Are slightly polished game sequels worth $60?

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Within one week, September’s two biggest games raised discussions about how much content is enough to merit the cost of $60 sequels and remasters. Do high-quality games always deserve high prices?

“Splatoon 3” and “The Last of Us Part I” – Nintendo’s latest squid-based shooter sequel and a remake of Naughty Dog’s “The Last of Us,” respectively – are surprisingly similar. They’re solid installments in 2010s franchises that feature post-apocalyptic settings. More notably, they were both criticized for being the third full price release of similar games with minor changes.

Fans expressed their worries about a lack of new content after the “Splatoon 3” Direct livestream on Aug. 10, and reviewers who called it the franchise’s best entry warned that it could’ve used an extra selling point. Despite this, “Splatoon 3” won players over and became the fastest-selling game ever in Japan. “Part I” didn’t fare as well, with its continued controversy translating to sluggish physical sales in the UK.

Companies frequently rerelease near-identical games don’t justify the average AAA cost of $60 (see annual franchises like Call of Duty). That said, this week’s releases had long gaps between installments, and both franchises typically add tons of content in new entries. This makes both games difficult to recommend despite their quality, especially “Part I” – so why did players let “Splatoon 3” off the hook?

Contributed Photo by Nintendo. An Octoling blasts enemies with the Splatling weapon in the single-player story mode for “Splatoon 3.”

Unlike “Splatoon 2,” which introduced the astonishingly popular Salmon Run, “Splatoon 3” lacks a major new mode besides a fun trading card minigame. That doesn’t mean the returning content disappoints; Splatoon story campaigns routinely offer some of the games industry’s most inventive level design, while Turf War and Salmon Run remain addicting. However, even one mode that reinvents Splatoon’s shooter gameplay would’ve been a selling point to prevent this debate.

“Splatoon 3” still advances the series, just with smaller quality-of-life changes. Players can test weapons in the Lobby instead of waiting on static matchmaking screens, and Ranked Battles (now called Anarchy Battles) have revised rulesets. Tedious elements from previous games have been amended, like Salmon Run finally being available 24/7 or stage announcements being optional. Beyond convenience, there are still the usual additions of weapons, clothing, maps and story content.

Some of these quality-of-life changes and cosmetics could’ve been updates to “Splatoon 2,” and the campaign could’ve been paid downloadable content (DLC) like “Octo Expansion.” However, the biggest improvement that justifies this sequel’s existence isn’t a back-of-the-box feature like story content, weapons or maps. In fact, it’s something players aren’t supposed to notice: the netcode.

Online multiplayer franchises like Splatoon need good netcode to support matches. While “Splatoon 2” uses Nintendo’s ancient NEX netcode (which lasted so long that it checks for Windows 98), “Splatoon 3” joins “Monster Hunter Rise” as one of the first Switch games utilizing NPLN. According to Switch hacker OatmealDome, features like the Lobby “would be more difficult or impossible to add with the old system.”

Necessary structural overhauls might not justify the lack of new modes, so it’s completely understandable if returning fans don’t feel like it’s worth the money, but there’s at least a reasonable explanation why this couldn’t just be “Splatoon 2” updates. Perhaps this partially explains why “Splatoon 3” received less vitriol than “Part I,” despite the latter adding more marketable features.

“Part I” also has structural changes – it remakes the original game in the engine from “The Last of Us Part II” – but this upgrade isn’t a necessary fix like NPLN netcode, instead focusing on visuals, subtle details and AI. Although they’re neat improvements, they’re mostly superfluous, especially since many fans couldn’t tell which game was which when trailers compared footage from “Part I” and “The Last of Us: Remastered.”

Speaking of which, “Part I” is the game’s third full-price rerelease. “Remastered” itself was released barely a year after the original, sparking debate over how quickly games are remastered. “Part I” also removes major features like the Factions multiplayer mode, but sells for $10 more than its predecessors. Other remasters like “Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition” offset changes by adding story content, but “Part I” adds nothing of this scale.

The only essential changes this engine provides are accessibility features from “Part II.” Regardless of how divisive “Part II” was, its accessibility menu is objectively among the industry’s best, as Naughty Dog spared no expense to accommodate various disabilities. Everything from button mapping to visual aids should be industry standard, so adding them to the original should be celebrated – but even this has issues.

Unlike the NPLN netcode, accessibility features could reasonably be updated into “Remastered.” They’re easier to add with the “Part II” engine that already supports them, but most accessibility features don’t require their own engine, and games like Insomniac’s “Spider-Man” have had their accessibility features updated into past-gen releases. When accessibility is locked behind a paywall, it unfairly demands disabled players to pay full price.

In an “Access-Ability” episode about accessibility paywalls in “Part I” and “Resident Evil VIllage,”  journalist Laura Kate Dale stated that she hoped they “don’t see this become a bigger trend in the industry, because using accessibility settings to encourage additional purchases on more expensive versions of games is not a future we should be aiming to work towards if we want our industry to be accessible.”

None of this means any of these additions are bad; the price, not the features, affects what players will accept. If full price was mandatory, Naughty Dog could offer reduced prices for previous owners to upgrade, but this still wouldn’t justify paywalling accessibility. New players might not feel as betrayed, but they’re equally affected by higher prices and fewer features.

Both games faced criticism surrounding their price, but what separates them is that “Splatoon 3” has a reason to exist. Even if it lacks new features, it provides necessary improvements while delivering on everything fans love about Splatoon. If the weaker sales of “Part I” are any indication, perhaps fans have finally drawn a line in the sand with unwarranted remasters.

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Managing Editor | + posts

Sean Mullins (she/they) is the managing editor and webmaster for the Journal, formerly the opinions editor during the 2021/2022 school year. She is a media studies major and professional writing minor at Webster University, but she's participated in student journalism since high school, having previously been a games columnist, blogger and cartoonist for the Webster Groves Echo at Webster Groves High School. Her passion is writing and editing stories about video games and other entertainment mediums. Outside of writing, Sean is also the treasurer for Webster Literature Club. She enjoys playing games, spending time with friends, LGBTQ+ and disability advocacy, streaming, making terrible puns and listening to music.