Nintendo’s new colourful IP for the Wii U is a third-person online shooter that continually grows, not only in terms of content but also in its community as the fun catches on. Splatoon was originally shown at E3 2014 and raised some eyebrows as Nintendo planned to not only enter into the realm of the online shooter, but would do so in a unique and colourful way that only Nintendo could deliver. Of course, with this being Nintendo, it is clear that the development team gave way to some strange ideas and mechanics that could probably be considered as being typical Nintendo in both great and frustrating ways. So whilst yes, Splatoon may be far from perfect, it also manages to prove that there is still plenty of life left in the Wii U yet.
The game’s main characters are something of a squid/human hybrids that have the ability to transform into Squid and travel through your team’s ink at speed, which offers a unique take on fast paced arena shooters. The main core of the game is online multiplayer, though surprisingly when the game launched it had but two game modes; Turf Wars and Ranked Battle. Turf Wars is a team based game mode that sees your squad of four work to cover the environment in your team’s colourful ink, whilst your opponents, naturally, attempt to do the very same. Simple, right?
Well, the game provides a wide selection of armaments which come with a sub weapon and a special weapon which can be used once you have powered it up by earning enough points which can be achieved by splatting ink over the map and the enemy’s ink. The weapon selection ranges from snipers, rollers, rocket launchers and automatic weapons. Matches last just three minutes, but are fast paced and offer the delightful use of various strategies, such as; the ability to increase movement speed by swimming through your own ink or using it to hide and escape an enemy attack, sliding up walls to reach higher areas of the map or by using stealth to creep in behind enemy lines. So whilst on the outside, Splatoon might appear to be rather simplistic, I can assure you that it most certainly is not.
Splatoon uses the Gamepad to show the progress that the teams are making in real-time with a map and not only shows how much of it your ink is covering and where the other players are, but it also offers the ability to super jump to any player at any time during the game, providing players with a quick return to battle to back up individual team mates or support the whole team as they make one final big push as is frequently the case. You will earn (P) points for covering the ground with ink, taking out enemies and covering over the other team’s ink, moving the focus away from the best way to kill your enemy. Instead, it tasks players with asking themselves “how do I cover the most ground and stop the other team from doing the same”, and in many ways this is slighting refreshing to the normal slew of online shooters.
There is also a Ranked Battle mode for those who reach and surpass level ten, but then there is also a tower defence mode and more game modes waiting to come from Nintendo to add to the launch content, which really was a bit barren, a most unusual move for Nintendo, but perhaps this shows how much they really are struggling to pump out HD content. The game can feel a bit empty which is a shame and they were asking for full retail value, yet the game only came with five online maps, two modes of play and selection of weapons.
Splatoon also includes a single player campaign where it’s squid vs octopus in Mario galaxy style levels in which the player is tasked with solving puzzles and to take down the squid’s arch enemy, the octopus, with a boss battle at the end of each world. Now, normally a single player mode in an online shooter is mostly just throw away content that’s there to bulk it out and, whilst in many ways this is still true here, there’s no denying that it’s still a lot of fun, it never overstays its welcome and it proves to be a great way to master the controls and skills you need going into online battles. Still, with as little content as it has, this certainly adds to the overall value of the product.
I am very glad to see Nintendo support this post-launch with free, weekly content. This has ranged from new weapons to maps, modes and even events like Splatfest, and Nintendo seems keen to keep pushing this and growing the community. The greatest aspect of the game is the sheer amount of fun you get for your buck, and with the additional content being added in so regularly, it went from being just okay to great in matter of weeks, which made reviewing this a bit of a challenge. If I reviewed this game a few weeks ago I may have been more sceptical and disappointed that a new Nintendo IP could feature so little content. Still weeks on from then and the game is bulking out nicely, and Nintendo keeps getting its audience to come back time and time again to see what’s new, download free content or take part in online events.
The presentation is a pretty slick 720p/60fps and its style is very much steeped in late 90’s to early 2000’s SEGA, with that trademark funky music and visual art style that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the legendary Dreamcast. I am told to “Stay Fresh” and I might be old, but games from that period were not afraid to try and be cool, and they proved that you could be successful in doing so, and likewise, Splatoon also achieves this without ever coming across as tacky. Still, this a Nintendo game and that means that some decisions in terms of its game design are a tad strange, but perhaps Nintendo is learning slowly by its own mistakes rather than looking at the already crowded online shooter market, which only goes to show that Nintendo continues to exist within their own little bubble. This is best exemplified by how the game’s maps are rotated every few hours between the modes, normally limiting the game to just four at any one time. This decision is designed to keep it fair and interesting but often leads to playing the same map far too often if you have the time to sit down for a session rather than dropping in for a quick game. The lack of voice chat, or the lack of choice on voice chat is also a real issue for some who feel that Nintendo’s game design is inherently wrong and antiquated, however, personally I feel that the game works perfectly well without it thanks to the use of the gamepad for communication purposes which still allows teams to play together tactically.
The gyro controls work and work well enough, but as soon as I could, I changed my control scheme to a twin-stick set-up. There is also the Amiibo issue were Nintendo locked extra challenges and costumes behind a figure pay wall, making this is an obvious issue as the Amiibo figures continue to be scarce. The online match making is also not perfect, but so far it has proven to be quick and reliable. The game features a classic arcade game to play while its matchmaking, but often this happens so quick you don’t get time to enjoy this great little etra which is also playable from the game’s main hub. This is the nucleus of the game where your Inkling boy or girl can shop for new weapons, outfits and perks, which also manage to add a little bit more depth to the Splatoon universe.
After booting the game up, recent updates are relayed by two game characters, detailing which maps are in play and what freshly added content, if any, has been made available since your last play. Personally, I like to know what’s new, but it can be far too slow when you really want to get into the action. Putting that aside though, weeks on from launch, the content is good, the gameplay is great and future looks bright for Splatoon, and although still not perfect, Nintendo once again knocks out the competition in value, quality and game play….”Stay fresh”.