Nintendo has long been a company to put a unique, fun, family-friendly twist on traditional gaming genres, I mean look at Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros. in comparison to their racing & fighting game contemporaries respectively. For a while people have joked and theorised about how Nintendo would take on the shooter genre & Nintendo have stepped up with Splatoon, a wacky paintball-esque style game that also marks a big new investment in a brand new franchise for Nintendo. But how does Nintendo’s take on the shooter stack up? Can it truly be the Mario Kart of shooters as Nintendo hopes?
The focus of Splatoon’s flagship multiplayer game mode “Turf War” is for both teams to try and cover the most amount of ground with their team’s colour of ink. A fat cat named Judd declares whether you’re the victor, scoring you individual points which will show you how well you fared compared to other players and increase your rank, allowing you to unlock more weapons and gear. Of course you can still take out opponents and this does help, but you will not win if you focus on this. This core mechanic addresses one of the main issues I personally have with competitive shooters. You see I am not the most skilled player in the shooter genre & many times I feel like I barely achieve anything in a match. In Turf War you always feel like you are doing something productive, as simply finding some ground to spray will help both yourself and your team, keeping you constantly engaged. This is helped by the ’super jump‘ ability, which allows you to jump straight to one of your team mates at any point in the match, allowing you to quickly make your way into the thick of the fray rather than waste time trekking from your base.
Oh, and I guess there is one other big thing that makes Splatoon a bit different from other shooters. You see while most of the time you appear to be playing as some sort of human kid, you are actually a squid…. however unlike a normal squid you don’t swim in water (in fact water will kill you) but in the ink that you are spreading around while in kid form. As a squid you refill your ink tank at a much faster rate, can move around in a significantly more agile manner both along the ground and up walls (as long as you are in ink of course) and keep yourself hidden until an enemy shows up and surprise them (which can make enemy ink quite intimidating to approach), however while in squid form you have no method of creating ink or taking out enemies. Fortunately swapping between the two forms is simply a matter of whether you are holding down one of the triggers, meaning swapping between the two is quite fluid. This naturally creates opportunity for some very interesting strategies particularly with how people respond in or fight or flight situation. Knowing when to turn into a squid and pull back to your territory, or choosing to ink up a pathway you can swim through to flank an opponent is crucial to your team winning.
There is also a secondary online mode called ’Splat Zones‘ which unlocks after a player has played enough Turf Wars and can now participate in ‘ranked battles’. It is a King of the Hill-esque mode where teams are tasked with trying to keep a particular section of the map covered in their ink for 100 seconds. The focus on one particular section of the map intensifies the gun fights and increases the need for high level strategies and increases the need to take out opponents, to buy you more time to take over the zone. This mode also helps increase the usefulness of a number of weapons which perform quite weakly in Turf Wars.
Speaking of weapons, Splatoon offers quite a variety of weapons sets. There are three key types of weapons; fast paced shooters which rapid fire ink, chargers which shoot a strong, straight blast of ink & rollers, which are great for spreading ink across the ground and taking out enemies at close range with a wave of ink. Within each weapon type comes a number of varieties, to allow players to find one that suits their playstyle. Each main weapon is also accompanied by a sub weapon which consumes a lot of ink (something like an ink bomb or sprinkler ) anda special weapon that you can activate after building up your special meter. These range from a giant ink blast you can launch anywhere on the map, to an item that points out the location of all your enemies . One even allows you to turn into the famous fictional beastie, ‘The Kraken’.. The game doesn’t allow you to pick and choose which combination of main/sub/special weapon you can use, which initially seems limiting. However I find it works well for balancing the different weapons and keeping the variety of weapons you encounter online quite high.
