Splatoon Lore is Best Lore

Thanks to the recent Haikalive Kyoto Mix concert for Splatoon, I’ve had kids and squids on the mind lately. As I listen to music from Squid Sisters and Off the Hook while reading fan wiki entries about the Splatoon world, I find myself appreciating its lore more and more. It’s just robust enough to foster imagination but the games and their story are not beholden to it in any major way.

One of my favorite examples of Splatoon lore details is Marina, the DJ from Off the Hook, and what we learn about her music in the Octo Expansion. First, why is she a DJ? The likely answer is because she’s an Octarian. As a member of the ostensibly antagonistic species of Splatoon, her upbringing is both implied and outright stated to be different from the squids. Not only is the Octarian leader a DJ whose music plays throughout their territory, but Marina herself was an engineering prodigy from a young age.

In the backstory to Splatoon, it’s shown that octopuses are more technologically advanced than the squids. The reason why they lost the war is simply due to happenstance—someone accidentally unplugged their greatest weapons. Marina comes from the environment, where she helped develop weapons. Pearl even mentions that Marina is responsible for the Shifty Station stages during Splatfests, all of which utilize Octarian technology. So not only is the most prominent musician of Marina’s culture a DJ, but the technical know-how of turntables, synthesizers, and the like would come easily to her.

Furthermore, when you talk to Marie from the Squid Sisters in singleplayer mode, she mentions that she doesn’t understand how Marina makes music just by spinning some plastic plates—one of many indicators that squids are generally not tech-savvy. There’s even a moment during Haikalive Kyoto Mix where Marie looks at Marina scratching vinyl with confusion and amazement. The very idea of being a DJ seems foreign to squids by default, to the extent that the only other known DJ besides Octavio and Marina is a fellow octopus in Dedf1sh.

What ultimately made Marina defect from the Octarians is hearing the Squid Sisters’ “Calimari Inkantation.” Whether the song actually has magical properties or if it’s a Macross-style culture shock, Marina expresses the feeling that this new music changed her life and her direction.

In one of the chatroom logs in the Octo Expansion, Pearl and Marina share their song demos from before they made it big. Marina’s is an early rendition of “Ebb and Flow,” the song that plays during Shifty Station matches. It’s recognizable even in early form, but there are aspects of this version that hint at Marina’s Octarian origins—especially the jingle that plays when you beat a stage in singleplayer. In other words, “Ebb and Flow” likely began as an attempt by Marina to make something similar to the Squid Sisters while also working from her own cultural background, a fusion of squid and octopus styles.

Marina occupies a space where two cultures, squid and octopus, intermingle. Her role as this immigrant of sorts who expresses her history and her desired future comes across in little moments and details. It’s in the dialogue, it’s in the music, and it’s in the little gaps where imagination dwells. It’s that approach which makes Splatoon lore so fascinating, but just light enough a touch that it doesn’t obscure the other great aspects about the game.

 

Splatoon Live Concerts and the Expression of Character in Performance

Nintendo Live 2019 in Kyoto featured two nights of Splatoon concerts with holograms of the Squid Sisters and Off the Hook performing onstage. It’s not the first time both pairs have been together, but watching this event made me really appreciate the care put into expressing the individual differences between the characters in accordance with their musical styles.

 

Off the Hook and Squid Sisters (or Tentacles and Sea o’ Colors in Japanese) are very different groups. Pearl as MC and Marina as DJ have very distinct roles in Off the Hook such that their movements are heavily contrasted with each other. Pearl is fiery and aggressive while Marina is laid-back and soulful, and everything about them screams hip hop, which traditionally has liked to draw a sharp distinction between its musicians. There’s really no confusing the Pearl and Marina, and their performances put a bright spotlight on their individuality.

 

Squid Sisters, however, are more akin to a Japanese idol group, and so their performances are more synchronized and feel more choreographed. At the same time, every so often, you’d see a subtle difference in movement—an extra bit of flourish from Callie or a more composed and precise gesture from Marie. It’s especially noticeable at times when both are cheering the audience on, and Callie is bouncing up and down as Marie’s feet stay firmly planted, such as in the video above. The differences between the two are relatively subtle as a result, and idol fans eat this sort of thing up.

Adding these small quirks to Callie and Marie is all the more impressive because a lot of fictional idol media don’t really bother to do the same. When watching an episode of Love Live! or Aikatsu!, there’s often pretty much no difference in performance if two or more characters are doing the same routine in the same song. We’re sometimes told that there’s a difference, but it’s not really shown.

