It’s been a while since we’ve seen Nintendo put forth a serious effort into introducing a new IP—after all, one bad IP could potentially dilute the brand and its success, and if there’s something Nintendo doesn’t need right now, it’s an excuse for finger-pointing. Hence, it was a bit of a surprise when the company began its heavy marketing for Splatoon, and Nintendo fans anticipated the game’s arrival with a mixture of excitement and nervous trepidation.
Consider this: Splatoon’s premise centers around players controlling Inklings, fluid-like creatures that gain the ability to transform into humanoids as they grow—are they kids? Are they squids? You’ll find out! It’s just the right amount of silliness that appeals to kids and adults alike, because while it’s a far-fetched concept, the gameplay that was developed around the concept simply, well, makes sense.
As a squid, a player can swim through ink of the same color as they are while in squid form—“swimming” in ink, so to speak. It allows players to climb walls and move quickly across the map, though you have no defensive ability while you’re a squid. As a kid, you use your two legs to move around, but you have use of a weapon to spray ink across the map (which gets recollected to load your weapon while in squid form).
The game contains a single-player campaign, one-on-one local multiplayer, and online multiplayer which is the heart of the game. The single-player campaign is a good way for players to get used to the controls and feel of the game. In single-player, you fight off the forces of Octarian, a baddie who has stolen the main power source from Inkopolis (home of the Inklings). There’s a gentle learning curve to the campaign, and builds up your skill level as you progress. For experienced gamers, there will be little challenge until the later levels, but that doesn’t take away from any of the fun. After all, the mechanics are brand new, and the world of the Inklings is colorful and exciting.
In single-player, you’ll also encounter Octolings who have more or less the same abilities as Inklings. This is actually a rather clever way for players to get used to how players online might behave—a good starting point for those who plan to make the jump to online multiplayer after finishing the single-player campaign… and why anyone wouldn’t is beyond this reviewer, because the single-player campaign isn’t where Splatoon rises to the top. You’ll only get about 3-5 hours out of it which, while disappointing in some ways, certainly proves the emphasis on online multiplayer.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the features that make Splatoon unique.
If you’re not used to motion controls… well, you’re not alone. But if you’ve played the single-player, you’ll get used to the system much faster than if you simply dive into the game. Certainly it’s possible to get underway in multiplayer first (which is actually what this reviewer did), but you’re making things harder for yourself. You can also turn off motion controls, but once you get the hang of it, it makes a whole lot of sense and makes it easier to control with precision.
With the GamePad, you use both sticks for precision aiming while moving the controller. Trust us, if you don’t learn how to use it with motion controls, you will put yourself at a disadvantage in online play—it’s worth learning how to use them, despite the initial potential for frustration. As a shooter, the twin-stick plus motion makes a massive difference in being able to hit your targets quickly and effectively.
Yes, obtaining the Splatoon amiibo will extend your single-player experience and give you some added perks. You’ll play through challenge mode in the single-player with the amiibo (same levels) but each boy / girl amiibo offers different weapons to try and complete the levels.
But the Squid amiibo, well, that’ll give you a number of different challenges such as speed runs or limited ink. Once you complete any of these amiibo challenges, you’re rewarded with extra gear that’ll make you look extra “fresh” online. Still, it seems like there could be more offered with these figures considering how much we shell out for them, so we’ll have to wait and see what’s done with them as improvements and updates are made to the game.
The only local multiplayer for Splatoon is a 1 vs. 1 mode where one player uses the GamePad and its screen and the other uses the TV with a Wii U Pro Controller, Classic Controller, or a Classic Controller Pro. This mode asks players to burst as many balloons as they can while pushing back their opponent.
It’s a solid mode to play—anyone who has played local multiplayer Mario Kart challenges will be familiar with the concept of a balloon battle—but the maps are massive and clearly designed for eight players.
Why wasn’t this included as an online mode? Perhaps it will be in the future. For now, it’s fun, but the maps feel barren with only two players on them and it can be a challenge to find your opponent. As for this reviewer, it was disappointing to discover that this was the only local option—I wanted two of us to be able to play the online multiplayer mode together on the same machine, but there’s no option for that. It’s either 1 vs. 1 local, or one player goes online and leaves their friend behind.
