I like Switch Sports. It’s filled to the brim with positive and uplifting energy, and the game just gives me a bright and colorful setting to escape to at the end of a long workday. The game could be an amazing getaway. Keyword: could. Switch Sports might have all the right ingredients, but it doesn’t have character. Right now, although it’s fun with friends, the game is little more than a collection of virtualized sports with little to no connection to one another. As the glue that has to tie the sports together into a vibrant environment, Spocco Square is lacking.
Don’t get me wrong, Switch Sports isn’t inherently bad. But Nintendo both could and should have done way more with the setting. Both Spocco Square and the Sportsmates have the potential to make the game – for lack of a better term – vibable.
Switch Sports doesn’t have a glue that ties the game together into a colorful collective. Music, art style, buildings, and society exist in six separate niches with the hub world only serving a functional role. The hub world just doesn’t bring the game together in ways that it could. However, Spocco Square does have the potential to do so.
Switch Sports needs to take a deep look into other virtual worlds which do exist as a cohesive unit around the minigames. A world in which new game avatars can establish an iconic society to fall in love with. Few locations have achieved this more perfectly than Splatoon’s Inkopolis.
Why Inkopolis is an excellent hub world
Before discussing how Switch Sports should learn from Splatoon, let’s first go over what makes Inkopolis such a great hub world. To clarify, Inkopolis differs in both Splatoon games. There’s both Inkopolis Plaza in the first game and Inkopolis Square in the second. Although the two locations in Inkopolis have some minor differences, they mostly serve the same purpose.
Inkopolis serves as the homeworld of the Inklings, Splatoon’s major playable race. When you enter the plaza or the square, the environment immediately tells you more about the culture and the world of the Inklings. It’s a street-fashion heavy world that revolves around the concept of drip, or “freshness” as it’s called in-game. This is evident in the clothes style of the Inklings, however, it’s also present in the games’ music tracks, its brands, and its in-universe celebrities.
Billboards everywhere show the ‘freshest’ products and celebrity crazes. Posters advertise the more underground aspects of Inkopolis (like Salmon Run or whatever the single-player campaign plot is up to). Combined with the occasional cultural events known as Splatfests, it takes Inkopolis but minutes to tell a new player what Splatoon is culturally all about. Music, art style, buildings, and the Inkopolis society work in perfect sync.
Of course, Inkopolis wouldn’t feel like a bustling metropolis if it weren’t swarmed with all the hustle and tussle of any metropolis. The online experience is filled to the brim with other players, who you can interact with. They can leave messages, themed drawings, or simply sit around and behave like they would in the real world. Thanks to Inkopolis’ design, Splatoon and its sequel feel alive and inhabited. The universe has a soul.
Making Spocco Square go “Spocco”
Spocco Square is an enormous sporting complex that consists of several distinct sporting arenas. Between these places, there’s a selection menu, but no way to move around in the complexes themselves or in between them. In its current form, Spocco Square is more of a husk than an alive environment. You could call it Anything Square because aside from the little S in the center and the name here and there, there’s nothing specifically “Spocco” about it.
Inkopolis, on the other hand, is difficult to mistake for anything other than Inkopolis. With its many billboards, advertisements, posters, and statues, Inkopolis establishes a cultural framework that is lacking in Switch Sports. Of course, the game doesn’t have the near-inexhaustible nautical theme that Splatoon works with. However, there’s nothing that prevents Switch Sports from sporting its own fictional brands that can advertise throughout Spocco Square.
In fact, it already has iconic brands! The volleyball court features the HumHum café, where you can read books while sharing a nice drink. There’s a soup, juice, and smoothie bar near the tennis court, and café Buttons is present at both the badminton and bowling courts. Spocco Square can build on these brands to fill a husk of a sporting complex with content that makes it “Spocco.” I can already picture billboards with all kinds of flashy neon as I roam through the sporting complex on my way to play a nice round of football. Or soccer, for all you Americans out there.
That brings me to the next point: free roam. Currently, the hub is not much more than a menu. It’s a detailed environment, but our avatars can’t live in it. Fortunately, there are clues in the game that free roam might be coming very soon. The menus in the game give tourist tips, providing juicy details of the world we exercise in. For instance, it states that:
It would be a direct slap in the face if Nintendo teased these details without giving us the ability to actually shop, visit restaurants, or work. However, it’s to be hoped that Switch Sports doubles down on these aspects, and uses the existing brands to shape an Inkopolis-like environment.
