Game Ramblings #162 – Splatoon 3’s Single Player

More Info from Nintendo

  • Genre: Third-person shooter
  • Platform: Switch

Splatoon 3 sits in a weird spot. It’s far more involved than the base single player of Splatoon 2 thanks to it taking advantage of the sort of Portal chamber setup from the Octo expansion. However, it’s not nearly as inventive as that was. Because of that it’s simultaneously a lot of fun but also predictable, so I’m not entirely sure what to make of it.

It’s easy to get drawn into a game when it’s this stylish, and that’s always been a mark for the series. They get a ton of mileage out of bright colors, the cool painting mechanic, and a great soundtrack. However, that’s all stuff that we knew we were going to get. The Octo expansion for Splatoon 2 showed a certain level of play that the series really benefited from in a single player setting. Having a level where you play Breakout is unexpected. Having a level where you are pushing a ball around a maze is cool. It felt like it was taking the playful aspects of the shrines from Breath of the Wild and putting them into a shooter.

Splatoon 3 has the same meta game aspect as that, but it feels like it leaned too hard into the shooter aspects. The levels are almost entirely one of two things – physics platform puzzles around your ink jumps or straight up combat segments. The handful of times that it leans into something a bit more playful, it often feels like it’s just replaying ideas from Octo. It’s not that the mechanics are bad, because honestly the levels are a ton of fun in isolation. However, it’s disappointing. We already knew the mechanics would be solid, and we already knew how they work because this is the third game. It didn’t need to lean into reteaching that core.

The boss fights end up being the real highlight of the single player as a result. Some of them are purely combat focused, but really play well into mixing ink movement and accurate firing. The one above is a standout, not because it’s original, but because it is a 100% riff on the same manta ray ink fight from Super Mario Sunshine. Ya, it leans way harder and leans way more unforgiving, but it was fun to see something so obvious being done to great effect. The final boss just ends up being a complete spectacle. It’s got multiple phases, some ridiculous robot fighting, and all the story spectacle of something that belongs as a game ender.

It was also nice to see some more lore. The previous games have fed some aspects of this being a post-human post-apocalypse world, but seeing the full scope of how the world got into its current state and how the inklings came to exist was a nice little bonus.

In the end though, I was just wanting more. I’m not necessarily looking for something open world or more traditional third-person shooter, because I’m not convinced that it would bring anything beneficial to the gameplay. Splatoon as a multiplayer experience is such a specifically crafted core gameplay that I don’t think translates to a larger experience. What I wanted was just more creativity in making interesting puzzle chambers. The thing that they benefited from with Octo was being able to just do silly things because they were crafting 2-3 minute long isolated experiences. This just felt like it leaned too safe, despite the quality of what is there.

Game Ramblings #106 – Splatoon 2 Single Player + Octo Expansion

More Info from Nintendo

  • Genre: Third-person shooter
  • Platform: Switch

I really enjoyed the original Splatoon, despite the fact that I was tragically bad at it in multiplayer. However, the thing that surprised me was how solid the single player experience was for a game where that was clearly not the focus. Some of that may have just been how fresh it was to play what is a third-person shooter in a very new way, but it really left a mark. For Splatoon 2, the initial single player was more of the same. While it was fun, it was a bit disappointing…..until I played the Octo expansion, which was an entirely ambitious push of single player content that I wasn’t expecting.

Mechanically speaking, this is still a fantastic game. This is one of the best shooter experiences I’ve had on console, thanks to it intelligently using motion controls to improve aim, rather than feeling ham fisted. It’s got your typical twin stick movement and aiming, but then you do little tilts of your controller for finessed aiming, and it all just clicks. Large motions go on the right stick, and kills come out of motion, and it’s as effective as any aim assists I’ve ever seen out of more traditional shooters.

