The very idea that Nintendo is working on a third person shooter seems novel enough, but the fact that it involves squids in the guise of street kids shooting ink at one another for territory dominance is something that only could have come from the company famous for a kingdom full of talking mushrooms intermittently saved by a plumber. I had a chance to play Splatoon at PAX East last week, and I have a few thoughts about the experience. Well, that and I need to justify the fact that I waited an hour and a half to just get a few rounds in.
Just looking at the madness of Splatoon is enough to be interested. While the world of the game is normal, cityscape fare, once the vivid characters and neon ink starts splattering the walls, the game takes on a very unique personality. Each character looks like they belong in a 90’s cartoon or a Pixar movie about “city kids”, with one notable exception. Each kid character has dark circles around their eyes and squid-like tentacles in place of hair. The reason for this peculiar look is that each character can revert back to squid form to reload and travel faster through their own ink. It’s amusing to watch because the game feels like it is teetering between the weird cuteness of the squid form and the 90’s cool kid/street wise human forms.
The look and concept of the game intrigued me during last year’s E3 (not to mention the fact that it is a brand new Nintendo series), but playing it at PAX East finally has me excited for its quarter 2 release. In the available demo, two teams of four square off against each other with super soaker-like ink guns. The goal of the match is to splatter more ink on the floor of the level than the opposing team. While painting the walls is fun and useful, it does not count toward the final score. Paint on the ground not only contributes to your team’s score it is also your means of fast travel and reloading. In order to reload, players need to turn into squids and emerge themselves in their ink. While in one’s own ink, you can also move throughout the level quickly and more stealthily. The squid movements are fun and fluid, and feels like something I have never really done in a game before.
Stepping in the ink of your opponents will slow players down significantly and, if the opposing team splatters ink on one (submerged or not) players will be sent back to the spawn point. The gamepad functions as a map and characters can launch themselves to a teammate in need from the spawn point just by touching them on the touch screen. One can also use the gamepad’s tilt functionality to aim their ink splatter, which worked well for me, though I will also try out dual joystick upon release. The character becomes a squid and launches themselves to the teammate’s aid, which makes the game feel even more kinetic than it already is. Players also have resources like grenades that splatter a wide area and cost a lot of paint, and there is a special meter that fills throughout the match for special moves. The move on display at PAX was a tornado spray that lasts for about five seconds and sends a tornado of ink straight ahead of the player, taking out enemies in the way.
My favorite strategy was to paint as much of the area as I could around the spawn point ad then, as the timer ticked down, desperately assault contested areas in the middle of the field in a final rush. I like how the game caters to and rewards these two play styles—support and assault. The wild energy of the game really called to me and felt more like a friendly round of capture the hill than a competitive shooter typically offers. Splatoon is a curiosity, and having quality hands-on time with it has taken it from a mild curiosity, to one of my most anticipated games of this year. That said, I hope that Nintendo puts care and effort into the game’s online functionality, a hill that many shooters thrive or die upon.
Vinny Orsillo | @VinnyOhGames