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Hands On With The Splatoon Global Testfire
Nintendo’s new online multiplayer IP Splatoon, is anything but another run of the mill third person shooter. What you will find wrapped within it’s candy coated paint job is part 3D platformer, part strategy pastime, and a solid third person shooter experience which collectively makes for a rather unique and alluring opportunity for the Wii U. What makes Splatoon special is that it isn’t worried about bogging the player down with stats, muscles, and grey textures mainly because what Splatoon chooses to focus on is fluidity and color; lots and lots of color. Splatoon manages to create a competitive realm that isn’t invested in kill death ratios and all the while isn’t overzealous in having players find hidden ammo caches with stronger weapons in an attempt to make quick work of enemies. This is all because Splatoon isn’t simply about eliminating your enemies and its main focus is on having players paint the floors of the arena with your team’s specific color ink.
That’s right, head shots don’t matter when your main objective is to cover the canvas, that is the arena, in your team’s color. Taking down opponents helps your team’s cause, but you must keep in mind the objective because every second is precious in these online Turf War matches. One minute you’re running along and have completely covered an area, then turn around and are instantly splatted by an unseen Roller who has not only already covered up what you just inked, but you then must watch as they paint down your former path. It reminds me a lot of de Blob 2 mixed in with Star Wars Battlefront 2, where you and a team of three other players try to “out color” the other team by covering as much ground in your own ink as possible. This all makes Splatoon’s palate rather enjoyable and I simply can’t wait to explore more of its multilayered madness.
Let’s Get Splatted
To win, you will have to make quick use of your environment and that’s where the strategy aspects come into play. As a squid-like humanoid creature known as an Inkling, you are able to quickly swim about in your own team’s color ink so that you can traverse the landscape that much quicker. One of the best aspects of this is that you are able to quickly bounce in and out of the ink by holding down the ZL button, and when you release it your character pops up and is ready to fire more rounds onto the opposing field. It’s imperative that you dive into your team’s ink every so often because you will need to refill your ink tank, and without ammo crates of any sort, it’s the only way to refill your weapon.
You’re unable to attack while swimming which makes you extremely vulnerable in this position. If you aren’t careful then you will likely find yourself getting “splatted” rather quickly. It turns this unique gameplay mechanic into a risk reward system where you will need to plan for how much ink you have left, how much ground you need to cover, and all the while being on the constant lookout for enemies that may be lurking in their own ink. Do you expend that extra amount of ink before you refill? Or do you continuously swim about and shoot only when absolutely necessary? These options are fulfilling and will make you feel completely engaged with Splatoon. You can’t swim or run through enemy ink either because not only does it slow you down, but you will also take damage from simply stepping on it so you will need to make sure that you cover your intended path before you just go about swimming and running aimlessly.
The controls are really the best aspect of Splatoon, and that’s because they resemble a typical shooter schematic which feel great and just make sense; even on the gamepad. You shoot with ZR, throw bombs with R, jump with X, and move about with the left analog stick. Splatoon also has two camera options that either entail using the right analog stick or motion controls which are a bit twitchier. I’m a fan of the analog stick personally, however the motion controls allow for a better range of motion because it isn’t limited to your thumbs. There is a bit of a learning curve involved with using the motion controls, but I feel that if you invest in the time to learn them, this option can pay off dearly. Extremely quick players that master this option I feel have a bit of an advantage over players that use the analog stick. This is because it is more intuitive to simply aim the game pad in the direction of the area or the enemy you want to ink instead of using the stick. And the camera seems to move a lot faster than compared to the analog stick; regardless of the amount of sensitivity you’ve toggled. I am glad however that Nintendo decided to include both options so if one doesn’t fit your play style then you by no means have to use it.
