Splatoon 2 may not launch for the Nintendo Switch until tomorrow, but Nintendo’s new online app for iOS and Android — essential for playing the game like a normal online shooter — launched yesterday. For those that don’t know, the online app is used for voice chat, arranging private matches and tracking some in-game stats. If all that stuff sounds like something you usually don’t need an entirely separate piece of hardware for, it’s because it is. Nintendo’s online app always sounded like nonsense, and now that people are finally getting their hands on it, we seem to be able to confirm — it’s nonsense. The app has been met with near-universal scorn because the concept of using your phone for voice chat is cumbersome, convoluted and ineffective. Paul Tassi explains why in a bit more detail here.
Here’s the thing, though: I don’t really care.
No, this is not an exceptionally strong defense. In fact, it’s not really a defense at all. Native voice chat of the kind found on Xbox One and PS4 is so obviously better than a phone app that it doesn’t really need further examination. The only strength I can think of is that this dovetails with the Switch’s portability by allowing you to use voice chat without a Wi-Fi connection. Of course, that argument only really holds water if phone-based chat comes in addition to rather in place of native chat. But I get enough else out of my Nintendo Switch that the lack of voice chat feels like a footnote. A disappointing footnote, but a footnote nonetheless. I’m not playing Destiny on this thing, after all.
It isn’t that I don’t use my Switch for multiplayer games — in fact, that’s mostly what I use it for. But the Switch, for me, is all about local multiplayer, and it excels in that area in a way none of my other myriad gaming platforms do. I don’t need a headset for local multiplayer, because sound waves travel across my couch just fine. Between that and the ability to play any of the Switch’s games wherever I go, the little system has already made its argument for what it can do, and why it’s worth it. I can play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on a plane, for God’s sake.
It makes things better, of course, that I already own an Xbox One and a PS4 to satisfy my voice chat enabled gaming needs. And I don’t think that this particularly peculiar to my situation: the Switch has positioned itself pretty well as the second system to augment a more mainline console, giving gamers more additional functionality and games than they would get by adding and Xbox One to their PS4 or vice versa. And I’m not sure those that are buying the Switch as a primary console are going to be as concerned about the lack of native voice chat, because if they spent too much time thinking about such things they’d likely already have a different console.
Don’t get me wrong. The lack of native voice chat is a problem, and it’s one that limits the Switch. But overall, it’s not a problem that affects me, and I get the feeling that Nintendo has positioned this console in such a way that this problem won’t effect sales too much overall. It’s still the console that lets you play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe at a bar, and that’s a selling point that no other console has. The bottom line is that the Switch has already done a good enough job communicating what it can do that people are bound to spend less time thinking about what it can’t.
For right now, the biggest loser from the online app is not the Switch itself, but Splatoon 2. Selling an online shooter without some of these basic mechanics is just difficult.