The base single player is a pretty by the numbers copy of the original game. You’ve got a handful of worlds where you go through a series of puzzles and light AI combat levels, capped with a boss fight. What it ends up being is basically a tutorial for the core gameplay to lead you into the multiplayer. From that perspective, it’s super solid. From the perspective of a returning player, it’s repetitive. I’ve seen this content before, down to some of the bosses returning with only light mechanical changes. It was nice to see them pushing the lore of the series a bit, but it didn’t feel like something I needed to play again.

That feeling changed when I started the Octo expansion.

From a very high level, the Octo expansion is basically Portal. Like the screenshot above says, you’re literally doing a bunch of test chambers to prove your skill. After you pass through that section, you end up in a fairly linear sequence of levels to escape the facility. If that sounds familiar, it’s definitely intentional.

At its core, the thing that makes the Octo expansion work is the sheer amount of variety to play with. Each test chamber has its own little gameplay tweak to play with. Some levels are straightforward puzzles to get to the end of the level. Sometimes they get a bit cheeky and give you limited amounts of paint to use. Sometimes they force you into stealth segments. Sometimes they don’t give you any weapons at all, and make you traverse intelligently through.

However, it’s when things go off the rails that it’s really fun. There’s levels like the one above where you’re literally playing Breakout with paint. There’s some levels where you’ve got to push a giant billiard ball around the world without knocking it off the level. There’s some levels where you gain a jetpack instead of using the paint to traverse around. There’s even a level where you play Picross 3D to create a box fort shaped like a dog.

It’s the variety and jumps between traditional and fun levels that really give the expansion a really great pace. You’ll do something normal for a bit or hit a really high tension combat level, then be given a breather level to bring down your heart rate. You’ll go from using the typical shooter mechanics to using your paint gun to play tic-tac-toe. It’s all bite sized chunks that are the right length to want you to keep playing just one more level, until suddenly you’re 30 levels in and hours have accidentally gone by.

This is all capped by a fantastic escape sequence that culminates in a boss battle against the giant human statue above, combining all the skills you’ve learned in the single player game into a super intense and super fun sequence filled with platforming and firing.

The whole of the Octo expansion shows a level of creativity that is so typical of Nintendo, and yet was not present in the Splatoon series up to this point. The two games were both fantastically well crafted, but distinctly multiplayer-focused. What the expansion has done is shown that there’s a lot of room for this series to also have a single player tilt. Ya they’re sort of being tongue-in-cheek in riffing on the overarching Portal pattern, but there is so much more content here than that game brought to the table. At its core, Splatoon is an easy recommendation for me anyway just to experience what that multiplayer is like. However, with what I’ve played here, I think it may be worth getting Splatoon 2 + Octo expansion just for the single player experience alone.

Game Ramblings #37 – Mass Effect: Andromeda

More Info from EA

  • Genre: ARPG/Third Person Shooter
  • Platform: PS4
  • Also Available On: PC (Origin), Xbox One

I’ll be the first to admit that I thought the original Mass Effect trilogy was not as good as most people thought it was.  While I definitely enjoyed the games, they always struck me as being solid, but not overwhelmingly good ARPGs.  Their combat was always the high point for me, but I never considered it up there with the quality of a typical Bioware title, let alone even being their best sci-fi series.  With that being said, you can expect that I came into this with a lot lower expectations than a lot of the general internet public, and I suspect my impressions of Andromeda will also follow that.

It’s somewhat appropriate that this is the first Mass Effect that the newer Montreal team is working on, as in a lot of ways, this game follows a similar pattern to the original Mass Effect.  It’s very distinctly a start to something bigger that will be established in future titles.  The story starts to establish a lot of starting threads, but only hints at the larger problems that future games will definitely establish.  The gameplay has also leaned back toward the original, with a lot more emphasis on exploration of open environments while travelling around in a vehicle, rather than the more structured linear levels that the later games started to head towards.  At the same time, it shows a lot of rough edges like the original that I can only assume will be worked out as the team gets their feet under them on titles of such large scope.  So, in the end is the game actually good?