Splat Zones at Your Fingertips
Let’s talk about the gamepad for a moment. Since the main goal of online matches is to cover as much turf as you can in your own team’s ink, it would only make sense that the gamepad acts as your only map of the arena. If you’re native to the Wii U, then this feels right at home as you’re already accustomed to switching your view down to the gamepad for maps and inventories and then back to the TV. However, if you aren’t used to this gameplay style then it can be a bit tedious as one minute you are looking at the map, then the next you find yourself splatted because you weren’t quick enough to look back at the TV. This is because it’s an online experience and there is no pausing the round to look down at the gamepad like you can in Wind Waker HD. The game even provides tips stating that you will need to master this maneuver to succeed. So, if you haven’t already acquired the neck muscles yet, then you may experience a bit of strain until you do. Not only is the gamepad used as a map feature, but when you are splatted (which will inevitably happen) you are transported back to your team’s spawning point. You have the option of spawning on another active player by touching their location on the gamepad map, which then launches you into the sky by performing a super jump, and lands you in the proximity of the player you selected. It’s not really a revolutionary option, but it is a tiny bit more interactive than just selecting a spawn point on a menu when you’re waiting to respawn. As a side note, respawn times are phenomenal and they seemed to last only about 3 seconds until I could rejoin combat.
The gamepad also has a neat little feature that allows you to play brand new NES inspired mini games, involving a variety of squid themed action while you’re waiting for the match to begin. Squid Jump was the only one available during the Testfire, and it was a bunch of fun to play while I was waiting for other players to join the match. Squid Jump kind of reminded me of a pixilated Icy Tower mixed with Super Mario Bros 2 where the main goal is to continue to jump higher and higher until the match begins. There seemed to be no other value to these mini games besides a simple pastime for my ADD while waiting. Meaning that the points accumulated and items achieved by jumping higher and higher didn’t carry over to the main matches. Squid Jump interestingly enough did save itself so there was no need to start over from level 1 every time I was waiting for a match to begin. The level progression in mini games while waiting for the main event is a nice touch.
There were four main weapon presets that were available to test out in the Beta which all felt pretty unique in their own ways. Each preset had one main weapon, a grenade bomb of sorts, and a special move that could be performed after accumulating enough points through ink splatter. The Splattershot, which feels like an automatic machine gun, came with Burst Bombs that exploded on impact and the Bomb Rush allowed for a rapid succession of these bombs to be thrown without using up any ink. The Splattershot Jr. (my personal favorite) felt pretty much the same as it’s elder, however it’s a bit smaller and shoots a bit faster, but it’s also a bit weaker than the Splatershot. The Splattershot Jr. came with Splat Bomb grenades and the ever handy Bubbler that creates a force field around you and your team mates if you touch them, which briefly protects from harm. The Splat Charger I’m my opinion was the hardest to use as it is reminiscent of a high powered hunting rifle, and it’s ranged abilities project a long line of ink for you to quickly swim through. The Splat Charger needs to charge for a moment before it fires, but it changes the game drastically by allowing players to “camp” in higher locations to quickly and quietly take out enemy players from above that attempt to paint over an area you just inked. The Splat Charger, like the Splattershot, also came equipped with the Burst Bomb and the Bomb Rush.
The final weapon preset was the Splat Roller which is a large paint roller that can cover an entire area in a matter of seconds. You can easily take down enemies by either flicking the roller at them which dowses them in ink, or you can just flat out run them over if you’re into that sort of thing. The Splat Roller covered the most ground out of the four main weapons, and it seemed to be the most popular weapon of choice as most of the players I played against used it. One downside to using the Splat Roller is that since its able to ink at a constant rate, it seemed to run through the reserve tank that much quicker. The Splat Roller came with the Suction Bomb, which acts as a sticky mine that can cling to walls and ceilings, and the Killer Wail special is like an awesome large beam that takes over the entire screen in one direction and it splats anything in its path.
There were two maps that rotated at random in the Testfire, and they both felt different in the sense that you didn’t just feel like you were playing the same map with a night or weather overlay. Walleye Warehouse is an enclosed arena filled with a lot of tight spaces and plenty of inking opportunities which could easily be missed if you’re swimming by to fast to notice them. There aren’t as many vantage points available (that I found at least) to take full advantage of the Splat Charger, however the map aims to have you using its tight quarters to your advantage. One strategy I used to frequently win was to first create a mess, then hide in my ink until an unknowing enemy walked past so I could quickly pop out and blast them. I would then proceed to cover their trail with my own ink, and it was like they were never even there. In this same light, one of my favorite things to do was paint the areas around an enemy player then swim behind them as they frantically looked for me, then I’d pop up behind them like Jason Voorhees and splat them. Close quarter combat locations like the Walleye Warehouse made everyday feel like Friday the 13th for some.
