A third-person shooter that focuses heavily on multiplayer is the very last thing anyone expected out of Nintendo at E3 of 2014. Splatoon is a difficult game to put a pin in as far as a score, especially because while the content on day one was notably scarce, Nintendo continues to release new weapons, multiplayer levels, and events free-of-charge.
So, before the “massive update” coming out in early August, I wanted to put down my thoughts on Splatoon and hopefully avoid any puns about squids, ink, and squirting—a temptation I refuse to indulge. Like it or not, Splatoon has made a lasting creative impression as a new franchise for Nintendo and while it is not without fault, hopefully this foray into non-couch-bound multiplayer isn’t just an experiment.
The game plays out in the city of Inkopolis, an analog of Tokyo, and is inhabited by all sorts of sea-inspired life forms. The main race is that of the Inklings, who have the unique ability to transform from squid to kid (as the notoriously catchy/irritating commercial touts) at will. The crux of the multiplayer campaign centers on a competition that Inklings love to indulge in: Turf Wars. In these turf wars, the Inklings are armed with ink-based weaponry and go head-to-head in four-on-four battles to see which team can claim the most territory (cover the most ground) with their team’s ink. While the city of teenage Inklings is both obsessed and preoccupied with this sport, the single player campaign focuses on an ongoing siege of Octarians, Octopus-like creatures bent on taking Inkopolis over by stealing the city’s main power source, the great Zapfish. Your character, should you choose to take a break from multiplayer, becomes a secret agent sent to infiltrate the Octarian scourge and retrieve the Great Zapfish.
The main draw of Splatoon is its multiplayer. Once a match of the main Turf War has begun, players use a weapon of choice to begin covering as much of the map with ink as possible. While only the ground counts toward overall dominance, inking walls is not a disadvantage. When inklings transform into squids, they have limited mobility on un-inked ground. In the ink of their own color however, the squids travel faster than their human-like alternate form and can travel up inked walls for more mobility and also remain still in both the floor and a wall to then surprise an unknowing enemy. Players are defeated after being squirted with enough ink and then return to their base. From a base, players can elect to proceed on foot or simply tap on another friendly player to launch to that location; this is the main purpose of the gamepad’s display, which is an overhead look of the map. Using this map to see areas dominated by enemy ink is essential, especially when time is nearly up.
Turf Wars are full of manic energy. The main guns are basic but reliable super-soaker squirt guns. Also in the arsenal are long-range options, which can be charged for sniping, and rollers are also available, perfect for covering ground but easily bested at a distance. Each weapon has its own stats and additional ability; covering enough turf with ink allows a special power of varying usefulness (anything from a shield, to a melee Kraken, to an aerial assault) depending on a player’s strategy. Levels are composed of two bases and a mirrored layout. While some levels play with verticality, others have tight corridors and still others have a vast amount of turf to cover and protect. Equipment (accessories, clothes, and shoes) can each level up, gain abilities that subtly change player dynamics, and look damned fashionable to boot. The Inklings look like they belong in a Nike commercial or in a skate park; I just can’t shake a 90’s cool kids vibe from this game. That aside, while the multiplayer is basic enough for beginners, it has enough variety and strategy for players looking for a bit more to chew on.
The game does have a few hangups that take away from the multiplayer experience. Since there is no voice chat capability, forming any kind of strategy with teammates is not present. While doing the best one can on their own is satisfying, I always felt like shouting “I need backup,” or “we need to take that section,” especially when there are only seconds left to a match. Oftentimes, it is the difference of a percentage point between teams and that little extra teamwork would really up the experience. Coordination prior to battle is absent as well. I often found myself in a match of all-roller weapons or all-snipers; there is no opportunity to see what other players have for weapons before the match has already begun. Playing for an extended period gives players bonus experience, but doing so might feel like a chore at times because only two levels are available at any given four-hour period. Ranked matches add additional modes including king-of-the-hill matches which, though really fun, also proof that the lack of a that feature is a weakness. The motion control of the gamepad, though effective, is something I’d recommend turning off, at least in the fast-paced multiplayer.
The single player campaign is composed of levels with a mix of both platforming and shooter challenges. While one mission may be avoiding a new obstacle or facing a new enemy. The bosses are a real treat, many of them feel as if one is tackling a 3D Mario boss and have the same polish. It isn’t the longest campaign, but it is fun to tackle those challenges (which then have additional challenges thanks to Splatoon amiibo). The final boss, though intensely fun, is a mountain at the end of a hill and will really test players, despite it feeling out-of-place difficult. In fact, I wished there had been more challenges so difficult throughout the campaign.
For a game that is mostly focused on third-person multiplayer, the game has an unmistakable amount of personality. It commands attention with its in-your-face colors and creative land-dwelling ocean life. Lacking many of the perks that shooters have been developing and improving upon for more than a decade hurts Splatoon but it fills a long-empty hole on Nintendo platforms. Nintendo continues to keep this community going with events, levels, and weapon for no charge to the player, making the purchase seem more and more valuable over time in a market that often forces players to pay for anything more than the base package. Splatoon is a great introduction for beginners to the shooter genre and is an addictive addition to the Wii U lineup.
Vinny Orsillo | @VinnyOhGames