Splatoon 2's Grouping and Nintendo Switch Online Voice Chat Are A Big Mess

The squid kids aren't alright.

Opinion by Mike Williams, .

In two days, you'll have a chance to play Splatoon 2 for yourself. Caty has already reviewed the game for USgamer and found it amazingly fun and charming, even if it's a bit familiar. Of course, part of the inking fun is being able to play with your friends.

You were the chosen one!

Splatoon 2's release also doubles as the first test of Nintendo Switch Online, a new service that forms the backbone for online gaming on the Switch. When the service fully launches in 2018, the app's features will cost $20 annually. Until then, it's completely free, giving Nintendo a chance to work out the kinks.

And the kinks, they are many.

Let's start with Splatoon 2 itself. There is seemingly no way to group up with friends and then head into online matchmaking in Regular or Ranked Battles. If one of your Switch friends is online and playing Splatoon 2, selecting their card in the game's Friend section merely gives you the message "You can't join that friend."

Instead, you have to wait until one of your friends enters online matchmaking, at which point their card gets the "Joinable" label, and then you can join their game. The issue here is you need some other chat or voice system to sync up. Even then, if they're pushed into a game before you can fully join them, you have to wait and stare at a screen while their current match ends. And if no one leaves that match and opens up a player slot, then you just have to wait in purgatory apparently.

Splatoon 2 is missing basic grouping. If I'm playing Overwatch, I can join a group of friends and then we can queue for Quick Play, Arcade, or Competitive together. The same is true of my experience playing in the Destiny 2 Beta last night. In Splatoon 2, it's a wish and a prayer. The only way to ensure a group is through Private Battle, which is limited to those you invite and has no alternative matchmaking.

What about voice chat through the Nintendo Switch Online application? First, there's no way to group up solely through the app itself. If you want to get Switch friends together to talk shop, you have to start a room within a game. In Splatoon 2's case, you would go to "Lobby", select "Online Lounge", and then "Create Room." If you're signed in on the same Nintendo Account on your Switch and the Nintendo Switch Online app, you'll soon get a ping on your app.

On the app, you can invite friends to your new private room. Options include either your current Nintendo Switch friends, users you've played with recently, or via social media (Twitter, Facebook, Line, etc). Using the last option creates a URL link to your private room that can be shared online anywhere, as far as I can tell. You can password protect any room with a four-digit code.

If anyone joins your room, they can voice chat freely, with icons getting larger the louder you are. It's limited to the Splatoon 2 Private Room; if you close it, the voice chat space goes away eventually. In Private Match, you can play in Turf War, Rainmaker, Splat Zones, or Tower Control across a variety of maps. (You don't seem to be limited to current map rotations?) Once a match starts, the system switches to team chat, meaning you only hear the folks on your team. When the match is over, you're kicked back to the free-for-all room.

First, this is very limiting. Again, during my playtime in the Destiny 2 Beta last night, I had two options for voice chat: either with Destiny 2's internal group and voice system, or through the PlayStation 4's Party Chat. If the Nintendo Switch Online app worked like the latter, untethered to a specific game, that'd be one thing. But it's not. There's no way to invite friends into a voice chat room without starting a room in Splatoon 2 first.

Worse, the Nintendo Switch Online app doesn't work in the background. When I switched to Gmail, Twitter, or Facebook, the app temporarily kicked me from the voice chat room. The same was true of shutting off my phone screen, something that we noticed in testing because Caty's phone went to sleep briefly. (Some said it would disconnect when you pull down your Notification Bar on Android, but I didn't have that issue.) Switching back to the app would reconnect to the room in a second or two, but why doesn't the app work like Skype, Google Hangouts, or Discord and allow audio to continue on in the background? Instead, you have to keep your phone on. Active phone use draws way more power than passive background stuff, so you essentially want to keep your phone plugged in. (My Galaxy S7 topped a TechRadar test with 5 hours and 21 minutes of active use, as an example.)

Inviting via Twitter.

This is just a bad idea all around. Splatoon 2 itself needs more matchmaking options. For voice chat, the app is severely limited and a battery hog in the worst way. The app doesn't even share game audio, so if you play with headphones, you need something like this audio splitter to hear voice chat and in-game audio.

For the life of me, I can't fathom what Nintendo is thinking here. Splatoon 2 will be a game that lives and dies on online play. I'm not talking voice chat and matchmaking with random folks. You'd think you'd want to make it as easy as possible to group up with your friends, chat, and play a bit of Splatoon 2. Instead, it's a headache. And it's a headache because Nintendo is trying to reinvent the wheel.

I like some of the additional app features. SplatNet 2 shows you your current level and rank, the total turf you've inked, the results of your last 50 battles, current stages, and more. That's cool. The thing is, some of that information isn't in the game. It feels like Nintendo has moved options and features that should be in the game or built into the Switch itself to justify the smartphone app. None of this feels like the company is doing what's right for the user. If any other company had this setup, we'd rightly call it a cash grab. That the online is cheaper than Nintendo's competitors doesn't change that.

For now though, it's free. There's time to give Nintendo feedback on Splatoon 2 and the app. There's a lot of room for improvement and Nintendo's going to need that time, because what I've seen here is several steps backwards.

