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Splatoon Review: All Hands On Deck
“Staaaay fresh!” is something that you’ll be hearing quite a bit of in Nintendo’s new competitive online multiplayer IP Splatoon, and it’s utterance serves as Nintendo’s reasoning behind Splatoon’s sugary coated overlay. Within earshot of hearing the Squid Sisters Callie and Marie say it for the first time, you really have no idea what kind of game Splatoon is trying to be. I mean you’ve probably heard from somewhere that it is a third person online shooter from Nintendo. But is it really a competitive online shooter? How can it be if there is no killing or explosions involved? Well, Nintendo has done the impossible and that’s because Splatoon’s cartoony style isn’t to be taken lightly. Underneath its candy coated shell is a hard as nails type of third person shooter, online multiplayer adventure, and it’s exactly the type of game Nintendo fanatics have been starving for.
Splatoon is more than just a cartoonish attempt at an online shooter, because it actually reimagines how competitive multiplayer shooters look and play. When you get splatted it doesn’t rub the opponents name in your face, instead it displays the name of the weapon that splatted you. When you win consecutive matches, your vibe status shows “So HAWT!!” and instead of bullets you shoot colored ink. With 4v4 Turf Wars, a 1v1 Battle Dojo, ranked matches, an interactive hub world known as Inkopolis, amiibo functionality, and a campaign that harkens back to the days of Nintendo 64 platforming goodness, Splatoon emerges as one of the freshest games available right now. Gone are the grey textures and kill death ratios because what Splatoon chooses to focus on is a rather colorful territory claiming style of gameplay and its wins and losses are determined within randomized online battle arenas. Hold on to your tentacles because it’s time to look at one of the best ideas to come out of “The Big N” in years.
What is Splatoon exactly? Well for starters, it’s an extremely accessible online competitive experience with a rather satiable offline campaign that will take you back to the golden age of 3D platformers. This is because Splatoon’s physics feel like they came right out of the Super Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie handbook. Throw in some paintball type weapons, a ridiculously cute original style, and what you have may be the most unique game from Nintendo since the original Pikmin. While shooting colored ink that actually looks wet, gooey, and even has a bit of weight to it as it drip down walls, your main objective is to move around in an arena as a squid-humanoid type creature known as an Inkling and paint the floors of the arena with your team’s specific color ink to win 4v4 online matches.
You gain experience based on how much turf you’ve inked and you also level up the gear you have equipped to unlock new abilities which make you stronger and more durable in matches. Currently there is a level cap at level 20, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t accrue money to add additional slots to your gear until it’s inevitably raised. As of now there are two distinct online modes that are available to play which are Turf Wars and Splat Zones. Turf Wars will have you covering the entire arena floor in your own teams color ink, and the team that inks the most at the end of the round wins. The newest edition is a furious ranked matches mode called Splat Zones that ups the stakes of each win and loss. Splat Zones focus on a heightened 4v4 gameplay style where one or two very small areas must be captured by either team to win. Each match is determined by the first team to claim the specific zone for 100 seconds. What’s interesting is that if one team holds it for a little while but then loses it to the other team, the team that used to hold it will get a few seconds added to their countdown timer as a penalty for losing it. These matches result in extremely heated ink splatter competition, because the winner gets double the exp and they gain points that improve their overall letter rank. The losers however gain no experience and lose points that negatively effect their letter rank. There are only six maps in total currently available to play, in which two maps are rotated at random until the Squid Sisters break in and offer an update as to which new maps are available. It’s a fresh idea that keeps the game changing almost every time you go to turn on Splatoon, but it could use a few more maps from the campaign to keep things interesting. I would like to see Nintendo take full advantage of Splatoon’s possibilities and implement new concepts into the next round of maps like a midnight city where you get to use Blacklight ink.
By competing in these matches, you begin to notice that that the competitive realm that Nintendo has created isn’t invested in head shots or hidden ammo caches and that’s because the matches are invested in taking over territory as I mentioned before. It’s a rather friendly yet extremely competitive domain that you can lose hours to if you don’t mind participating without party chat.
Matches are fluid and exciting because you can either walk and paint or swim through your own team’s colored ink once you make yourself a path of it. Splatoon’s sense of mobility is one of the best aspects granted to the player because you are then able to quickly bounce in and out of the ink by holding and releasing the ZL button. Once you release the button, your character pops up and is ready to fire upon the enemies or field that is in front of you. So you can hide in the ink and either wait for an enemy to pass by, or you can paint a path around an enemy so that you can then swim behind them and get the drop on them. You can camp in spots, deter enemies in others, and you can even confuse your enemies by having them think that you are going to attack them but you then retreat to ink another day. Splatoon doesn’t feel stiff whatsoever and being able to swim and shoot about as you please makes the overall game feel extremely smooth.