How to make Sportsmates more interesting
Few elements in Switch Sports have been more controversial than the Sportsmates. Although it’s still very much possible to play with Miis, it’s hard to deny that the classic avatars are sidelined in this game. Spocco Square is inhabited by Sportsmates, which makes Miis quite awkward. Moreover, the few details in their heads make a weird fit with the detailed bodies in this game. Although Sportsmates are customizable with different haircuts and eyes, Miis are certainly a lot more expressive.
Sportsmates don’t have the Mii’s expressiveness or bluntly said, derpiness. Their generic display feels like they rather belong in a mediocre Saturday morning cartoon that ran out of animation budget halfway. On face value, to me, the Sportsmates are a step down from the Miis. Not because Miis are necessarily supreme, but because it’s way harder for a player to put their soul into a Spotsmate compared to a Mii.
Not all is lost for the Sportsmates, though. Let’s compare them with Splatoon’s Inklings, rather than with the Miis. Just for a change. Inklings are also much more limited in their customizability, however, all Inklings do have a way more unique feel to them. For starters, they are much more expressive. Ferociously, they woomy and boo-yah against hordes of enemies and each other.
It’s to hope that over time, the Sportsmates gain more emotes to communicate with one another to make them more distinctly expressive. What makes Inklings particularly special is their fashion choices. Sportsmates are still quite limited in what they can wear. There are only a few choices of hairstyles, accessories, and outfits. Nintendo will add more items over time, so perhaps over time, every Sportsmate will truly feel unique.
The lack of charming NPCs
Speaking of uniqueness, the atmosphere of Spocco Square could benefit enormously from some charming NPCs. Some NPCs could come naturally to the game. Most games need a referee, similar to the role Judd the cat plays in the Splatoon games. Hosts of stores and dining facilities could be a charming presence to liven up the area. Nintendo has proven that it is very capable of adding charming NPCs to nearly any game. Even a game that’s so gameplay-focused as Ring Fit Adventure has recognizable and recurring characters throughout its gameplay.
Switch Sports could even feature particular Sportsmates at local celebrities. Maybe they’re the same characters who work in the shops. Perhaps they’re some kind of Sportsmate idol. When you encounter them in tennis matches then, they could be this familiar obstacle to overcome and defeat. A sense of recognition toward an AI Sportsmate and an “oh yeah, I know that person from this or that place” would go a long way to make Sportsmates more appealing.
How to make the presence of others more interesting
The existence of our online friends is fleeting. Whatever happened to Tommy with whom I played an exciting back-and-forth of volleyball, Lulu who gave me that perfect assist in football, or Tessa who absolutely wrecked me in chambara, I have no idea. There’s no way to interact with these people online besides randomly matchmaking them.
In Splatoon, the people you encounter in battle have a good chance to show up in Inkopolis outside of battle. This creates your own little universe, where the people around you are people with whom you’ve built a common experience you’ve both lived. It may not sound like much, but details like this bring a universe to life with the joy of recognition, rather than just a series of isolated hook-ups with random people.
In Splatoon, Splatfests bring a sense of shared destiny and connectedness. You share a purpose in your crusade for ice cream over cake with someone on the other side of the world. Because come on, ice cream is clearly the superior option. The people in Inkopolis can leave messages thanks to Splatoon’s famous (or infamous) drawings.
I’m not saying that Switch Sports should be just like Splatoon and copy everything it does. However, the online experience of Splatoon is simply so much more social compared to Switch Sports thanks to the flavor people can insert into their online presence. Little bits of their personas are sipping through into your own game. Spocco Square should take notes from this to make the online experience more social, too.
There is a future for Spocco Square
Switch Sports isn’t Splatoon. It’s a different game with different objectives. It should also take cues from other games to make it more enjoyable as the game develops, like Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort, and Ring Fit Adventure. For example, a single-player tournament mode would keep me hooked longer than constantly booting up new matches. A ranking system from the start would drive me to try and get the most out of myself. But in terms of atmosphere, Splatoon is a great frame of reference for what Switch Sports should try to be.
But what do you think? Do you think Switch Sports should learn from Splatoon, and that Spocco Square should operate similarly to Inkopolis? Do you think we will be able to explore Spocco Square in more detail in the future, or will it remain a series of backgrounds? Let me know in the comments!