Splatoon is one of Nintendo’s most ambitious games ever. Nintendo has never been known for being masters of online gaming, but Splatoon looks to break that image by offering online competitive shooting on Nintendo’s home console. So does Nintendo hit the mark set by other shooting games or is Splatoon an entity of its own in the shooting genre?
Splatoon has you taking the role of a “kid” who can turn into a “squid”. You don’t use bullets in Splatoon, instead using ink to cover areas or take down your opposition. The shooting genre usually focuses on strictly taking out opponents or capturing points on a map, but Splatoon’s main online mode, “Turf War”, focuses on covering the most area with your team’s paint. At the end of the 3 minute round, the team with the most paint coverage on the map wins. Your participation and kills turn into experience points to level up, and money which is then used to customize your characters.
Let’s get the negative aspects of the online play out of the way. At launch, there are only 5 maps and 2 game modes: Turf War and Ranked. Ranked is unlocked at level 10, which makes Turf War the only accessible mode to play at launch. What’s more is that the 5 maps are rotated on a real-time clock every 4 hours, so if you start on the first hour, you are stuck with 2 maps throughout. The game also offers no voice-chat to communicate with teammates or custom matches with friends, which is odd considering this is 2015.
On paper, it might seem like Splatoon is an incomplete online experience. Nintendo has openly stated that the game will be getting free DLC throughout the Summer, and in August will be receiving a huge free content boost with more modes, maps, and the ability to create custom game types with your friends, which is a great and welcome addition, but doesn’t necessarily help the stigma that some have with Splatoon being a bit rushed.
With that being said, the positives in Splatoon’s online more than make up for any initial shortcomings. The game runs at a smooth 60FPS with little to no lag online. Out of literally hundreds of matches I can only think of 3 to 4 games where I experienced any lag, and it was always a non-issue mid match. While the 5 levels appear to be paltry in terms of amount of content, I never really felt bored with the maps because of the sheer diversity that Turf War offers to the player themselves. Since the focus is mostly on painting areas to win the match, the levels themselves actually take a backseat to the gameplay mechanics which is something I don’t recall ever experiencing in an online shooter. Want to hide out in your team colors ink and sabotage an enemy? You can. Want to focus on just holding down one section of the map? No problem. While the game lacks voice-chat, I never really felt the need for it while playing with random people thanks to the GamePad use.
The GamePad is simple in this game, but effective. While playing online, your map is the screen, which shows real time coverage of areas. Also, at any time if you see an area being taken over and you have a teammate near by, you can simply touch their name or location on the map and fly through the air to rescue them. While voice-chat would be fantastic for when you can play custom modes, and should be available when playing with a friend, the lack of it in random Turf War never deterred my experience due to the simple but clever GamePad usage.
Splatoon also is a bit limited in control schemes, which is strange considering how the Wii U utilizes a wide variety of control options. The GamePad is required when playing, and while I’m very comfortable using only the GamePad, this could be off putting to others. You can control the layout to either be a traditional dual-stick shooter, or use Gyro-controls with the GamePad. I personally used Gyro-controls the entire time with Splatoon, starting from the first Global Test Fire, and found myself enjoying it and being able to control with precision.
Weapon variety is also pleasantly hefty in Splatoon as well. While the Global Test Fire only had 4 weapons to choose from, there are a ton of weapons to use online all with unique abilities. From standard shooting weapons to paint rollers, there’s a wide variety of main and side weapons to use, with some of the side weapons – such as creating a fountain to block enemy paths – being very unique. Your “Inkling” is also fully customizable and gives you unique abilities. You can change your character’s hat, clothing, and shoes, and each article of clothing offers a new addition to your character’s skill set, such as increased defense. It makes for a riveting and exciting experience online while trying to find and assemble the best layout for your character.
While Splatoon’s emphasis is very much on online multiplayer, there is a single player campaign that shouldn’t be overlooked. Single player pits your inkling against a swarm of Octo’s, better known as the bad guys in the game. This section is broken down into levels and a main hub world. You can access any level inside of the hub world you are on at any given time, with the main goal being to rescue Zapfish captured by your adversaries. Each level is fun and unique, with sub-bosses and end of world bosses, and it actually has a strong emphasis on platforming along with the standard taking out of enemies. It doesn’t feel like a tacked on experience at all, as some single player campaigns in shooting games do.
Rounding out the single player modes are available amiibo challenges, unlocked by using Splatoon-themed amiibo in game. Each character unlocks an additional 20 challenges which adds a good bit more content to the game. The negative aspect would be the need to purchase the amiibo, which some can view as a pay-wall for content. As it is completely optional, I didn’t have an issue with it, but I can see how some people may.
In terms of local multiplayer, there is a Battle Dojo mode that has you and a friend competing against each other. In this mode, one player uses the GamePad and one uses a Wii U Pro Controller, Wii Classic Controller, or Wii Classic Controller Pro and the TV. The goal is to pop balloons before your opposition does, with the winner being whoever gets to 30 points or who has the most at the end of the 3 minutes. It’s not a mode that will have you coming back for more over and over, but it’s a nice diversion. It would have been nice to have local split-screen multiplayer, which is an odd oversight for this game.
Many fans wanted Splatoon to be Nintendo’s answer to Halo or Call of Duty, and I don’t know if that is fair. If you are expecting that, Splatoon might not be the game for you. Splatoon is to shooters what Mario Kart was to racers: it emphasizes pick up and play fun. It’s a fun and lighthearted game with some great mechanics and focus on elements of the shooting genre that have never been looked at the same way before. The world is alive with color and paint and is a treat for the eyes. While the initial amount of maps and modes may be deterring, the sheer fun of the game manages to outshine any strong negative feelings I had. It’s not a perfect game, but it’s fun: plain and simple.