The core combat is definitely a high point here.  The core of the combat is still there from the original trilogy, with the core third-person shooter elements backed up by the use of biotic and tech-based powers.  Like the originals, the skills are earned and powered up via skill points given when leveling up.  Where I think things start to depart is that the Montreal team has leaned even heavier into the action elements that the first game sometimes had a tendency to avoid.

There’s no longer options at all to pause and aim mid-combat, so there is significantly less time spent in menus queuing up skills.  These are now loaded into profiles that can be hot-swapped, allowing you to setup a number of preset configurations based on what style of loadout you need.  It also felt like there was a much larger emphasis on dodge and cover mechanics, with enemies flanking me within encounters, leading me to jump between cover on the fly as I was picking off enemy targets.

Especially important is that the guns feel fantastic.   The weapons I used felt like they were appropriately powerful, with steady but manageable amounts of recoil, stat-modifiable accuracy, and obvious power.  I largely did a soldier main-class build, so most of my upgrades were in supporting weapon damage and my own defense stats, so my main emphasis wasn’t on heavy use of skills, but in finding weapons that I was able to quickly and efficiently remove targets from the encounters.  While I ended up finding a handful of favorite weapon types that I was most comfortable with, each weapon category had a large variety of individual types.  For example, assault rifles had anything from high rate of fire pray and spray weapons, to small magazine burst fire, to single-shot pseudo rifles.  This variety extended through the other types as well, so I’d imagine it would be hard to not find some weapons you like, whether you want to use sniper rifles to pick off enemies from a distance, or shotguns to get up close for big damage.  Also worth noting is that you can hybridize a lot of weapons through mods, adding anything from scopes to stabilizers to bring aspects of your favorites to other weapons.

Where things really started to lose their shine was when I was out of combat.  While the core lore surrounding the Andromeda galaxy was interesting, the individual character interactions ranged from simply being decent to being downright bad.  The voice acting in general was all over the place, with a lot of the larger moments accentuated by lifeless voiceovers.  It’s also worth noting that the larger internet complaints about the facial animations are pretty accurate.  I’m not going to fault the team that much for going with a more procedural-based animation system given the scope of the game, but it’s pretty clear the system could have used some more time cooking.  It also didn’t help them that Frostbite games in general have never handled facial animation that well (seriously, take a look at Mirror’s Edge Catalyst), and you can really see the weakness of the engine in trying to handle heavily story-based content.

The lack of polish also extends to the UI.  There’s a number of places where the UI flow just did not work well at all.  Crafting was generally a chore, having to first learn recipes, then back out to a different screen to craft them.  Comparing items within the inventory was a crap shoot at best.  The scanning of worlds within the galaxy map was an extremely slow process, despite the inclusion of a cutscene skip button within the last patch.  This is on top of the fact that pretty much any of the game’s soft locks that I ran into happened because the UI would get into a bad state and block input into other areas.  I’ve heard from more than one developer that this is not an uncommon problem with Frostbite, so again this goes back to an unfortunate situation where the engine seems to not really be ready for this kind of large scale single-player experience.

In the end my opinion of Andromeda is really not much different than my opinion of the original trilogy.  Without a doubt this game has some rough edges, and definitely should have had another 3-6 months to clean some things up.  That said, I absolutely enjoyed the experience, and got 50 hours out of it before hitting the end of the game.  If there’s anything that I think is unfortunate about the situation, it’s that the team was probably stuck between a rock and a hard place here.  EA very likely mandated release in March to beat the end of their fiscal year.  They also definitely mandated the use of Frostbite 3 over UE3 or UE4, so there was a complete loss of knowledge of the toolset used to make the original trilogy.

Hopefully by the time Andromeda 2 comes out, development will be a bit cleaner, but at least for now we’re starting off in a place where things can grow into something great.  If nothing else, they can lean on the combat systems they’ve built and go from there.