Splatoon 2 has gained a lot of notoriety for the way Nintendo has chosen to handle team chat and voice communications. Talking to friends requires you to download an app on your phone, and plug in a headset to talk to them through there. And that’s it. There’s no way to communicate with strangers on your team, apart from the simple but concise “This Way,” “Booyah,” and “Ouch” commands. This makes organization in ranked matches next to impossible. In any other competitive game, this would be an absolute disaster. But in the odd case of Splatoon 2, sometimes it can benefit the player.
The whole point of preventing strangers from talking to each other in the game is to create a safe space for all players. Nintendo has a history of being rather restrictive when it comes to multiplayer interactions in their first-party games, and even in the Miiverse feature back on the Wii U. Splatoon 2 isn’t just a game for adults, after all; everything about its bubblegum aesthetic and colorful presentation makes it appealing to an audience of a younger age. With the knowledge that there could be kids playing their games, Nintendo doesn’t want to risk exposing them to potentially abusive language from strangers on their teams.
Obviously, this leads to other complications as well. When you’re playing any sort of competitive mode in an online game, it’s important to be able to communicate with your team. Overwatch is one of the most prominent examples of such games. As you rise through the rankings, your opponents become a lot more formidable, and you need to be able to call out enemy positioning and ults as you see them. A team with no communication from Platinum and upwards is just a recipe for disaster. Especially if you’re facing a team that does include a few members that are willing to talk over the microphone and make call outs.
At the same time, a team chat feature also opens an ugly can of worms. The reason why online interactions aren’t rated by the ESRB is that there’s no way to control what other people say on the internet. Going back to the case of Overwatch, the game is fast becoming notorious for having a toxic community in competitive. You don’t have to play too long before you encounter someone who gets angry at another teammate for choosing Hanzo, and not picking a more meta-friendly character. Things get worse when you lose a fight or the entire match, as the more outspoken members on your side will start placing the blame on others, often resulting in even more abusive language. It’s easy to get tilted after encountering ‘toxic’ players like these, and it can often have an impact on how you perform in your subsequent games.
But, back to Splatoon 2. As infuriating as it is to not be able to just get on a microphone to tell the Rainmaker carrier to follow you up the path you just inked for them, it also protects you (and others) from ever having to endure expletives and insults from strangers. It also means you don’t have to deal with teammates harassing you for equipping a weapon that might not be as effective as the Tri-Slosher or the Sploosh-O-Matic. The magical thing about Splatoon 2 is that the matches are all extremely short, and you’ll rarely ever be in a match for more than three minutes. So even if you lose, the sting never lasts long before you’re already on your way to the next match. The game makes an effort to match you up with different players in ranked battles as well, so the chances of you grouping up with someone you didn’t really like playing with before are slim. If push comes to shove, you could always just leave the lobby and rejoin it.
So, the reasoning here is simple. No voice chat means no abusive chat, which means less tilt and salt from losses, which also means a more enjoyable competitive experience overall.
Nintendo has also opted to split the game’s competitive modes into “ranked” and “league,” which means that if you decide to solo queue in a ranked battle, you’ll never be matched up against a full party of four that communicates well together. With this weird and somewhat backwards system in place, neither team will ever have the advantage of planning out strategies or making call outs for their allies. If you want to be able to play with a team with proper communication, well, that’s what the league battles are for. It’s not the most elegant solution on Nintendo’s part, but it works.
Coincidentally, that’s also very likely the reason why you can’t team up with a friend even in Turf War. Though Turf War is a comparatively low stakes mode that’s really only for players who feel like playing more casually or farming for Ability Chunks, Nintendo has gone ahead with this system implementation to make sure that the game is never unfairly weighed in one team’s favor. If you want to play with a friend, you can get competitive in league mode, or set up a private room for Salmon Run and Turf War.
In a lot of ways, Splatoon 2 goes against the conventions and qualities you’d expect from a typical shooter game. Being annoyed or dismayed at the fact that the game doesn’t feature proper in-game chat is a knee-jerk reaction. Once the dust has settled, it becomes easier to appreciate Splatoon 2 for its quirks. While I am still a little put off by how much of a hassle it is to set up a game with friends and actually communicate with them, I’m also thankful for the game’s efforts to protect its players from unnecessary tilt or abuse. It saves you from frustration and irrational anger (unless you go on a 20 game losing streak). And at the end of the day, if I can come away from a competitive loss without feeling overly upset or lousy, I’d say the game’s done its job well.