From idols to hip hop and beyond, the musical acts of Splatoon are given presence and personality. This is taken into consideration even in the live concerts. It makes me wonder where a Splatoon 3 will go genre-wise, and I anticipate what Nintendo has in store.

Day 2 Full Concert

My Favorite Switch Games

Whether it’s me getting older or my priorities shifting, I don’t play quite as many video games as I used to. So when I’m asked by Johnny, a Patreon sponsor, about what my favorite Nintendo Switch games are, I actually don’t have a lot to choose from. The other side of this is that I’ve played the few games I do own fairly extensively, speaking to their longevity.

The first game I have to mention is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The single-player story mode, World of Light, drags a little at the start, but by the time I reached the endgame, I fell in love with it. The multiplayer successfully finds a balance between the pace of Melee and the desire to make even more complex areas of the game accessible. With all of the new characters announced and the clear love and care that goes into them, Smash in a way transcends the act of gaming itself and enters a realm of shared memory, interacting with nostalgia and the thrill of discovery (learning about new characters you never knew about) to become a phenomenon.

Splatoon 2 is pretty much what I expected—a refinement of the first Splatoon—and it makes for a fun and diverse game where I’m eager to try out whatever the game tosses at me. The simple idea of weapons that both attack and claim territory makes Splatoon as a whole always refreshing, and the weakening of the special moves to put more emphasis on the basics is smart. I recently beat the single-player mode as well as the Octo Expansion DLC, and it provided some of the most engaging (but also frustrating) boss battles ever.

The last game I want to mention is Super Robot Wars T, the first SRW game for the Switch. It’s not especially different from previous entries that I’ve played, but the thrill of seeing my favorite characters from anime working together, as well as the challenge provided as the story grows on a cosmic scale, makes it hard to get tired of. Having Magic Knight Rayearth in an SRW game is like a dream come true, and I’m hyped that they’re actually bringing SRW V and SRW X to the Switch as well. Who knows? I might end up liking this more.

I’ve been thinking that it’s time for me to play more Switch games, and this might be the impetus for me to do so. I wonder if this list would change in any major way in a year’s time.

Splaket 11 + Popket Rebroadcast Double Doujin Event Report

On my recent trip to Japan, I had the opportunity to visit not one but two doujin events at the same venue: the Splatoon-themed Splaket 11 and the Pop Team Epic-themed Popket Rebroadcast. Both were held at Ota City Industrial Plaza PiO, which is the same venue as the Love Live! event I attended two years prior.

Splaket

Splaket wasn’t overwhelmingly large by any means, but it did get plenty of foot traffic. I actually saw a few parents bringing their young, Splatoon-loving kids there. I like to imagine they were otaku parents introducing their kids, but Splatoon is big enough a series that I’m not sure that’s guaranteed.

What stood out to me most, however, were the ways artists and creators of these doujin works transformed the Splatoon concept to fit their needs. It’s like the world established by the games is just detailed enough to girl the imagination and just open enough to let that same imagination fill in the blanks. I saw detailed weapons catalogs, fashion guides, BL, yuri, straight romance, Callie and Marie, Marina and Pearl, and everything in between. It made me feel what an astounding success Splatoon is in terms of visual aesthetic and design.

Popket

The first thing I saw upon reaching Popket was the event catalog—a standard of doujim events. However, when I tried to pay for it, it turned out that the ¥333 price tag meant exactly that amount. It’s based on a Pop Team Epic joke about how animators make only ¥3,330,000 (approximately $33,000 USD) in spite of the grueling labor required. if you wanted them to keep the change, they wouldn’t let you! It was free to enter, but if you wanted that extra item, you had to come prepared.

Given that Pop Team Epic actually had a fair amount of mainstream penetration in Japan, I was expecting a fairly large event, but it was actually significantly smaller than Splaket. I’m not sure why this was the case, but I wonder if it was a combination of factors, like scheduling and Pop Team Epic being a difficult series to parody for the purposes of doujinshi.

The goals of fan works are many, but two are taking the original property to new and curious places, and trying to faithfully extend it such that the characters remain familiar as they’re adventures continue. But Pop Team Epic defies nearly all expectations. How do you parody a work that practically parodies itself? How do you tell jokes on its level? It’s not easy.