This article may contain links to online retail stores. If you click on one and buy the product we may receive a small commission. For more information, go here.

Comments 13

  • Avatar for Zebetite #1 Zebetite 6 months ago
    I can see the issues with the app, not so much with the game itself. The method to join turf war with friends is exactly the same as the first game, and while there's obvious room for improvement, it does work. Definitely wouldn't mind an upgrade there though.

    As for ranked, that's a design decision. If you want to do ranked modes together, go to league. Ranked is now strictly solo, because so many lousy players had their skilled friends carry them to S rank and beyond. Now your rank, all three of them, are entirely your own.

    I hope they improve the app with time, but even so, a lot of the hardcore squid nuts (like me) are just gonna be on the app for the loot.
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #2 Kuni-Nino 6 months ago
    Seems like not a big deal and something that will be fixed over time. Splatoon 2 will be okay in the long run.
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for link6616 #3 link6616 6 months ago
    I am not surprised but disappointed.

    It doesn't surprise me you'd use an app for a lot of this stuff. The PS3/4 interfaces are not built for much text communication and so it feels sensible to offload this onto an app. Especially for portable play. (get invited to a match when you are out, boot up the nintendo app, turn on your switch, and the app would even help set you up for portable wifi!)

    That's the dream anyway.

    I'm not even that horrified of the splitter combination but I'm surprised there isn't routing of sound to a single device...

    Sigh, well, maybe things will get better?
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for VotesForCows #4 VotesForCows 6 months ago
    This is really inexplicably stupid. You essentially need a good quality phone to support your play experience - Nintendo should step back and realise that games consoles are luxury products. For some people (i.e. me) its a choice between a decent phone and a console (or usually neither). To then make the actual implementation of the app so obtuse is just totally weird. I don't get this at all.
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for hiptanaka #5 hiptanaka 6 months ago
    Ouch. Voice chat being possible at all is an upgrade, I guess...
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for LunarFlame17 #6 LunarFlame17 6 months ago
    This doesn't bother me personally, because I don't have any friends who play Splatoon, but I can totally see how it would be maddening for people who do. It's also disappointing because the conversation around this game SHOULD be about how good it is, but instead it's dominated by how bad the online experience is. Not a good look for Nintendo.
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for Lonecow #7 Lonecow 6 months ago
    This is stupid but I do like that I can buy gear in the app.
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for DrCorndog #8 DrCorndog 6 months ago
    We've gone from no voice chat to worthless voice chat, then. We aren't any worse off, but boy, does Nintendo look foolish.
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for metalangel #9 metalangel 6 months ago
    Nintendo don't seem to be learning. Yes, they missed on the development of proper online features because they were too busy selling fluffy party games on the Wii, but it still seems baffling that with over ten years of Microsoft and Sony's experiences to look at, they are still getting it this wrong.

    I hate to say it, but I don't really picture things getting better, either.
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for KaiserWarrior #10 KaiserWarrior 6 months ago
    And yet Nintendo still has the gall to charge for this "service".

    You have to have a phone tethered to the switch to do voice chat? What? You can't form groups, you can only do ad-hoc joining which has a brief window in which you can actually join your friend as opposed to being forced to spectate a match you might not even be able to get into when it's done? What? The application itself, who's very existence is preposterous in the first place, can't do background operations and requires full power draw at all times? What?

    What century is this? How is it possible that Nintendo is STILL screwing this up, despite there now being a DECADE of working examples from the competition to go off of? How can they be offering such a vastly inferior product and STILL be charging for it, even if the charge is less?

    Online does not have to be paid. It is not on PC, it never has been. Paying for an objectively inferior experience to something that is free is ludicrous.
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for Ralek #11 Ralek 6 months ago
    Thanks for the article. I gotta say, the fact that there is apparently no way to 'queue' together with a bunch of friends, outright kills the game for me as far as Day1 is concerend. I'll still get it down the line, but right now, I lack 'enough' friends who own a Switch, I'm not all that interested in playing with randoms anymore (did more than enough of that on the WiiU to be frank) and I still don't feel like getting the game only/ mostly for the single-player - not at full price at least.

    I love how groups and party chat work in Overwatch and Destiny on PS4 (and I guess on X1). It's breeze to use for the most part, and I always have people on my list playing, I can team up with without any hassle. At this point, it's as much about these people, the community, as about the game itself. Basically, I've build some social capital on my PS4, something I just don't have on my Switch, and for the most part, on my X1 as well.

    Hence, even if the Switch had all the PS4 games, I would still be reluctant to get many multiplayer games on that system, simply because the system is what is and most folks I play with are on the Ps4 (or Steam) and not the Switch.

    I love Arms and Breath of the Wild on my Switch, but it is incredibly worrisome to me that even now, in 2017 with the Switch, Nintendo has nto grasp on how this whole social capital angle works, and why communities are important (they make you attached to a frigging PLASTIC box for crying out loud, it's really not that hard a concept to grasp, I'd say).
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for ThePhysioClub #12 ThePhysioClub 6 months ago
    Nice i am with you Games lover
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for RoninChaos #13 RoninChaos 6 months ago
    So... Nintendo gonna Nintendo?

    This app voice chat ... thing, is RIDICULOUS.Edited July 2017 by RoninChaos
    Sign in to Reply