The online modes perform well, as I have only been disconnected a couple of times and haven’t experienced any lag. Nintendo included a number of nice little touches such as the ’Squid Jump‘ mini game that you can play while waiting for matches to start, as well asthe fact that the game pulls highly rated Miiverse posts and implements them as graffiti in the maps, which is quite an interesting use of the service. However in typical Nintendo fashion, for every new and unique idea they add, an obvious misstep is made. For starters, you cannot change your weapons or gear without leaving the lobby, meaning you may need to leave a good group in order to do something as simple as changing weapons. Also the lack of communication options is a tad frustrating. I understand not allowing open communication with strangers, but not being able to communicate with friends seems like a poor choice. At the very least the ability to chat to mates in the lobby to discuss strategies (in a similar way to how you can chat in lobbies in Mario Kart 8) would have been beneficial. My biggest issue, however, is the lack of the ability to select a map to play on. Nintendo has instead elected to put maps on rotation, where two maps will be available to play on at any one time, with the selection of maps changing every four hours. While this does mean that matches aren’t constantly taking place on the same maps that players vote on, a feature I did like, it also means you’re only able to play on two during most game sessions. This fast becomes really repetitive and ultimately causes me to stop playing Splatoon a bit earlier than I otherwise would have.
While the main focus with Splatoon is clearly the multiplayer mode, Splatoon’s singleplayer campaign is nothing to scoff at. You are tasked with trying to rescue “The Great Zapfish”, the main powersource for the inklings’ home town, from the nefarious Octarians The single player really finds some creative ways to use your ink, from filling up spongers to colouring invisible platforms in. It feels like almost every level throws out new ideas and challenges, especially the boss fights which are very creative and some of the best parts. That said, the campaign isn’t overly lengthy and is not particularly challenging, although there is some replay value if you need to go back to the levels to collect the secret scrolls.These unveil interesting facts about the world of Splatoon, however even they aren’t very difficult to find, and you can oftenfind them on your first run through a level.
For those who wish to play with friends the old-school way, Splatoon does offer a 1v1 local versus mode called ’Battle Dojo‘, where players duke it out to see who can pop the most balloons. It is simple and fun, but I found my friends and I default to taking turns in online multiplayer or single player instead after a while.
Splatoon’s world has a very colourful, wacky 90’s style vibe, with ink coming in a variety of bright colours, andthe locations including places like skate parks and warehouses. The main hub, based on the Shibuya section of Tokyo, naturally has a very Neo-Japan aesthetic and is filled with other players characters and NPC’s, all dressing in their best hipster outfits to make sure they are super ’fresh‘. The soundtrack contains weird quirky electronic tracks that combine elements of pop, country, orchestral and probably a number of other genres I didn’t pick up on, to create some music with a very unique feel, that’s both pleasant on the ears and fitting for the game’s world.
Now for the tricky part of the review. If you were to ask me, “how many online game modes and maps there are in Splatoon?”, at the time of me writing this review the answer would be “two and six” respectively. However had you asked me that question the day of launch, it would have been “one and five”. This is due to Nintendo slowly unlocking new modes, maps, gear and weapons over the course of the next few months, having announced that two new game modes are in the works and at least 8 more maps. They have also said they plan on adding more options for match making, allowing you to form teams with friends.You see, why this makes things difficult for me is that right now, my biggest concern with the game is the lack of content in variety in the online mode, so much so that it puts in to question if the game is worth its asking price.However, if the promised content (which I should be clear, is free, partially because some of it has been demonstrated toalready be on the game’s disc) is of the same quality as what is already available, then the game’s value will drastically increase.
These days it is hard to talk about Nintendo, without mentioning their line of NFC figurines, amiibo. Splatoon supports its own unique line of amiibo, which currently consists of three variants of the Squidlings. Each amiibo unlocks a set of remixed versions of the single player stages, which do provide a fun unique twist on each stage. Completing all the levels unlock special gear and weapons for multiplayer as well as another retro style mini game for you to play in the online lobbies. This is certainly some of the best unlockable amiibo content we have seen in a game so far, however there is still no real reason for this content to be distributed solely via amiibo, rather than DLC.
Splatoon is a fun, fresh take on shooters wrapped in a charming vibrant aesthetic, which I loved. Nintendo have set down the framework for a fantastic online multiplayer experience that may keep people playing for months or years to come. Right now, due to a lack of content right out of the box it feels a bit empty, but with promised additions coming in the next few months, it may evolve in to a truly great game.
Colourful and enjoyable shooter | Solid multiplayer and singleplayer | Enjoyable new Nintendo franchise
Lack of online chat | Launch content | Limited map options