What I saw from Popket was less parodying Pop Team Epic and more using it to parody other series. Rather than trying to put Popuko and Pipimu in new situations, the doujin creators mimicked the drawing style of the original artist, bkub, to spoof other works. It reminds me of that artist who keeps drawing parody doujinshi of various series in which all the characters look and act like they came from Fist of the North Star.

Overall

It was an afternoon well spent, and a good chance to connect with Japanese fans. As always, I wish there was more of a doujin culture in the US and elsewhere.

Smash Bros, Splatoon, and Casual vs. Competitive Online Communities

Super Smash Bros. creator Sakurai Masahiro has long frustrated the game series’ competitive community. A developer whose motivation is to bring in players daunted by the hardcore reputation that precedes fighting games, Sakurai is not against competition inherently, but places priority in ease of access and play for Smash Bros.

A common response from the competitive community is that Nintendo should fully embrace the competitive aspect of the series and push it to the forefront. The argument, generally, is that the competitive fans are more loyal, and it won’t affect the overall reputation of the games. Casual players will still approach it without tournament play, remaining blissfully ignorant. I think this is naive, or maybe even bullheaded.

It is true that any game that can act as a test of skill will inevitably lead to players who are better than others. And yes, Smash has proven itself to be viable for tournament play, despite what detractors say. The issue, however, is how having the series touted as a hardcore, competitive game influences the overall image of it, especially in an age when information proliferates so rapidly.

I love competitive Smash. I don’t play as much as I used to, but I still follow tournaments and keep up with discussion. When I go on the Smash subreddit, I find loads of valuable information on top players, tier list debates, upcoming tournaments, and more. More scarce, however, are posts about the casual side of the games: item shenanigans, stories of playing free-for-alls with friends, etc. While the subreddit is not devoid of less competition-oriented content, it does feel as if those posts get pushed down. I wouldn’t be surprised if more casually minded fans are afraid to post there.

In contrast, while Nintendo’s unorthodox shooter Splatoon has an active and robust competitive element to it, the Splatoon board on Reddit only has about 10% of posts devoted to tournaments and high-level play. While I sometimes wish there was more in-depth discussion of weapons and maps, it also means the outward reputation of Splatoon fandom is more light-hearted and focused on contributions like fanart, lore speculation, and general love of all things squiddy.

Neither subreddit’s approach is inherently better, but it’s clear to me that a game’s presentation and how its fans interpret that presentation into their own hobbyist displays has an affect on a game’s image. People who go to r/smashbros will think that fans mainly care about 1-on-1 competition, while those who visit r/splatoon will come away with the idea that its fans are less obsessed with wins and losses.

Both series see success in casual and competitive domains, but Smash is a case of the competitive reputation encroaching on the chance of casual community interaction a bit more. I believe this is what has long concerned Sakurai, and if he could achieve the casual/competitive balance of Splatoon, then he would.

The World is My Canvas, and Competition is my Art: Splatoon 2 Thoughts

The video game that has most occupied my attention lately is Splatoon 2. This comes as no personal surprise, seeing as I loved the hell out of the first one. The gameplay is mostly similar to its predecessor. The changes are mostly about quality of life. But even though both games are so similar, for some reason I find myself experimenting with the different weapons more in Splatoon 2.

My preferred weapon hasn’t changed since the first game: the N-Zap, modeled after the classic Zapper light gun from the NES. For me, t’s gone from a tool for Hunting Ducks to a jack-of-all trades tool whose relative lack of power can be made up for with smart movement and positioning. It’s also just accurate enough for me to effectively focus my fire, while still being forgiving enough to compensate for the fact that my aim is not that great. In Splatoon 2, the ability for it to quickly ink the ground synergizes well with the Ink Armor special, which temporarily lets the entire team take a few extra hits and survive. The N-Zap lets me support allies up close and from afar, and it fits like a glove. Finding the right weapon is just plain satisfying.

But much like characters in a good fighting game, the variety of weapons available, many quite different from each other, is part of the allure of Splatoon 2. Even if some weapons feel counterintuitive, there’s a certain thrill to trying to get into the right mindset for any given tool. When you’re using the Sloshing Machine, a bucket that launches spiraling volleys of ink, the focus is on using its overwhelming power and arching property to quickly kill, er, “splat” your opponent in unexpected places. Dualies are relatively short-range John Woo pistols that allow for unique evasive maneuvers. The Splat Brella is like a shotgun with as defensive shield, allowing players to pick off opponents while guarding allies.