The other available map was the Saltspray Rig which is an offshore oil rig that takes advantage of open spaces. I enjoyed this map a bit more as its layout spanned across both higher and lower areas that were fully equipped with elevator lifts and ramps. I loved inking an area, then swimming through it and then jumping off a cliff down to a lower level that I previously inked, and then continued to swim around an unsuspecting enemy to take them out. Death from above in all the right ways! There was also a rather large section of the Saltspray Rig that had only one entry point and if you could somehow paint this area and keep it guarded from enemies trying to enter, then your chances of winning were greatly improved. I really appreciated the capture the fort style gameplay that I found myself and other players interacting with and I hope to see more of this utilized in the main game.
Some Unanswered Questions
One of Splatoon’s greatest contentions is that the game doesn’t have a Party Chat feature whatsoever. Party Chat is the norm in most competitive online multiplayer games, and its absence feels a bit awkward. Is it because Nintendo wants to protect the kids? Or is it because they aren’t actually using dedicated servers for Splatoon? Can Nintendo patch in Party Chat eventually? And if not, then will Splatoon offer some sort of connectivity to my friends on my friends list? These questions have yet to be answered, however I must honestly say that even though I only played the game for a few hours, the option isn’t a necessity like it is in games like Evolve, and Call of Duty. This is because a match of Splatoon can easily be won by spraying ink everywhere without ever caring about or commanding your squad. This did leave a small feeling of emptiness that isn’t generally felt in other online games that offer a more connected experience. This usually occurred when I found myself enjoying the game that I just had with certain members on my squad, and I wanted to be able to connect with them again when the game launches. But until there is a way for me to communicate with my squad besides the stock phrases like “C’mon!” and “Nice!”, I will just have to be indebted to Neil and Jose without ever likely running into them again. I just really hope there is an option to connect with my friends on Wii U eventually. It’s getting old that I have to continue to use Party Chat on XOne and PS4 while I play my friends in Smash Bros. and Mario Kart 8.
One more question that many people are still wondering is just how big of a game is Splatoon exactly? As we have seen with other competitive multiplayer shooters that are based on their online interactions like Titanfall and Evolve, things can get old pretty fast. It is widely known that there is a solo campaign involved with Splatoon, but how big is the campaign exactly? I can’t really answer that after only playing the Test Fire, however after reading through the instruction manual (that was included in the Test Fire) that seemed to be for the main game as well, it did shed a little bit of light on this:
“By battling online, you’ll raise your level and accumulate in-game coins. You can use these coins to acquire weapons and other gear (clothing, shoes, and headgear) that can be put to good use in future battles. The more gear you have, the more play styles you’ll be able to discover.”
So as it is expected, Splatoon is an online game that has offline features as well like a bunch of shops in a main hub area called Inkopolis to spend your coins in. Also, being able to level up and buy new gear which increases your chances at winning online Turf Wars, makes this all that much more appealing. You can accumulate coins from simply participating in battles, but the story mode will most likely have you hunting for new gear,weapons, as well as coins to buy the new gear and weapons you will need to succeed. Which should keep you pretty entertained for the most part, and it seems to be worth the price of admission at this point. By utilizing all of the features of Splatoon you will be able to “discover more play styles” which can keep you invested in this colorful shooter for a bit longer. This as well as the local multiplayer features that will have one player using the gamepad and a second player that will use the TV can add some excitement between friends. The manual also went into brief detail about the story mode that involves the Inkling Squids getting wrapped up in a war against the Octopuses and the main goal is to defeat them while saving captured allies, but we wont know anymore until the game releases later this month. Keep in mind that Splatoon will also be compatible with three special amiibo figures that will unlock approximately twenty challenges a piece, as well as exclusive gear that will only be available from interacting with the NFC toys.
The Testfire Was a Success
The Splatoon Global Testfire’s main purpose was to test out Nintendo’s servers before the game launches, and I have to say that I was rather impressed. There was no lag or slowdown that I experienced, and with only minor connectivity issues in my very first play through, I thought the event went rather well. However, seeing that this was an isolated incident and that there is likely to be more players when the game launches, I just hope that Nintendo is ready for the wave of Inklings ready to spawn on 5/29. Be sure to check out our full review for Splatoon closer to launch and feel free to sound off in the comments about your own experiences with Splatoon!