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Splatoon 2's online is inexplicable, yet it's one of the best online experiences of the year

War is Hellmans.

Splatoon 2 has more than its share of issues. Its lobby system is a mess, its map rotation system can frustrate and if you want to play alongside friends there's a ludicrous number of hurdles you have to jump over, and you'll probably end up stumbling over half of them anyway. It's far from perfect, then, but at moments like this weekend's inaugural Splatfest, you'd do well to convince me this isn't as good as gaming gets in 2017.

The more Pearl reminds me of Die Antwoord's Yolandi, the more I warm to her. Sorry, Marina fans.

Splatfests, semi-regular events that take place in-game, see the best of Splatoon condensed into 24 dizzy hours. Night descends upon the hub city of Inkopolis, the lights are turned up and one almighty party kicks off; Pearl and Marina strut their stuff on the main stage, while the town square is buzzing with inklings waving their self-penned banners as lasers dance into the sky. Timed events are nothing new in online games, of course, but few of them make it all feel like such a happening.

Inkopolis by night.

There's a sublime sense of occasion to Splatoon's Splatfests, which is helped a lot by the sense of anticipation going in. A booth pops up days beforehand asking you to pick a side, and players begin campaigning with their own posts, all done via Splatoon's in-game picture posting, the brilliant endgame from an idea started in Pictochat, Flipnote Studio and the Miiverse until it found its ultimate form in this, the memeverse. And so the unofficial pro-furries versus anti-furries conflict that's bubbled away in Inkopolis in recent days briefly stepped aside to make way for the battle of the sauces. Would it be ketchup or mayo that'd be crowned king of the condiments?

Memes. Memes everywhere.

Whichever side you picked, you came out as a winner. Nintendo comes in for a lot of flak for how it handles online gaming - and quite rightly, too - but it deserves just as much praise for how it fosters a sense of warm-hearted community. Take a walk through Inkopolis square and delight in the awful puns, exquisite artwork and atrocious memes all raised in the name of this gentle war. There's a sense of playful anarchy, even if it is all carefully policed (if you want an example of how Nintendo silently authors a safe space, not one mention was published in any of the in-game posts I saw of the resemblance of ketchup and mayo's inks to certain bodily fluids, though you can be sure many were scribbled - all of which is most definitely for the best). Like the Wii U's Miiverse before it, it's a solution to online gaming that's as charming as it is stunted, but it's hard to quibble with the end result. It's glorious fun, and you've got to wonder how much of that comes about because of those restrictions Nintendo has put in place.

'Can't have toxicity in voice chat if no one wants to use it in the first place'. True, I guess?

Maybe the timed restrictions that are part of Splatoon 2's online play - there's the map rotation, with only two maps per mode every two hours, and co-op mode Salmon Run is only available online at specified points - are also part of that magic too, making every event, no matter how small, an occasion. The Splatfest is an extension of that same philosophy, and it goes out of its way to present players with a very different experience. It's not just the hub that's changed - the in-game music is mixed (with quite possibly Splatoon's best track to date) and an all-new map is introduced into rotation for Splatfests alone. There are restrictions, sure, but there are plenty of rewards too.

Shifty Station is an all-new map for Splatfests only, and it's a decent change from the current rotation.

So yes, Splatoon 2 is impossibly difficult to play with friends. Trying to hook up this weekend gone, my own group quickly ditched the official app in favour of Discord. Even then, when we realised you need a full group of four in order to team up and our team of three simply wasn't allowed to play together, we ended up fighting our own matches while chatting idly to each other. For the newcomers to Splatoon - and given the limited popularity of the Wii U and the relative success of the Switch, there's a fair few of them about - there's a lot of nonsense veteran players are used to putting up with that is hard to excuse. It's worth pushing through, though, just to see how exquisite Splatoon can be.

Team Mayo won the first proper Splatfest in the end - it lost the popularity contest, but thankfully good taste will always win out and the skills on the battlefield saw ketchup conquered. I did my bit, too, maxing out my rank to Mayo Queen, so I can always look any future grandchildren straight in the eye if they ever ask how I contributed to this most momentous of weekends. Heading back to Inkopolis Square this morning, there's that muted quiet of a mild hangover that's being soothed by beautiful memories of what went before. Normal life resumes, and so too does the war of the furries. Maybe that's one to be settled in a future Splatfest, anyway.

Normality is restored to Inkopolis.

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