Even weapons of the same class can be wildly different. The Dynamo Roller is the equivalent of trying to Falcon Punch everyone all the time, while the Carbon Roller focuses on mobility and turf coverage at the expense of battle strength. Sometimes using a different weapon means almost playing a different game, and every time I turn My Splatoon 2 on, I think, “Do I stick with the familiar, or try to transform my mind with another item?” Both ways are fun, doubly so when patches try to make everything worth using.

One of the major changes between Splatoon and Splatoon 2 is that the new special weapons–super moves, in other words–are significantly weaker. Where once they could flip a game upside down due to their sheer power, now they influence games in subtler, less pronounced ways. I think this might end up putting more emphasis on the main and sub weapons themselves, which contributes to weapon experimentation also being more fun.

In the end, gameplay is great, and all the modes are worth playing. My only complaints are shoddy Wi-Fi on the Switch (a common problem for the console), and the lack of the Squid Girl promotional outfit from the first Splatoon shirt.

No, really, give me my Ika Musume threads.

Fight, Flight, and Fun: Turf Wars and Competitive Splatoon

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The first time I saw Splatoon being announced at E3 2014, I had two reactions. First, “this game looks amazing,” and second, “I could see this game having a ton of competitive potential.” The new and refreshing approach to the shooting genre combined with the inherent concept of space control that comes with having your main weapon, ink, be also your goal and your primary mode of transportation had me envisioning clutch plays and highlight reels that would go down in history.

Since then, Splatoon has actually indeed worked to cater towards the competitive side of its player base, with patches, versus modes, and more, but I was surprised to see that its main format, a “Turf War” where the objective is to cover as much ground with ink as possible, does not have a ranked option, and in fact is considered by many in the competitive community to be an inferior format. I find the Turf War to be closest to the essence of innovation and possibility that Splatoon offers, and I actually feel kind of sad that it’s thought of as being incapable of supporting competition.

Keep in mind that, as I say this, I am not begrudging the competitive players for going with a format they prefer. I am quite far from being a skilled Splatoon player. I also understand that the reasons they might not like the Turf War format are probably valid. The argument is that only the first 30 and last 30 seconds really matter, and that it isn’t relevant to competition if a given way of playing is “against the essence of the game.” After all, Super Smash Bros. is designed for four or more players on a variety of stages with items on, and that competitive community has worked to fight the stigma that its players are playing the game “wrong.” Rather, in a way, what I’m expressing is rather selfish: I like the world of Splatoon where people can both attack and avoid conflict, or in a sense compete and not compete, in the exact same space, even if that doesn’t make much logical sense.

One of the major appeals of Splatoon, I believe, is that it provides a nice aesthetic and environmental alternative to mega testosterone headshot shooter games. Instead of getting bloodied, you get inked. Instead of every weapon being geared towards death and destruction, the question is if they can properly cover the ground in various hues. Theoretically, one can play and even succeed in this “shooter” without even shooting or attacking at all. However, in the ranked modes, Splat Zone, Tower Control, and Rainmaker, the specific mission focuses make direct conflict more of a necessity. You must remove their control, and the only way to really do so is to attack their position or to prevent them from getting close through person-to-person combat. Gone is all potential to compete through pacifism.

I don’t mean to say that Splatoon shouldn’t have guns, or that shooting should be removed from the game. After all, my favorite weapon is the N-ZAP ’89, a replica of the red-colored NES Zapper, because of its versatility in both fighting others and covering the ground in ink. Instead, what I’m aiming for is the possibility that Turf Wars are more likely to provide a space, or a mode, where very different philosophies can come into play without the absolute need to divide them, like Smash Bros. does (“For Fun” vs. “For Glory”). The people who believe shooters are great because you get to go all Rambo on your opponents can get just as much of a kick out of Splatoon as the people who love the strategic space control aspect or those who cherish just being able to run around with a giant roller and not have to point or aim or anything. I know this idea is inherently flawed, and the players themselves don’t necessarily want this, but I still believe that Splatoon can stand as this symbol where wildly different ways of playing can co-exist.

In game studies, there is a distinction made between “games” and “play.” The essential idea is that in games, you have a goal, a motivation or driving force that you aim towards, whereas play is more freeform, ever-changing, unbound by rules. In other words, think of games as football or baseball, and play as Calvinball. While Splatoon is much closer to “game” than it is to “play,” especially in comparison to something like Minecraft, I think my desired image for Splatoon is one that is in the territory of games but leans towards play. Competition is possible, but competing by not competing would also be an available option.

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