And this is why you play Splatoon. No, really. This is where the game is at, and this is where you’ll be spending most of your time, if not all of it. (Remember how it was mentioned above that this reviewer played multiplayer first? It took three days before, ahem, it was even realized that the game contained a single-player option…)
There are two modes in online multiplayer: Regular Battle and Ranked Battle. In Regular Battle, players compete in a Turf War of four vs. four with the aim to cover as much of the ground with your colored ink as possible. The pace is fast and engaging, but if you lose the Turf War you still get to keep all your experience points toward levelling up. No other stats are recorded, and the games are only three minutes long each—which is a great way to keep players going even if they’ve lost a game or two. Not the end of the world! You have another three minutes to try again.
With Ranked Battle, the game initially launched only with Splat Zones. In this mode, teams cover one or more areas on the map with their colored ink to start the timer countdown. When the area is filled with your color (or enough of it to trigger the timer), the aim is to control that zone with your color until the timer hits zero. Of course, the other team is trying to control the same area, so it tends to be a back and forth between team as the timer counts down for each side.
Shortly after launch, a second mode was launched: Tower Control. In this mode, teams race toward a tower in the center of the map and try to gain control of it by spraying it with their colored ink and riding the tower toward the enemy’s base. This mode often turns into a frantic back-and-forth as well, with players hopping on and off and the tower automatically returning to the center of the map if no one can manage to gain control.
Presently, teams are matched up at random—unless someone is in your friends list. You can join the lobbies of your friends and play with them that way, but it’s not quite as convenient as it could be. Apparently we’ll be seeing improvement in this area in the future.
The plans for online play will be extended through Splatfests, events where players choose a side and then contribute to that side’s overall score through Turf War battles. With plenty of Miiverse integration for the game, there’ll also be players with their Miiverse messages appearing in their speech bubbles overhead and doubtless plenty of features to add to the Splatfest experience.
Gear & Weapons
A not-insignificant portion of strategizing in Splatoon comes from the gear and weapons that each player has access to. Your Inkling’s look and bonuses can be customized in order to obtain the perks you want on the battlefield and to provide some aesthetic alterations to your character. Some of these bonus perks include things like faster swimming through ink, mine/trap indicators, faster recharge on secondary weapons, and so forth.
The perks are great, but they don’t alter your play so significantly that those who don’t have as many bonuses can’t win. It’s more like a performance boost that enhances your skill rather than a “win everything all the time!” alteration. The same goes for weapons.
The weapons in multiplayer are divided into four categories: Rollers, Shooters, Snipers, and Blasters. They do what they sound like, with the unique offering here being rollers—basically giant paint rollers that cover the ground with ink quickly and in vast swaths. The different categories of weapons cater to different styles of gameplay, and by trying out the weapons players will discover how they prefer to play Splatoon. Each category of weapon has a variety of offerings in it, with new weapons unlocked as players level up. There are also sub-weapons and special weapons that come paired with each one.
That said, it’s critical for players to figure out which type of weapon and approach they prefer before a match begins, because it’s not possible to change weapons mid-game. It forces players to adapt to a variety of situations with their weapon of choice, keeping players on their toes and really learning how to master each one they use. We’ll also be seeing new weapons trickle into play over the life of the game.
At launch, the game has five stages, but more will arrive in the same way as the new weapons—trickling down to us one by one over the lifespan of the game as free updates. The way the maps are presented are in pairs for a limited time each day—so you’ll randomly get placed on one of two maps while playing Regular Battle or one of two different maps while playing Ranked Battle. Every four hours, the selection of maps will change.
There is much in each stage, but you won’t notice it once the game gets going. The maps are also more or less symmetrical, so one team won’t have an advantage over another.
Before getting to the end point here, there’s another thing we should mention: The load times. Once eight people are found to begin a match, the map loads immediately—we’re talking seconds here. There’s no wait, and the times when you do have to wait are limited to finding players for rounds.
Visually, Splatoon is also a real treat. Sure, it’s not the most sophisticated in terms of its art style, but it’s colorful, clean, glossy and bold. The level design makes sense, the character design makes sense… it’s all been very carefully crafted to maintain the oozing, inky feel of having swimming squids as main characters.
The experience of Splatoon, from load to ending a match, is seamless, logical, and clearly presented. The gameplay mechanics work ridiculously well, and what’s more, it’s just a whole lot of fun. Right now, the replayability is insanely high because your experience changes with every match—the map is constantly changing because with new players every time, different areas are going to get inked and how the players on your team respond to that will change.
Sure, it’ll be interesting to see how the online play stacks up longevity-wise, but right now, Nintendo’s new IP of a shooter offering is rock solid, incredibly fun, and has the same kind of feel to it as a shooter as Mario Kart does as racing game.
Splatoon is fresh, fun, and worth the time spent. Will you love it? We have an inkling you will.