From the moment its details were made known, it was clear Nintendo’s setup for online play on Switch would be sub-optimal. Instead of the main system handling every function like current and last-generation consoles from their competitors, key online functions for the Nintendo Switch are handled by a mobile app. It’s a befuddling, bootleg-like solution that feels like it was concocted at the last minute before the console launched.
It sounded peculiar when it was announced, but became even more frustrating when details about how headsets would work with the system were confirmed with the reveal of the Splatoon 2 headset. It has to be connected to a splitter, whose two plugs have to connect to a mobile phone and Switch in order to hear the game’s sound and chatter from other players. It’s more complicated than having one headset that simply connects to the system for both purposes, especially when they can do this wirelessly through Bluetooth. Now that the game and headset have released, it’s been difficult for people to position their phones and Switch system so the headset can plug into them without the wires becoming tangled. It’s also bad for anyone who enjoys using the Switch Pro Controller, since it doesn’t have a headphone jack. It sounds and looks like a hassle, but at least the headphones themselves have a slick design.
More issues have been discovered now that owners have dedicated ample time to playing the game while using the headset and app, as reported by Gamespot and USGamer. For one, the online features don’t allow for anyone to join a group with friends before playing normal or Ranked Battles. Many other online games let you ping a friend who’s already in an online session, but the message will be rejected if a player attempts that here. Players have to wait until that friend has left their session to join them, and pray they don’t join another one quickly afterward It’s a big annoyance unless the player has a lot of friends playing the game.
Many other systems also let players join group chat sessions inside and outside matches for individual multiplayer games, but that’s not the case here. Instead, players all have to be gathered in the same room to talk to each other, after they’ve been assembled using the app. Certain modes are available for play with chat like Turf War and Rainmaker, but players can only hear chat from their teams once matches start, an understandable limitation to prevent confusion. But once the host closes the room, everyone is eventually disconnected from voice chat. Perhaps they can lighten up these limitations in one of the many updates the game will receive.
It’s also an issue that the app doesn’t work in the background. If anyone wants to check their social media accounts, email, look at a text message they receive, or let the phone go into screen timeout mode, they’ll be taken out of a voice chat session. This may be done for security reasons, but it can be a hassle when other such apps can handle this fine. As the Gamespot article above mentioned, having to leave the screen unlocked will drain the battery quickly. There are other reports suggesting that merely pulling down the window can cut chat off, but they’ve been inconsistent.
Fortunately, all of these issues are being discovered through this current testing phase, since the official launch won’t happen until early next year. They’ll start charging $20 a year during this time too. That sounds better than paying $60 like on other consoles, but they should make sure the app is optimal in terms of features and efficiency before they start asking people to pay for it.
During this time, though, Nintendo should seriously be working on adding these online features to the system instead of leaving them relegated to an app. The system is powerful enough to handle these features natively, and there’s a good chance they’re capable of providing this through a significant firmware upgrade. If they have to raise the price of the annual online fee to compensate for this, then so be it. This would also reduce the confusion from people adjusted to playing with online systems on other consoles, many of whom have been doing so for over ten years. After all, Nintendo wouldn’t mind cultivating some who didn’t purchase the Wii U or 3DS.
Fortunately, these hitches aren’t stopping those who picked up Splatoon 2 from enjoying it, who’ve acknowledged that, yes, it’s a real sequel and not an enhanced version of the first game. But it could be more enjoyable with friends when they get everything in working order. Perhaps they’ll find a way to have all of these features on the system by the time Splatoon 3 arrives in two years.