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Nintendo seems to think that everyone has been doing multiplayer wrong for years. Everyone. Usernames are dumb. Bluetooth headsets are clunky. Voice chat is a fad. Among other things, it seems like they are intent on reinventing the wheel, along with fire, water mills and most other human technologies. This is not entirely without precedent; this is Japan we’re talking about.

With their latest venture, Nintendo had a shiny new CEO in place and sounded eager to shrug off its outdated habits. Many fans hoped for a brighter (or at least more up-to-date) future of modern multiplayer and OS design.

Many of those hopeful fans were betrayed, or at best ignored.

From the start, things were a bit off. While many hoped that the company would finally enter the current decade and embrace usernames, their hopes were dashed when it was revealed that the Switch would still use friend codes. This alone is embarrassing enough, but then again this is also the same company that applied its addiction to friend codes to an actual game.

But at the same time, this goes against the grain. Nintendo has prided itself on being a company that promotes social gaming; ostensibly this was a driving force behind the development of its “XL” handhelds, and was a prominent element of the marketing campaign for the Switch. Yet they also implement arcane and overcomplicated ways of socializing in their games and services.

Notably, in Miitomo (Nintendo’s re-version of Sony’s Playstation Home environment), there are four methods of adding new friends: find them by scouring your friend lists on social platforms such as Twitter or Facebook, bring your phones into physical proximity, invite them via email or text, or add someone who is a friend of a friend. There is no way to simply search for a person and then add them, like every other social platform in existence allows you to do. No, Nintendo has to build their own drum, write their own beat, and march to it in their own strange way.

But now the humiliation has extended to their latest multiplayer franchise, Splatoon. The new Switch features 4v4 online matches, local matches (either with one unit shared via split-screen or multiple units communicating wirelessly!), and offline play, including co-op on the side.

But therein lies the first caveat. The co-op isn’t just a normal line item on the game’s menu, like every other game ever concieved. No, sir, it’s part of the game’s online map rotation. Players don’t simply vote for the next map to be played, nor is it determined randomly. Maps are on a fixed rotation–only two maps available for play at a given time, cycling every four hours. If you don’t play well on the two maps currently active, you’re just screwed.

But wait, there’s more! Co-op isn’t just a mode, it’s a map! This means that if people want to play co-op online, they have to wait to play it at specific times of the day! Right now you might be saying, “Wow, that’s just Nintendo giving everyone a giant middle finger,” but no, there’s still more to come.

The real piece de resistance here is the hardware.

See, Nintendo thinks that wireless chat headsets are dumb. Who really wants to use those, anyway? And voice chat, on the system you’re playing on? That never works, it’s too unreliable. Microsoft and Sony have just been chasing their tails for the past 15 years, with no success. But Nintendo knows exactly what to do.

What you do is, you roll out a voice chat app for smartphones. On its face, this isn’t too bad, it just feels quirky and odd. On the one hand, separating voice chat from the game itself has its advantages. But there is something more lurking beneath the surface, because next you have to consider: what if I want game audio and voice chat at the same time?

Nintendo’s got you fam. All you have to do is sit there with your Switch in your hands and your phone on the seat next to you, with this damn goofy looking adapter somewhere between them. You could put your phone in your pocket–that’s not entirely an unreasonable demand–except you might accidentally input a command or something, because the screen must remain on, with the app in the foreground, or it drops the call. What’s that? Battery life? Just plug in one of those big external batteries for that. Problem solved. You need to check a text or look up a guide real quick? Just have another phone handy. Simple!

Yeah, now this is just bullshit. It might actually just be Nintendo trolling people, or being ironic. I don’t know, but it’s definitely bullshit. There’s a good deal of overlap between these categories. Personally I don’t give a shit about voice chat–if I make use of voice chat while gaming, it’s going to be with friends, via an external app I can control independently, rather than with 12-year-old edgelords who claim to have slept with my mother and think I’m entirely incapable of playing the game in the singular manner they have determined is correct.

I suppose next Nintendo will announce that wifi is too difficult to implement, and release a little modem/router you have to carry with you everywhere that will just siphon power off your smartphone.

Here’s hoping they don’t read this.

perfect silence

He's actually just pumped about a new Potbelly opening nearby.

Horizons are broadening. Nintendo’s newest and most original IP in a long time, Splatoon has been looking quite impressive for something that failed to get the attention of Miyamoto the first time around. Impressions have been almost universally enthusiastic since its first public display, and the gaming world can hardly contain itself long enough to wait for its release just over a month from now. It could well be instrumental in turning around the Wii U’s fortunes.

It’s not quite perfect, though. Splatoon is missing a feature that is key to games these days, something that many people can’t imagine a game not supporting: voice chat. To many, this is simply unimaginable. How can you play an online team-based third person shooter with no way of live, direct communcation with the other members of your team? The simple answer is the internet sucks. But it’s more complicated than that.
Actually, it’s not. The internet is not known as a haven for rational, well-articulated debate, and the gaming community even less so. Playing online games is often an exercise in self-restraint, and more often than not involves use of ignore lists and offline modes to maintain a buffer against the tide of verbal excrement that constantly flows in. In almost any given online match, the majority of the participants do not have a microphone active, or have incoming voice chat muted–often, if it’s one of those, it’s both. People just do not want to interact verbally online, for the most part.
And it’s not because gamers are antisocial. It’s because gamers are assholes to each other. If they’re not raging over their most recent death streak, they’re lording over everyone else and putting all their extra character points into Hubris. Things are spoken (and screamed) over game chat channels that are often reserved for the most bigoted of rallies. And when people try to break the cycle, it only gets worse. Some games don’t have voice chat at all, and probably wouldn’t benefit from it. For many, talking to strangers on the internet is like opening a gate in a dam holding back an entire lake of fecal waste: you can do it, and you can even probably avoid getting covered in shit, but chances are you’ll be looking for a change of clothes regardless.
Nintendo is hoping to avoid the issue entirely by eschewing voice chat. In the past, they have replaced this with a simplistic interface meant to encourage positive interaction and keep focus on the game. I didn’t mind this, because I would rather play (and rage) in my own solitude than subject others to the siren call of my frustration, or subject myself to others’ frustration. I extensively played Black Ops 2 online via my Wii U and never once used voice chat. And I didn’t miss it.
Don’t misunderstand–This is also a result of some of the more inane limitations of the Wii U. Unlike with its competitors, the system has no support whatsoever for a wireless headset. If one really wants to engage in this sort of thing, there are only two possible methods: use one of an elite few USB headsets that work, or use a 3.5mm headset wired directly into…the gamepad. This is only possible with the gamepad, as the Wii U Pro Controller does not have a 3.5mm connector. It’s not nearly as asinine as some past solutions, but it’s definitely not going to motivate any “core” gamers to switch to Nintendo’s console for their gaming needs.
Then again, does anyone out there really, seriously want to LISTEN TO THIS?