Normally, Splatoon matches are nice and chill — I frequently find myself smiling even when I lose. Things are different in ranked mode. Ranked mode is intense. Ranked mode is fierce. Ranked mode is where the kids are separated from the squids.
Last night, Splatoon got an update with a number of goodies, including a new map , a new mode, and a new weapon — all for free. Curiously, I didn't actually download anything for this update, which made it seem like it was already on the disc. But it's difficult to get worked up about that when I didn't have to spend a dime on it.
In any case, I spent a couple of hours on ranked mode yesterday, and was shocked by how different it makes Splatoon feel. The basic gist is this: unlike Turf Wars, wins and losses actually matter in ranked. Everyone starts out with a rank of C-, and getting to the next level (C) requires getting 100 points. One win nets you 20 points, and one loss costs you 10 points. It's unclear how high the ranks can go (is A+ the limit, or S-rank?), but that's how it works.
Unlike Turf Wars, ranked does not require you to paint as much territory as you can. Rather, you have to ink a certain part of the map — and once you do, you have to maintain control of it for 100 seconds. Think of it like King of the Hill, but for Splatoon. Control of the capture point changes constantly, but the longer you hold it, the better it is for you.
In Turf Wars, you don't see much variety in weapons. People gravitate toward a few weapons, namely the aerospray, which has a very good rate of fire (making it useful for covering turf quickly). That's not the case in ranked. I saw just about every weapon in there, from rollers to chargers to the new zap gun. That's because ranked rewards people for taking on specific roles for the team, which makes it easy for a variety of weapons and abilities that aren't useful in Turf Wars to shine. I saw people take on offensive, defensive, support, and tactical roles that I never see in Turf Wars. It feels like ranked has a more varied and interesting metagame than Turf Wars.
In one match, I saw snipers perch themselves on opposite ends of the map, providing deadly cover for people on the ground. On the ground, rollers provided hard muscle for people who dove into the capture point. In the sidelines, people set up Squid Beacons, which let other inklings super jump to points of interest with ease. Squid beacons! You never see that used in Turf Wars. I also saw people claim specific parts of the map, which they oversaw and handled whenever the enemy walked into it. And I saw people using their special powers not to rack up kills, but to influence who had control of the point. These are the sorts of coordination efforts that feel impossible in Turf Wars, where most people play as if they are mercenaries, not a team.
If you'd like, you can watch me play a ranked match here:
What really stuck out to me about ranked was how much it required confrontation. In Turf Wars, you very well could ignore the enemy team for the entire round, instead focusing on claiming turf. Not so in ranked. You will constantly butt heads against other players, because you all want to take control of the same area. The pressure is constant, and it means the mode is both more tactical than Turf Wars, and more kill-oriented, too.
I found that most people I played with last night were way better than your average Turf Wars player. I found myself sweating bullets almost the entire time I played last night, and more than once I found myself yelling at the TV in my enthusiasm. It's great. Not for the faint of heart, but great.
The mode is not perfect of course. Splatoon's matchmaking means you are sometimes put in a room with the same people over and over again. Mercifully, it at least randomizes the teams, so you're never perpetually stuck against the same people who might have already steamrolled you in a previous match. Then there's the fact that lack of voice chat makes it difficult to make action plans with your team — everyone does have the same goal, which helps, but it's just not the same as being able to coordinate on the fly. But the thing that bothered me the most was that sometimes, if the other team won before the timer runs out, my team would get absolutely nothing — no rank, no points, no gear.
Now, the lack of rank points makes sense; they can't just give that out willy-nilly. Gaining rank is the entire point of the mode, and it doesn't mean much if you can just get it freely. Still, it sucks to put your all into a match, and then get diddly squat for it. In many other games, like Destiny or Team Fortress, I can expect some kind of reward for putting in time in a match, be it gear or experience, regardless of whether or not I won. Why can't Splatoon give me points so I can purchase outfits or have some sense of progression, at least? It all feels almost uncharacteristically cruel, like the game is rubbing salt on the wound after a loss. They won. You get nothing. Nothing at all. Congrats. Jeeze! Not a very good way to encourage me to keep playing, is it?
Still, ranked does provide a sort of adrenaline rush you can't find in Turf Wars. I don't think I'm very good at it, but I already feel hooked. I managed to scrape enough wins to get to rank C, though there are already players running around who are rank B. In the coming months, ranked will be updated with a few new game types as well. There's Tower Mode, for example, where you'll have to defend a moving platform and get it into the enemy base. Then there's rainmaker, though Nintendo hasn't said much about this mode yet. You can learn more about both of these gametypes here, in this video by GameXplain:
I'm looking forward to seeing how these modes expand Splatoon. Most of all, though, I'm hoping there's a chance I can become one of Splatoon's ranked elite. I just gotta stop getting splatted so much first.