When you think of the word “shooters”, likely the last thing to come to mind is Nintendo. Nintendo’s new IP, Splatoon , is the Big N’s take on the popular genre, and their attempt to make it child-friendly while retaining some of the depth and customization many hardcore shooter fans are used to. So how did this experiment turn out?
Turf War is Splatoon’s main online mode, and likely where you will spend most of your time. You take control of an Inkling, a strange humanoid creature than can transform into a squid at will. Unlike conventional shooters, while you can shoot your opponents, it isn’t the game’s primary goal. Your mission is to cover the ground in as much of your teams colored ink as possible within the time limit. Shooting your opponents does yield benefits however, as they explode into ink of your team’s color when they are covered in enough of your ink. You can even use your squid form to swim through your ink, to make traveling a lot faster, and incorporates an element of stealth into the game as opponents can’t normally see you while you are in your own ink. After the match is over, you receive experience points based on how much ink you personally covered the ground with (and you even get more as a bonus if your team wins!), which go towards leveling up your online rank as well as upgrading your equipment, which can have hidden stat boosts you unlock once you gain enough experience. You can also purchase new equipment at in game shops with money that you also earn from winning matches online. The main weapon classes are Splattershots, simple ink shooters, Rollers, giant paint rollers which cover a lot of ground but don’t have much range, and Ink Rifles, which are essentially long range ink snipers. Each weapon comes with its own sub-weapon, which range from ink grenades, shields, ink missiles, and more. There is quite a bit of customization allowed, including hats, shirts, shoes, weapons, each of which have their own stats and abilities.
Once you gain enough experience points to raise your online rank to level 10, that’s where the real challenge begins. At Level 10, you are permitted access to Ranked Challenge mode, where rather than covering as much of the map as possible in ink, you are competing to capture and hold territories, somewhat similar to King of the Hill. Ranked Matches are much more competitive, as you must defend your point after capturing it until your time runs out, making defeating opponents a much higher priority than it was in Turf War mode. After the match, you will either win or lose points, which will go towards boosting your rank. All players start at a C-, and must earn their way up to an A+. In my experience, the game does a great job at pairing you with people of similar ranks and skill levels in this mode. It’s also worth noting that in either mode, I have not once experienced lag online, and only on a very few occasions have I been disconnected.
While online multiplayer is the main attraction, there is fun to be had with the game’s story mode. The Octolings, (beings similar to Inklings, except they turn into octopi rather than squids) have stolen the power supply to Inkopolis (Splatoon’s main hub), and it is your duty to get it back! The campaign is level based, and you must navigate your way to the end of each level while defeating enemies as well as solving ink based puzzles and platforming challenges. Once in a while, you will run into the Octolings and do battle in a Turf War, and will even have to take on boss challenges. The campaign is around 5 hours long, perhaps an hour or two longer if you choose to search for all the secret items.
Splatoon is a gorgeous and welcome departure visually from many other shooters. Splatoon is bright, cartoony, and colorful. It runs at a silky-smooth 60 frames-per-second and features full high definition. The characters are all cute, and well modeled and animated, and the environments are bright, varied, each bringing a distinct feel to them. Watching your squid swim through ink at 60 fps is almost hypnotic, and the lighting effects on the ink you spray make me want to jump in for a swim myself. Nintendo may be known for cartoony visuals in many of its franchises, but it’s a style they have experience with and it’s a style that works very well for Splatoon.
DLC Done right:
Since its launch, Splatoon has had multiple DLC updates, for free! These updates have included new maps, new weapons, and the Ranked Battle mode discussed earlier. Nintendo has made it clear that they plan on supporting Splatoon even further with more free updates, teasing even more modes, maps, and weapons.
Splatoon’s soundtrack has it’s own charming style, and each tune is quite catchy. Many of the songs are accompanied with “vocals” in squid language, which sounds completely unlike anything else yet still has me humming as soon they start. My only complaint in the music department is the lack of variety in music while playing online, as it seems as if there’s only two or three randomly selected songs, no matter which map you play on.
While many roll their eyes at the idea of having to aim with gyro controls, in Splatoon they are the generally the best option as they provide the most accurate ability to aim. You can turn gyro controls off, but I find that aiming with the right control stick is actually slower and clunkier, and can make turning around in a pinch difficult. The Gamepad is the only control option for online and single player, because the screen provides a map, where you can tap on your team mates to jump straight to their position, a key feature for the main modes. However, in Two-Player local matches only, the second player can use a Pro-Controller to play.
Which brings us to…
Things that need improvement:
Two-Player matches where you compete to pop more balloons than your friend. That’s the extent of Local Multiplayer.
This is due to the fact that the game requires a Gamepad for Turf Wars and Ranked Battles, and only one Gamepad can be currently used with the Wii U, which is unfortunate because in order to play with a friends in any of the main modes, multiple Wii Us will be required.
Lack of Online Lobbies
Do you have two Wii U’s so you and your friend can finally play? Great! But you’ll still have to wait, because there are no lobbies, not even for friends. In order to play with your friend, you’ll have to see if your friend is already playing in a match online, wait until that match is over, and hope that somebody leaves that match. If nobody leaves, you’ll have to wait again until somebody leaves, and only then can you jump into a match with your friend.
Splatoon’s gameplay is excellent, playfully subverting many of the tropes of modern shooters, and it’s visual style and characters are very charming. At launch, the game did feel light on content but has since been updated with a whole new mode, some new maps and weapons, and Nintendo has promised more free content is on the way as well. The customization options provide plenty of options to create your own unique character too.
One of the goals Nintendo outlined was that they wished to create the “Mario Kart of shooters”. I feel that the only things keeping Splatoon from achieving that goal, is that local multiplayer is almost non-existent, and jumping into online matches with friends can be difficult.
However, the game itself is highly polished, incredibly fun, and original. Splatoon’s not perfect, but it’s definitely worth a buy.
Splatoon gets a LEGENDARY out of ten.