NS Review: Splatoon
We haven’t seen a new IP from Nintendo EAD in years, and here is their first fresh idea to hit the Wii U console. Splatoon is primarily an online third-person shooter where the goal is to cover the ground in ink; players can still get into skirmishes with opponents and ‘splat’ them – or be splatted – but it’s all about which team has covered more ground in their colour. A single-player story mode will keep those less inclined for online play entertained for a few hours, but the majority of the fun and longevity comes from the online world. Playing Splatoon is a wonderful experience with hectic battles and exhilirating fire fights, a lot of which are likely to end in the two opposing combatants splatting each other. In my time with the game, that’s happened a lot.
The developers have done a fantastic job with the art direction for the world of Inkopolis. There is a curious mix of pop, punk and electronica aesthetic. Graffiti lines the walls, Hero Mode has some spectacular light shows, and the music goes from aggressive garage punk rock to quirky, glitchy electronic music. The Inkling characters are designed with an attitude that reminds me of classic video game characters from the late 1990’s. It’s a style that will appeal to a lot of its audience, and it looks beautiful too. It’s very quirky even by Nintendo’s standards, and it’s the perfect look for this game.
The player begins by stepping into the Inkopolis Plaza, and they are free to wonder the square and see some other players showing off their gear. Miiverse posts can also be viewed and be given a “Yeah!” approval with just one button press. Squid Sisters Callie and Marie bring the news every time the game is loaded up and while it isn’t a long broadcast, it can be a minor inconvenience when you just want to jump straight in and play. It’s more irritating when they have no new announcements to give. The Gamepad shows the map of the plaza, and almost every location can be tapped on there for the player to instantly travel. For the first few tries I wondered around the plaza, but the option to instantly travel anywhere was appreciated. Nevertheless, the game knows how to get you excited; the lobby for online games is located dead ahead of you, with speakers just in front of it. It’s only when you approach the lobby that the music becomes crystal clear and you know what you’re heading into.
I won’t talk much about the controls and gameplay of Turf War since it was covered in our Global Testfire Impressions, but of course there are an abundance of new weapons to play with. The special weapon can be used once the player has covered enough ground in ink, which also works as a comeback mechanic as the losing team has a lot more ground to splat. Special weapons offer different functions, most of which deliver heavy damage in a large area. The more supportive special weapons are just as vital; the Bubble Shield renders the user invulnerable for a short time, and the Echolocater reveals the location of all enemy players. Using special weapons effectively can be immensely satisfying, and a team with a balanced range of special weapons at its disposal is a force to be reckoned with. Turf War seems to favour the shooter and roller class weapons though, as the charger weapons can’t ink the ground as efficiently.
Ranked Battle uses the Splat Zones mode rather than Turf War, and it makes for some intense battles as both teams fight to gain control over one or two zones in the middle of the map. I found that this mode is a much better fit for a lot of the weapons that didn’t feel useful in Turf War. Splat Charger users can find high spots away from danger and take out challengers from long-range. The sub weapon known as the Point Sensor – which reveals the location of enemies in a short radius of wherever this is thrown – becomes a lot more useful as it can be aimed towards the hotspots where enemies are likely to lurk. Splat Zone is my personal mode of choice for this reason, although it is easier to become frustrated with it over Turf War. The mode also makes me long for the team function; I’m itching to play on a team with three friends and feel the satisfaction that comes with successful strategies, but this feature isn’t available until August. On the odd occasion, a game would end up being completely one-sided due to balanced weapon choices.
The maps have plenty of variety and favour certain weapons over others. Most players should be able to find their niche and discover what strategy works on what map. Currently there are six maps, which may seem like a small number but I never felt this while playing. What did become irritating was playing the same stage many times in a row because there are only two stages on random rotation. It was a peculiar decision to only have two maps available every four hours and it means that tedium is more likely to occur, but I never felt this enough to stop playing. The chaotic action always left me wanting more.
Let’s move on to the single player experience known as Hero Mode, where the player travels through Octo Valley to rescue the great Zapfish of Inkopolis, guided by Cap’n Cuttlefish. The objective of each mission is to free the Zapfish at the end of the level and splatting any Octarians that stand in your way. The enemies get smarter and tougher as the campaign goes on. One of the most satisfying challenges of Hero Mode is simply finding all of the missions in the hub-world labyrinths. The player needs to find and splat invisible kettles that will send the player to a new level. The missions themselves are kept interesting due to several different mechanics and gimmicks, with various types of enemies that require strategy to dispose of. Sunken Scrolls hidden in each level tell of the history of the Octarians and Inklings. It was nice to discover some context to the Inklings’ existence and how they live, and it’s highly amusing to find out why the Inklings lost a certain war. The five boss fights in Hero Mode are exciting and again require some puzzle-solving from the player. The final boss is a lovely spectacle too, and one of the most memorable boss fights in recent years for Nintendo EAD.
Splatoon’s three Amiibo figures are my favourite Amiibo designs thus far, and they have their in-game perks for anyone that owns them. Twenty of the Hero Mode missions can be replayed with different weapons or objectives for each Amiibo. Successful players can earn currency, gear, weapons sporting different designs to their original counterparts, and extra arcade games. While there is plenty to earn for Amiibo-owners, it’s a shame that these rewards are locked to everyone else. This is the only way to unlock the other mini-games that can be played before a match, and it’s quite disheartening to know that many players can’t access three games.
Splatoon is an incredible gaming experience and an excellent addition to the Wii U line-up. If there is one major complaint I can make, it’s that the content and features are wearing thin on launch. Being unable to form a team lobby for an online team shooter is disappointing, and while I understand that this feature is coming at a later date, I believe they should have pushed for this to be available from the get go. I can forgive the other areas where content is lacking, such as only having two online modes and six maps. For now, there is plenty to do. I also found the offline multiplayer to be lacklustre, being able to support two players in a fairly bland game mode. One of the players won’t be able to use motion controls either, which makes for some very finicky aiming.
Having said that, the promised future content will certainly increase the longevity of the game. Tower Control and Rainmaker are two modes that are going to be used for Ranked Battles, and I’m very much looking forward to the Splatfests (I’ll be fighting for Team Rock Music!). Booyah Base changes its purchasable gear daily and several other services are offered once a day too, which will ensure that Inklings come back for more. Personally I’ll be playing this for months to come; I’m in love with the game’s music and art direction, and I’m engrossed in the game’s frantic action. Nintendo’s latest release is an incredibly fun, refreshing experience that will hopefully be here to stay.