The transition between shooting and swimming is adaptable and it’s imperative that you dive into your team’s ink every so often because it’s the only way to refill your ink tank. You are unable to attack while swimming, so you are vulnerable in this position. Keep in mind that you also can’t swim or run through enemy ink without it slowing you down, and taking damage from it. So really there is a bit of strategy involved where you must remind yourself of where you want to go and before you head out, you must shoot ink in that direction so you don’t end up getting caught in the other team’s mess. The controls are really the best aspect of the game and that’s because they resemble a typical shooter which feel great and just make complete sense. You shoot with ZR, use your sub weapon with R, jump with X, move about with the left analog stick and control the camera with the right stick. There is a motion control option but unless you are used to using twitchy controls, it is not advised.
The Gamepad acts as your only map of the arena and it largely feels underutilized. Once you’re splatted, you have the option of spawning on another still-active player by touching their location on the Gamepad’s map in which you are then launched sky high and land within their proximity. Although it’s not really a revolutionary idea, it is a bit more interactive. Overall it is not the best use of the Gamepad and I do find myself wondering why Splatoon requires you to play with it instead of a pro controller. I wish that unique ideas like rifle scopes reminiscent of Zombi U, or painting your finger in a circle on the Gamepad for the direction you want to release splat bombs were options but they are nowhere to be found. It would have made Splatoon feel more immersive rather than just being used for another map or inventory screen.
The Gamepad also allows you to play new NES inspired mini squid games while you are waiting for matches to begin. Squid Jump is the only one available at this time and the main goal is to jump higher and higher until the match begins. It is a nice little addition that makes waiting go by faster, but it can feel more like a chore because you don’t actually gain anything from playing it before a match. There should be a game like Contra with squids to play which would be awesome. Or how about a Space Invaders type game to break up the matches? Squid Jump is a bit monotonous and I often found myself checking Twitter rather than staying focused long enough to get past level 15. Another issue that breaks up matches is that players aren’t allowed to switch their gear and weapons before starting a match unless they completely back out of matchmaking. They should have replaced Squid Jump with this option as it would have made the most sense. Not being able to adjust your character on the fly is bothersome because your only option is to leave the members you were playing with, equip a new weapon in the hub, and then rejoin another match. There were multiple times where I just felt unequipped for the stage and I wish I could have just toggled my gear quickly on the Gamepad when I was waiting to spawn, because the extra step of waiting for matches to end and then backing out is a bit tedious.
Splatoon’s rather short, yet very sweet campaign is one of the game’s best assets. You take over the role of Agent 3 (because Agent 1 & 2 are missing) and your goal is to save the Great Zapfish, which is Inkopolis’s main power source, from the evil Octarians. The main objective to “Octo Valley” is to beat each stage and save a Zapfish, but after you beat a main boss you unlock stronger weapons that are used in the online modes. Some of these weapons are imperative to winning ranked matches because I was simply getting murdered by using the earlier weapon presets. Octo Valley is a lot of fun, and each level feels like a brand new world from Super Mario Galaxy. I hope to see more of it in the additional free dlc that Nintendo plans to release in the coming months. amiibo functionality also adds greatly to the campaign because each figure allows you to replay levels with different weapons, and by completing the new challenges you are granted more money, and even better equipment. The amiibo themselves are basically physical dlc and are worth it because not only are they functional by adding more depth to the overall experience of Splatoon, but they also look great on shelves.
Splatoon is probably one of the most unique games I have ever experienced, so that’s not saying it’s perfect by any means. But there is a lot to like between the fast paced combat that mixes 3D platforming with ink shooting squid teams. I hope to see the game eventually blossom into a full Nintendo franchise because Splatoon has a lot of heart, and you can just feel the amount of love that Nintendo has put into this game. Splatoon feels like it could have come out on the N64 and reminds me of the 4v4 local co-op of Golden Eye 007 paintball. It takes me back to the countless hours that I spent playing it with my friends because Splatoon has the same kind of charm that will just stick with you. In saying that, its strange that 4v4 local co-op isn’t an option at all here. Splatoon would make for a great party game like Smash Bros. or Mario Kart 8, but the only local option is a 1v1 style battle where one player uses the gamepad and the other uses the TV. It seems kind of like a lost opportunity and it saddens me that the reigning king of couch multiplayer has decided to ditch it. It’s concepts like these that hold back Splatoon from becoming something greater than it is. However, having a Nintendo built online multiplayer game that works as well as Splatoon does is a major step in the right direction for both Nintendo and the competitive online shooter genre.