Like many others, my first sight of Splatoon in last year’s Nintendo Digital Event at E3 surprised me.
I wasn’t really sure what to think. On the one hand, the cartoony style made me think of a lot of Nickelodeon cartoons from the ’90s, which is always good for nostalgia. On the other hand, the idea of an online shooter didn’t really appeal to me, even with the different mechanics of covering territory in your team’s ink color. I’ve always been more of a solo player anyway and at the time, didn’t really care for playing games online at all.
But as time went on and we were able to see more of Splatoon (including the addition of a single-player mode), I became more and more interested and eventually decided I wanted to play it. And though at first finding that there was no 4-player splitscreen nearly made me reverse my decision to buy the game, playing the Global Testfire convinced me Splatoon would be the game to have.
While not without its flaws, I can very happily say that Splatoon is an absolute blast to play and well worth purchasing for anyone with a Wii U.
Inking it Out (Online)
What’s easily ink-tended to be the main focus of Splatoon is the online 4 versus 4 multiplayer match called “Turf War,” where your goal is to cover as much of the map as possible in your team’s ink color (which is randomly determined with every map) while doing your best to both take out the opposing team members and spread your ink over theirs. What makes the matches more ink-teresting than your typical shooter is the ability to turn ink-to a squid by holding ZL and swim through ink of your team’s color, making you virtually invisible to your opponents and enabling you to move much faster than when on foot, though it comes at the cost of being unarmed and more susceptible to damage if hit. And if you try to swim in ink of the opposing team’s color, you both slow down dramatically and take damage, so it’s even more important to cover the other team’s ink with your own. At the end of 3 minutes, the winner is determined based solely on which team covered the highest percentage of the map in their color.
One of the things that’s most ink-teresting about this game is the variety of weapons. Just as in any other shooter, there are multiple different types with different effects, but the way these weapons feel is still much different than most games because of how they function. Precision is less of an issue than in most shooters, as the ink splattering effects have a wider spread than guns using actual bullets. Of course the rate of fire, damage, range, etc. stats are all present in each weapon and each one has different advantages and disadvantages. The Splattershot/Splattershot Jr. both are fully automatic guns with rapid fire rates and medium range shots, which are beneficial when caught up in a firefight (or ink-fight), but are less effective when it comes to covering ground in your team’s ink. The Splat Charger weapons provide long range shots that deal more damage and cover a longer stretch in ink, but require a short charge time before being fired and need to be aimed more precisely at an enemy. The Splat Roller (my personal favorite) is essentially a large paint roller that can be pushed forward on the ground to spread a large trail of ink, making it ideal for inking the ground and steamrolling over opponents both in humanoid form and hiding in their team’s ink, but also can be flicked to spread paint like buckshot from a shotgun. Its disadvantage is that it’s short-range and harder to cover walls and curved ramps in ink. And these are just a few of the weapon types available, each of which come with sub-weapons such as grenades, sprinklers, Bombchu-like tracking bombs, etc. and special weapons like the Inkzooka (which shoots small tornadoes of ink towards your enemies), the Inkstrike (which sends a massive ink missile down on a targeted location), and the Echo-Locator (which marks on the map where each of the opposing team members are ink relation to all of your teammates for easy targeting/avoiding) among others.
While there are only 6 maps currently available (one of which was just added this week) and the maps are randomly selected in groups of two (which rotate every 4 hours), I have yet to find myself actually getting tired of a map and Nintendo has confirmed that more will be given as free DLC in the coming months. There are times when a map pops up that I wish I had selected a different weapon for, but even when I bring the Splat Roller to the Skate Park (where it’s less effective due to fewer flat surfaces), I can still find a way to be useful, even if it’s occasionally just hiding in a heavily-inked area and popping out to shotgun someone with the Splat Roller.
As you wait for enough players to be added to a match, the Gamepad screen gives you the option to play a retro-inspired 8-bit mini-game called Squid Jump, which quite simply has you guiding a squid up a series of platforms until you reach the goal at the top of each stage. If the mini-game is your cup of tea, you’ll be happy to know that your progress is auto-saved until you die, so even if you get connected to a match in the middle of a Squid Jump stage, you’ll be able to continue from where you left off the next time you’re waiting for a match. There are other mini-games you can unlock by completing amiibo challenges (covered later), but I quickly found myself not bothering with the mini-game as it wasn’t thrilling enough to keep me coming back. I guess you could say I inked from the challenge.
Regarding the system for matchmaking, I do have some complaints. As of right now, once you’ve selected to play a Regular Match online (the aforementioned Turf War), you do not have the option to change any of your gear until you leave the match. But even leaving a match can only be done after you finish one or by pressing the Home button on the Gamepad and closing the game. While I don’t know when or even if Nintendo will enable us to switch gear while waiting for a match to start, most likely there will at some point be an update that allows easily leaving a match that’s not already in progress. This minor ink-convenience doesn’t really hurt the experience, but it’s still good to know.
Of course, being an online multiplayer game, there is the ability to level up and buy better weapons, headgear, outfits, and footwear, all of which boost certain stats to help give players a competitive advantage. But even with those advantages, skill can still make it possible for a level 1 player to take out a level 10. What is unfortunate, however, is that while it is possible to beat another team even at a low level, if the opposing team members are all much higher levels and have better gear/more experience, the matches can feel unfairly weighed in their favor. It seems like there should be some better kind of matchmaking where matches are made up of more people within 2-3 levels of each other instead of having high level players come in and slaughter the low levels because of the randomness of matchmaking. Of course, that seems to be a normal part of online multiplayer no matter what game you play.
