Whether you’re a kid or a squid, you’ve surely heard about Splatoon by now. After all, it’s Nintendo’s newest IP and first foray into the online multiplayer shooter space. Unlike your typical shooter, however, Splatoon isn’t about killing your opponents; rather, it’s about inking territory. Though it’s hard not to get drawn in by the game’s flashy colors and youthful energy, is there enough inside the box to satisfy the hype? Let’s find out.
Splatoon’s main attraction is Turf Wars, a 4v4 battle to ink the most terrain possible. Words can’t quite capture the colorful frenzy that unfolds during each 3-minute match. Anything and everything, from walls to trees to inklings, is splattered over and over again with bright neon paint until the ending whistle blows. There’s no time to think, only time to ink. Generally, most matches can swing either way and are often decided in the last 60 seconds. Even in defeat, Turf Wars is a chaotic blast to play.
Though the matches themselves are awesome, some design choices dampen the overall experience. First, you can’t change your loadouts in between matches without leaving your online lobby. If you’re playing with a solid group of people, this can be particularly frustrating. Equally annoying is the inability to leave lobbies once you’re in them – even if it’s taking forever to find a match. You actually have to turn off your Wii U if you want to return to the main hub or try another lobby. Additionally, you can only play on 2 of Splatoon’s 6 current maps during any given 4 hour period, so playing on the same map 3 or 4 times in a row is not uncommon. Given that 6 maps is a fairly small total to begin with, this restriction only draws extra attention to Splatoon’s current lack of content. Lastly, and perhaps most notably, Splatoon doesn’t include any voice chat whatsoever, even though it’s primarily a co-operative online multiplayer shooter. Though the GamePad shows the status of the paint-filled map at all times, it would have been nice to chat with friends during matches and occasionally discuss splat strats (short for Splatoon strategies of course).
Jackson Pollock: The Game
For a new game in a new genre, Splatoon is remarkably easy to control. You can choose between either gyroscopic or twin-stick controls for aiming and adjust both the sensitivity and x and y-axis inversion. In terms of movement, you can run around on foot as a kid or swim through your own colored ink as a squid. Movement in enemy colored ink will slow you down to a crawl.
Your weapons and gear are customizable to a degree. The more “standard” guns have varying impact, range, and fire rate stats to suit a wide spectrum of play styles. Charge-shot rifles are great for sniping opponents at a distance and creating long narrow paths of ink. Paint rollers cover territory the fastest and double as a shotgun when flung. Every gun comes with its own sub-weapon, like splat bombs or seekers, and special weapon, like an Inkstrike or Inkzooka. Unfortunately, you can’t pick and choose your three-weapon loadout – you just have to settle for the sub and special weapons that are paired with your primary weapon of choice.
Gear is available from the shops in Inkopolis, the game’s central hub. In addition to your weapon, you’ll need to select your inkling’s headgear, clothing, and footwear. Each piece of gear has a main perk, such as better ink efficiency or better defense, as well as 1-3 additional unlockable perks. Annoyingly, these bonus attributes are randomly determined as gear levels up, so you can never fully customize your equipment in a way that fully complements your play style.
Enter the Squidtrix
After reaching Level 10 in Turf Wars, you’ll unlock Ranked Battle, which, as of now, only includes one additional mode: Splat Zones. Unlike in Turf Wars, the object of Splat Zones is to maintain control of 1 or 2 areas for 100 seconds, or at least longer than the other team. Killing is significantly more important here, which results in some brutally intense matches. Make no mistake: this mode isn’t for the faint of heart. When you first unlock Ranked Battle, you’ll have a C- score. Splat Zones wins and losses initially contribute +20 and -10 points, respectively, to your overall Ranked Battle score. At every 100 points, you’ll progress to the next letter grade.
Though I appreciate the higher risk/higher reward structure of Splat Zones, it’s far too individually punitive given the team-based nature of the mode. For example, if the opposing team controls the splat zones for 100 seconds, it’s considered a knockout victory – they’re awarded a knockout bonus and you get nothing. At least when you lose in Turf Wars, you’re rewarded with some experience for your efforts. In Splat Zones, your individual performance is often meaningless, and you’re punished for your team’s poor play. Given that you can neither choose nor speak with your teammates, success is just as luck as it is skill-based. Even when I was victorious, it felt more like the result of a disorganized opponent than any brilliant strategy on my part. Playing a game for hours and making no progress can be frustrating, but making negative progress based largely on chance is downright outrageous.
Outside of online play, Splatoon has a local 1v1 multiplayer mode called Battle Dojo, where one player watches the TV screen and the other watches the GamePad. Rather than inking turf, the goal is to score 30 points within 3 minutes by popping balloons. Balloons are worth 1 point each during the first 2 minutes and 2 points each during the final minute. To make matches more intense, you lose points if your opponent splatters you. Battle Dojo is a fun diversion from the online team-based modes, but I wish Nintendo would have included a 1v1 Turf Wars mode as well.
Fried octopus never tasted so goo– wait, is that paint?
Though marketed primarily as a multiplayer game, Splatoon also includes a surprisingly diverse single player campaign. Under the tutelage of Cap’n Cuttlefish, a seasoned war veteran, you must infiltrate the Octo Valley, defeat the Octarian Army, and rescue the Great Zapfish. As of now, the campaign is Splatoon’s most combat-focused mode. It’s also the best place to master squid movement. You’ll have to swim up walls, hop between floating platforms, travel through zip lines, scale inflatable sponges, and ride paint geysers to defeat your enemy and rescue the trapped zapfish in each level. There are also five major bosses you must fight along the way, each more challenging and fun than the last. Sadly, though the skills you learn in the Octo Valley carry over to Turf Wars, the more creative design elements and level verticality do not. Hopefully future maps will incorporate some of these ideas.
Expectedly, Splatoon is just as bright and colorful as your typical Nintendo game, but its spunky attitude and 90s Nickelodeon vibe set it apart from the company’s other titles. Likewise, the game’s music is its own quirky combination of rock and reggae, but hearing the same few songs over and over again gets slightly irritating. In terms of performance, I experienced the occasional framerate stutter in Inkopolis, but my online matches ran smoothly at 60fps with only a handful of disconnections during my dozen-plus hours of play.
Splatoon is Nintendo’s most unique game in years and there’s nothing quite like it on the market. Though it’s relatively short on content for a game of its nature, Nintendo has promised to release additional maps and modes in the coming months. If they’re half as good as Turf Wars, I have no doubt Splatoon will “staaaay fresh” throughout the summer and beyond.
Please note that the final score is not an average