Nintendo surprised many during 2014's E3 Direct Presentation when they had announced a brand new IP; one that sought to breathe new life into the competitive multiplayer scene. Rather than primarily focusing on killing the opposition, Nintendo chose to utilize their focus in delivering an experience suitable for all ages as a driving point for the game's main objective. Splatoon is an 8 player cooperative game where players and teams win by means of territory control. Your characters are giving guns that shoot out brightly coloured ink, and your focus is to cover the map with as much as your team's ink as possible before the time runs out. The charming twist is that your characters are also anthropomorphic squids. The main concept behind the game actually came before the decision for designing what the characters were going to be. According to the Direct, the main idea for having squids as main characters came as casually as having the game's producer, Hisashi Nogami, walk into work one day and said "Hey, let's make them squids." The team at Nintendo Entertainment Analysis and Development were able to brainstorm creative gameplay mechanics built around this goofy idea of having squids as characters, and the result is a very unique experience. As the human form, players can shoot and control parts of the map; when players turn into squids using the ZL button, players can actually travel underneath their team's coloured ink. This can be fully realized as offering new ways of transport, as you can travel vertically so long as there's a clear path of ink, allowing you to reach higher terrain.
Despite being mainly focused on delivering a solid multiplayer experience, Splatoon still offers a story mode to get players into world of the Inklings. There are about 27 levels in total, all offering different types of obstacle courses where players are trying to rescue creatures known as Zapfish from a squid's natural enemy "“ octopuses, or rather Octarians in this game. It's a charming way to get players familiar with the main mechanics and offers goodies like blueprints for better weapons that can be used in multiplayer.
The controls for Splatoon are very tight and nicely thought out. The default scheme has players move the camera with the Wii U's gyroscopes in the Gamepad, but I personally found it more enjoyable with them turned off, sticking to a traditional twin stick movement. The two trigger buttons are for shooting and turning into a squid, and the bumpers are for your secondary weapons that are exclusively tied to your primary. With every part of the map that you cover and every enemy you "splatter" you fill a meter that unleashes a special attack. You start out with a simple defensive shield, but some items offer echolocation to spot your targets on the map, others offer support like a raining wall of paint, and others allow you to transform into a Kraken, dealing heavy damage.
The main menu for Splatoon is a fully interactive hub called Inkopolis. It's a world where you and other players meet and can move your Inkling avatar to different buildings. There's a building for the game's main online mode, and there are also buildings for the game's customizable options. Players can purchase new headwear, and clothing that all have different stat bonuses. If you happen to have any of the three Splatoon related amiibos, players are also given unique challenges to complete that offer unique clothing options only found by that method. More advanced weapons and attire are unlocked as you progress through the game, so players will find that their selections are fairly limited early on. All of these can be purchased using the game's currency that's awarded to players after every match.
Online is divided into Regular and Ranked battles. Regular battles are casual matches where players earn experience and cash. Ranked matches grade players based on a C- to A+ scale. Players gain or drop ranks based on consecutive wins and losses. Turf War is the main mode behind regular battles, and is the standard territory control. Splat Zone is offered for ranked battles, and acts as a King of the Hill mode, where players chaotically fight over control of a sanctioned zone on the map. Both modes are wildly addicting, and I've found myself spending hours rejoining new matches consecutively without rest. One of the major issues Splatoon was faced with when it first released on May 29th was that the game came with a very limited amount of content. For instance, ranked battles were not a part of the retail game until about a week after the game's launch. One common feature like being able to form a party with your friends is absent and was said to release post-launch. In fact the only thing you can actually do with your friends is join them so long as they're actually in a match. It is a little odd that Nintendo would release a game so heavily focused on multiplayer only to have the ability to play with your friends as an afterthought. Granted, they have been very diligent at offering support for the game post launch. Ranked battles were added once they realized many players hit level 10 over the first weekend, and free weapons and maps have also been offered to players. For those who want to play locally, you can thankfully take part in one on one local matches.
Splatoon launched with 5 maps out of the box, and have currently offered two more for free. All offer a great variety in design and layout; some focus on the vertical terrain, while others offer a great zone for sheer chaos between the two teams. Despite thoroughly enjoying all of these levels, 7 is still a fairly small number. I can only hope that they do right by their community and continually release more as the game seems to be fairly popular globally and I would wish for the community to remain intact well after the game's launch.
One of the biggest complaints I've seen regarding Splatoon is the omission of any form of voice chat between teammates. This was mainly done to maintain Nintendo's children-friendly online environment. While there could have easily been a way to have it so it's only available for custom parties or something to that effect, I personally had no need for it. An argument could be made that it's necessary in a team game as you need to know where to be "“ to which I would say just look at the map on the gamepad. It changes in real time and lets you know exactly what needs to be prioritized without the need of verbal communication. Still, at least offering voice chat as an option would have been appreciated.
Splatoon's visuals and art style are very unique. Inkopolis is a tiny albeit detailed hub world with kooky and creative characters. Jelanzo the Jelly Fish runs the clothing store and wears a different t-shirt every day. Crusty Sean is a tempura battered tiger prawn that owns the shoe store, and wears a different shoe on each of his eight feet. Annie the sea anemone owns the hat store, and Sheldon is a horseshoe crab obsessed with the military and runs your weapons shop. Splatoon's charm ultimately owes a lot to the overall goofiness in these characters, each with their own quirks, and the world itself. Every time you start the game you are greeted by two talk show hosts, Callie and Marie (calamari, get it?) who tell you about the game's latest updates and releases. The visuals are very bright and colourful, and while they aren't going to appear to be the most technically advanced there's still a level of charm with the Inklings, and the world itself. Online performance has been very stable, with only a single match interfered with a disconnection, and the framerate is smooth at 60 fps.
Splatoon is an incredibly unique and a refreshingly brand new IP for Nintendo long list of first party IPs. The controls are solid, the visuals are pleasing and the community is strong. It's just a shame that the main package was fairly bare bones so early on; it makes it tough to recommend at full price. Those that are willing to invest the time are sure to find their money well spent, but other consumers have chosen to wait until more content is released for the game before paying the full retail price. Both options are perfectly viable and the wonderful thing about Splatoon is that you can absolutely start from scratch well after the game's launch and not feel like you're completely underpowered compared to the veterans. Sure they may have weapons that are currently inaccessible but the stat balances are intelligently designed so that newcomers have an equal chance at dominating. Considering the Wii U's library is still slowly coming out with new titles I would absolutely recommend Splatoon for those looking for a new game to play on the console. It has the potential to have a long lasting community and following, and hope Nintendo has solid plans for the future of the series.
|Squid mechanics offer a unique take on classic multiplayer.|
|Visuals are charming and vibrantly coloured.|
|Solid framerate performance online.|
|Lacking in map quantity.|
|Currently no way to form a party with your friends.|
|No option for voice chat.|