fun, and hectic, but ultimately a bit too repetitive for me.

And so we may soon be mourning the loss of Splatoon 2. Certainly it’s a game that looks to be on borrowed time, destined to be a defenceless victim of the Nintendo online suicide-fest. Perhaps Splatoon 3 will achieve Nintendo’s dream by just pitting you against the AIs with randomly generated human-sounding names, with the game just pretending you’re online. And then Splatoon 4 can brand all players as dangerous paedophiles until they can prove otherwise. Splatoon 5 might only allow you to play against Nintendo employees, for your own safety. And Splatoon 6 forces you to get into a protective bubble before you can play.

13 September 2018

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