Developer: Nintendo EAD Group No. 2 Publisher: Nintendo of America Reviewed on Wii U
Nintendo has done something nobody expected: created a compelling new IP that happens to be a family friendly competitive online shooter. Instead of soldiers and high tech guns, the battles in Splatoon are waged by kid-squid hybrids armed with weapons that spout ink. Developed by a team of young, unheralded Nintendo developers, Splatoon gives the Wii U a much needed shot in the arm.
Players control either a male or female inkling. Their abilities are the same regardless of gender: they have interchangeable kid and squid forms. In kid form the inklings can attack with various weapons and sub-weapons powered by ink, which serve as ammunition in the game. In squid form inklings can submerge into their own ink color to replenish their ink. Being submerged enables inklings to move much faster and mostly unseen, as well scale up walls and ramps covered by their ink. Conversely, swimming in the opposing team’s ink has the opposite effect, leaving inklings vulnerable to attack. The game handles very well with responsive controls, making the switch between forms and traversal a breeze. Motion controlled aiming can be hit or miss for players, but thankfully it can be turned off.
The game’s visuals ooze not just with colorful ink, but with style and attitude. The animation is smooth, the colors pop out, and the inkling designs appealing. The soundtrack is an excellent blend of synth pop and rock, although it suffers from repetition given the small map count. The overall sound and style is rebellious and rambunctious, reminiscent of the Jet Set Radio franchise.
The game starts off in Inkopolis, the game’s primary hub. From here players can access the single player campaign, the online multiplayer mode, as well as various shops to purchase weapons, clothes, and shoes for inklings. The plaza is littered with an assortment of random inklings belonging to other players.
The single player campaign has the player assume the role of a secret agent to rescue Zapfishes from the Octarians army. This mode is comprised of several zones each containing short levels that can be completed within minutes. Each stage has as a unique gimmick that teaches specific skills like platforming, using ink to unveil invisible paths, and more. Completing each zone’s stages unlocks a boss battle, which often lives up to Nintendo’s rich history of creative boss encounters.
Progressing through the solo campaign unlocks new weapons for the multiplayer mode, which is comprised of 3 minute, 4 versus 4 battles. Instead of going for the most kills (or splats), outlasting enemies, or capturing a flag, Splatoon’s battles are about marking the most territory with ink. Currently there are only two modes. Regular Battles has players fighting Turf Wars for experience and gold. In Ranked Battles, players compete to increase their rankings in the king of the hill style Splat Zones. There’s no option for local team multiplayer battles, which is disappointing considering Nintendo’s rich history in that area. There’s a practice battle dojo mode which is restricted to one player on the Wii U gamepad playing against another player using a conventional controller.
As players win matches, they obtain experience points and gold. Experience points enable players to level up (the level cap is currently level 20), which unlocks additional weapons that can be purchased in the shops. There are three types of weapons: the mid-range splattershot guns, the close range paint rollers, and the long-range charger rifles. Each weapon has a subweapon, ranging from grenades to sticky bombs and subweapon jammers. Finally, each weapon has a special move that can be activated when a special move gauge is filled. These are potential game changing abilities like temporary transforming into an invincible kraken, summoning an ink airstrike, or revealing the locations of enemies on the map. Accessories can also be purchased with gold. Each accessory has at least one attribute that’s unlocked after a certain amount of experience is acquired. The attributes are randomly assigned, however. Players trying to unlock specific attributes will find this infuriating, but it does accentuate the game’s unpredictability.
The most controversial aspect of playing Splatoon online is the lack of choice. There are currently only a half dozen arenas, two of which are only accessible during a four hour rotation. After the four hours are up, those maps are replaced with another pair. There’s no way to pick your own teams as players are randomly sorted in teams. This keeps one team from dominating and also mixes new players with advanced players. The inability to switch weapon load outs during match making is an oversight that’ll hopefully be fixed in an update. Also, there’s currently no way to create your own custom rooms to play exclusively with friends nor is there voice chat. The absence of this and messaging makes it impossible for players to truly taunt and grief one another.
The benefit of such restrictions is that match making occurs within seconds, as there are only two stages in play at a time and no other conditions. Taking away these conventional options forces gamers to dive in and go with the flow, which is always chaotic fun. Since the Wii U relies solely on Wi-Fi connections due to its lack of a LAN port, it’s fortunate that the game’s netcode is very stable and smooth.
The overall lack of multi-player maps and online modes suggests that Nintendo shipped an incomplete game with promises to patch in free content later. This is a rather unfortunate trend in gaming, so hopefully Nintendo will be quick to provide the additional content. If Mario Kart 8’s DLC releases are any indication, Splatoon will receive a steady stream of quality support over the next year.
Despite these restrictive design choices and repetitive map rotations, Splatoon is refreshingly new IP that offers a tremendous amount of fast, unpredictable fun. It’s easy to pick up and play, but also rewarding for those who take the time to master the game. With the addition of new modes and maps to come, Splatoon is a must buy for Wii U owners looking for a great multi-player experience.