There is also an omission of any sort of voice chat in Splatoon. While I would definitely say that I do not believe it is ink any way needed, at least when playing with random people (especially given the 3-minute length of matches), it would be nice to have just to chat with people on your friends list when playing with them. Of course, the current matchmaking setup does not guarantee you will be playing on the same team as a friend even when choosing to play with one of them (i.e. they may or may not be on your team). Matchmaking with friends is supposed to be changed in some fashion with a future update, however.
It’s also important to note some technical aspects. Apart from the above complaints, the game runs buttery-smooth with absolutely no slowdown when playing online matches. Even with my 3 Mbps down/1 Mbps up speed, I got a constant 60 fps at all times with only rare disconnects (and that is more likely my own internet than the Splatoon servers). What did become annoying was a few of the disconnects I had were less than 10 seconds before the match was over (though I think in almost every instance, my team probably would have lost those matches anyway).
Certainly there are plenty of people out there who, like me, don’t typically play online shooters against other people due to constant losses and frustration. But where Splatoon shines is that even though there are plenty of options for strategy when playing, I rarely found myself in a position where I was completely useless against the opposing team or unable to hold my own. That’s not to say I didn’t lose matches (because I lost plenty and some of them were downright bad losses), but with few exceptions, I still had a good time and was ready for another match. When I compare that with other online gaming experiences I’ve had (where I almost never want to try again after getting slaughtered), it says a lot about how much fun Splatoon is to play.
While Splatoon is undoubtedly geared primarily toward online 4 versus 4 multiplayer, the single player campaign does not in any way feel tacked on. In fact, the single player is highly enjoyable with lots of variety within its 27 different levels. None of the levels are particularly long, so depending on your proficiency and whether or not you choose to find the special collectible (which is worth the effort if you want a chuckle) and/or gather the orbs in each level (used to upgrade your weapon and other gear in single-player) the campaign can take anywhere from 6-10 hours to complete. But every level provides at least one new or different game mechanic to learn or enemy type to face. And while the Octarian (octopus) enemies in single-player are undoubtedly less intelligent than other human players (and can often be rather easy to take down), it still felt like each type was lovingly crafted to feel special and coupled with the environmental hazards and the unique layouts of each stage, gave enough of a challenge to not make me feel like the game was too easy. The boss battles, which give you large and very unique Octarians to fight, are easily some of the most well-designed and fun battles I’ve ever done.
Unfortunately, many of the special mechanics are absent from multiplayer, but considering the single player isn’t timed and is intended to have more substance over the 3-minute matches of the online mode(s), it isn’t really a problem. If anything, it’s nice to have a clearer distinction between the two modes so as to give reasons to play both.
The single-player mode does have something additional, however it requires the use of the Splatoon amiibo. Each of the 3 amiibo unlock challenge versions of the single-player levels in which you use a different weapon type than the default gun. The Inkling Boy lets you tackle the levels using the Splat Roller, the Inkling Girl lets you tackle the levels using the Splat Charger, and the Squid lets you tackle the levels with the Kraken version of the squid (which stays on top of the ink, eliminating the invisibility aspect but also giving the ability to attack while in squid mode and spread a trail of ink as you move along the ground). This could be considered expensive DLC (at $13/amiibo or $35 for the 3 pack), but the way I see it is that it’s bonus content that you get for owning some downright well made and fantastic-looking amiibo, which are cool to have displayed as it is. Regardless, while these challenges are interesting and definitely give a different feel to each of the levels, they are by no means necessary to the core experience, they just give more solo stuff to do to unlock some special-looking gear for your inkling.
Inking it Out (Local)
The local multiplayer mode is interesting, but not nearly as exciting as the online portion, mostly due to the simple fact that it’s only 1 versus 1. One player uses the Gamepad screen and the other uses the TV screen (using either the Wii U Pro Controller or Wii Classic Controller/Classic Controller Pro) and both players are tasked with popping as many balloons as they can during the 5 minute match. In this mode, balloons will spawn randomly from time to time in a pre-marked area (which is marked by a pillar visible on your map for each spawn point before it appears). Once either the balloons are all popped or the time window closes for that set, a new set will pop up elsewhere. Random power-ups appear on the map that are the same as the Special weapons you use in both the single and online multiplayer modes, each of which can at times can make the difference between a win or loss in a match. The Turf War aspect is absent from this mode, though that doesn’t make it any less advantageous to cover the ground with your ink, as it still helps in getting around and damaging your opponent.
I think that as a 1 versus 1 mode, the difference makes sense as a turf war on a large map for only two people would likely result in neither player ever really seeing the other, but it would be nice to have more than 2 players at a time. Considering Nintendo has had minimum 4-player local multiplayer since the N64, it’s unfortunate to see them going the same direction with this game as most online shooters by not having much of anything for local play.
As Nintendo’s latest new IP, Splatoon not only impresses, but is one of the best looking and most enjoyable multiplayer experiences I’ve had in a while. Even though its local multiplayer leaves something to be desired in terms of the number that can play, the online multiplayer is so thoroughly enjoyable that even with a lack of voice-chat and some other minor complaints, I still find myself going back to play “just one more match” even when my team loses. The single-player campaign provides a different yet equally enjoyable 6-10 hours of game time with unique mechanics and some of the best boss fights I’ve done in any game and while the amiibo functionality might seem like expensive DLC, I see it more as bonus content that comes with an amazing figurine set. If you have a Wii U, do yourself a favor and pick up this fantastic game. I have an inkling you’ll love it.