Splatoon: Splatfest and Tower Control Impressions

Night falls on Inkopolis. Fireworks explode in the sky. Lights shine across the tower. Inklings dance in the plaza donning their team shirt with a festival wristband. Callie and Marie – the loveable Squid Sisters – move out of their newsroom and onto the trailer stages, singing and performing a dance routine simple enough to get players dancing along if they feel up to it. I don’t want to sound arrogant but I think I’ll impress some friends at my next party with my Splatfest moves.

Following an unfortunate delay, the Splatfest finally came to Europe and America this weekend. This has come shortly after the introduction of a brand new Ranked Battle mode called Tower Control, and I’ll be discussing my thoughts on both of them here.

I have less to say about Tower Control so I’ll start with that. In my opinion, Tower Control is the most intense mode we’ve seen so far. Teammates frantically fight for control over a small tower, and doing so will push the tower towards the end goal in the opponent’s base. Anyone positioned on the tower is dangerously exposed even if hiding in the ink; there’s only one place that an Inkling can be if the tower is advancing. You’re likely to see some ridiculously high splat counts in this mode too, as Inklings constantly get taken out around the tower.

The team that advances the tower to the end goal first – or reaches the furthest point in the time given – is the winner. Like any mode in Splatoon, Tower Control battles can turn on their head very quickly. Even if one team has almost reached the finish line they can suffer a total wipe out, giving the opposing team opportunity to gain further yardage the other side. In one of my most memorable matches, the opponents were stopped a single point before the finishing post. As the game went to sudden death, we were able to survive our control over the tower and advance enough to hit the end goal. Tower Control is a thrilling mode that has never felt quite as frustrating as Splat Zones. This may be because there are simply so many fights and tussles for control that it becomes almost laughable.

splatoon-tower-controlLike Splat Zones, more sub weapons and special weapons find their niche. I never considered Spray Walls to be that useful, but placing one ahead of you can be crucial in either surviving your time on the tower, or wrestling control from the other team. The Killer Wail also becomes a revitalised game-changer, as numerous choke points on a stage can allow the user to devastate the opposing team amidst the chaos.

Tower Control is an exhilarating mode that sits perfectly in the competitive Ranked Battles. Having said that I am now concerned that Splatoon’s method of rotating modes and stages will soon have a negative effect. Players are going to have preferred Ranked modes and may not be able to play when these modes are in rotation. What I think should be considered now is offering non-ranked variants of Tower Control and Splat Zones, but that’s up to the team at Nintendo and I can’t say that I’m aware of any potential technical issues surrounding it.

Moving on to the Splat-festivities, this marked the first time that the plaza and stages have been given a different aesthetic to the usual daylight visuals. A catchy pop tune by the Squid Sisters played in the plaza as they performed, and there was a special Splatfest track during the matches. The final minute music was replaced with a version featuring Callie and Marie too. Completing the musical makeover was the intro that kicks off each match. Rather than drums and a rocking power chord, my ears were treated to what sounded like the start of an epic dance tune. There was only one track that played during the matches, as opposed to the possible five that play during regular play. Playing so many matches, the track was certainly worn by the time the Splatfest was over.

The other online game modes were locked out during the event, so it was either Splatfest or nothing. The three stages on offer looked beautiful with their night-time visuals, and the fluorescent ink did a wonderful job of complementing them. The ink seemed to have an even glossier texture, particularly on the results screen where it sparkled with glitter.Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 22.26.02

As gorgeous as the stages looked, there was no stage rotation for the entirety of the event. This was disappointing considering all current stages have a Splatfest version available. Even one stage rotation at the halfway point would have appeased my negative thoughts on this, but we were stuck with the same three stages for the whole event.

The plaza was scattered with Miiverse posts displayed on flashy boards and signs, showing support for one of the two teams. There is an impressive, towering stack of flags at the back of the plaza, with a Miiverse posts appearing on larger billboards attached to Inkopolis Tower. The posts appear on signs within the stages themselves too. The developers clearly made great efforts to ensure the Splatfest experience was authentic, and it’s safe to say that I was immersed and hyped during the festival.

All players were free to vote between the two sides, but this did lead to a few issues with matchmaking due to its very design. I chose Team Rock, which ended up being the most popular choice. For every smooth-running game I had against an opposing team I could count another that pitted me against either an incomplete team, or another team representing the same side. Presumably this was a countermeasure to compensate for one-sided team voting; it means that everyone is still playing matches, even if the result won’t count towards the final score. There were several matches I played where the teams were uneven, typically with only three players on Team Pop. At one point I had a game where I was on my own against four other Rock representatives. It didn’t end well for me.

This meant that many Team Rock matches counted for nothing but the players involved still earned points towards their ‘Splatfest title’, which functions as a separate level-up system exclusively for Splatfest battles. I did appreciate this feature, as it helped motivate me to keep playing and increase my rank. Doing so increased my reward at the end of the Splatfest; the better your Splatfest title, the more Super Sea Snails you earn. I must say that achieving the rank of “Eternal Rock Girl” felt very satisfying.

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 22.41.45I was a big fan of how the team rotation worked, and would love to see it implemented outside the Splatfest. The game kept players in the same team after a match ended, but found a different opposing team every time. Despite not being able to chat to teammates I felt a grand sense of camaraderie as I stuck with the same players for multiple games.

Using the pre-set messages of “Nice!” and “To me!” became common; a noticeable usage would come at the end of a hard-fought game, where our entire team shouted “Nice!” just before the clock counted to zero and we won. I also recall having fun with a teammate on the crates in the middle of Walleye Warehouse; with the game decidedly over thanks to poor balancing, we danced together by hopping back and forth across the crates, gracefully diving into the ink in our squid forms. I like to think that this is how the Inklings flirt.

Twenty-four hours passed and it was time to announce the results. I assumed that the Splatfest would be decided by win percentage alone, but to my surprise it also took popularity into account. Team Rock had the immediate advantage thanks to a vastly superior percentage of votes. The win percentage counted for double points towards the final score, although Team Rock won the majority of matches too so it was a decisive victory. In the European Splatfest there couldn’t be any doubt on the winner but over in America, the team that won more matches had less votes so they still lost. It’s curious that Nintendo factored popularity in the final score so that it wouldn’t be based on performance alone, and it’s certainly been a polarising decision.

Splatoon Screen Shot 05:07:2015 19.01

Splatfest had some issues thanks to its design, but it was a highly entertaining event that gave me reason to get excited about playing Splatoon again. I was happy with the 24-hour length, and it allowed for more players to get some playing time in when they were available. It became tedious at times due to the lack of map rotation, the single Splatfest song, and the matchmaking woes. I’m hoping to see some variation in the next event, especially if the other online modes are going to be locked.

A more evenly split choice of teams would be appreciated too for balance purposes, but I suppose that’s difficult for Nintendo to predict. Maybe they should let us choose between ‘Popularity’ and ‘Performance’.

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