It’s no secret that, thanks to franchises such as Call of Duty and Battlefield, third- and first-person shooters have taken over the industry through sleepless nights in dorm rooms and households all over the world through Xbox and PlayStation consoles. It’s strange really, because it can be argued that it was Nintendo (and Rare) that really put console shooters on the map with the help N64 classics such as GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark. But since then, nothing on a Nintendo console has offered anything close to those old, engaging experiences.
And killing anything isn’t even necessary.
What Is It?
Splatoon is unlike any other third-person shooter experience before it. The game can be as strategic as Battlefield, as action-packed as Call of Duty, as hilarious as Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, and about as maddening as Mario Kart.
Players are put in control of these half-kid half-squid things called Inklings which can turn into a kid or squid at anytime.
The inklings live in the colorful world of Inkopolis where they like nothing more than to participate in their favorite pastime–ink battles. Ink battles are pretty much paintball matches, except they’re a whole lot messier. The most popular of which are the turf wars, where the object of the game is to cover as much of the map in your team’s ink as possible. It’s kind of like the anti-premise of Super Mario Sunshine, but instead of cleaning everything up, you’re encouraged to make a mess.
Why Should I Care?
Again, Splatoon is a third-person shooter where the gun wielders are also squids. As complicated and weird as that is, the game is hardly complicated, as the tutorial does a very good job explaining the basics of controlling your inkling.
In your regular form, the control scheme is very much like any other third-person shooter. You roam around with the left analog stick, using the right shoulder buttons to fire your weapon. Your primary weapon is fired using ZR while your secondary weapon is activated with the R button. While the right analog stick moves the camera left and right, the GamePad’s gyrosensor can also help you aim depending on how you tilt it. This function can be turned off, but it becomes something you get used to (and possibly prefer) after the first few rounds.
As stated, you also have the ability to become a squid. This is done simply by holding on the left shoulder button. If you’re moving around in your own colored ink, you move more quickly, whereas if you’re on unclaimed territory, you’re a sitting duck (or squid). As a squid, you can also jump using the X button, and you can do this to traverse on walls too. Morphing into a squid is similar to Samus turning into a morph ball in the Metroid Prime games to become a smaller target and get to safety, and it also allows you to refill any depleted ink. This takes strategy to a whole different level as you have to consider the terrain as much as your weapon of choice when plotting out your path of destruction.
Essentially, every round in turf wars has each player covering as much of the environment with their team’s ink as possible as soon as the round begins to make the terrain easier to maneuver in. Not only does that decide the victor, but it virtually changes the strategy as your squid can only freely move in their own ink. Obviously if too much of the opposing ink gets on you, you respawn.
Despite the Wii U’s weaknesses in online capability, it’s actually pretty easy to get a match started. All you have to do is pick a mode and the game will do the rest for you.
This includes picking a stage, which is randomly chosen based on the featured rotation for the time of day. To further explain this, you’re not given full access to every map at the get-go. Upon first booting the game, you’re treated to a bulletin program that announces the playable maps that day, and you’re limited to that 2-3 during the day’s playthrough. This is pretty easy to get over as this way you can’t get too comfortable with any particular map. It’s also good have a curve ball thrown at you every once in a while. Splatoon also treats you to a bunch of minigames while you wait for a match to get started in the lobby to further entertain you.
It’s also worth noting that you can’t change your equipment on the fly while in the online lobbies. So if you decide you want to use a roller instead of a charge gun after a match, you actually have to go back to the game’s main menu, change your equipment, and then go back into the online lobby.
In addition to this, the online play sometimes has its hiccups with a slower frame rate when it comes to your ink. There were a bunch of times where I kept shooting at the environment only to see no ink anywhere, and then a bunch of it shows up mere seconds later out of nowhere. This can drastically affect a match, especially if you like hiding yourself as a squid. The lag will oftentimes put players in human form at a disadvantage because then you’re a more visible target. Then again, it’s worth noting that I don’t have the fastest internet connection, so I don’t know how this has been affecting other players.
All this being said, it’s pretty obvious that multiplayer is Splatoon‘s bread and butter. In fact, you can’t get much done in the game until your Inkling reaches experience level 4, and the only way to get experience is through online matches. Getting to Level 10 also unlocks ranked battles and splat zones, which is similar to turf wars but is more of a “king of the hill” or “tower defense” in terms of its over all rules. The developers also plan to bring new modes to the game in the form of free DLC.
Of course, something else is afoot in Inkopolis that’s worth your time in the form of its single player campaign. The story is all about Inkopolis’ main source of power, the zap fish, all being captured, and you have to go through Octo Valley’s 30 or so levels to find them all and save Inkopolis from an evil blackout planned by the evil Octarians–a rival octopus race, not surprisingly.
Each section in Octo Valley has a specific number of stages, and upon clearing all these stages, you get to fight the section’s boss. Defeat him and you’ll unlock the next section to wreak your havoc in.
Yes, it’s a lame story, but again, the single player isn’t required. It’s pretty much a glorified tutorial as there are a bunch of things you can integrate into your multiplayer strategy as you play through the single player mode–not to mention that it’s a whole lot of fun as an action-based platformer. Its main problem is that it just ends a little too quickly, which is unfortunate because the bosses in Splatoon are some of the best boss fights I’ve played in a while. The levels also aren’t too bad, with each one holding different secrets that hardcore completionists should feast on.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Like many other multiplayer shooters before it, Splatoon rewards you the more you play the game. After each matchup, players accumulate coins that can be used to buy new outfits and weapons, each having various effects and power-ups that can drastically change the tide of battle.
Some of these include bigger ink rollers, which are ideal for close quarters combat, or super powered guns like the NES 85, which has an insanely high firing rate, so it’s pretty much an instant killer. There’s also a bunch of gear to unlock through the game’s Amiibo challenges. Unfortunately, if you didn’t pick up any of the Splatoon Amiibo when the game came out, you’re probably out of luck due to Amiibo being extremely hard to find these days.
The game itself is has quite a stylistic look and feel to it, and it’s easy to appreciate all the vibrant neons making a mess of everything in the game.
As far as how it sounds, it’s awesome. The soundtrack is about as catchy as it is annoying (in a good way), and it really does a good job immersing yourself in the cool world that is Inkopolis.
At the end of the day, sure, Splatoon isn’t without its problems, but for those that actually give the game a shot, it’s hard to really care. There isn’t any voice chat, but the GamePad already tells you where my comrades are and the opposing ink is already all over the screen, so there should be no issues finding them. You can’t pick the stage, but the element of surprise is always nice. You can’t change your primary weapon in between matches, but I’ve grown pretty attached to my roller anyway, so to me, it’s hardly anything to worry about.
The beauty of it all is since Splatoon isn’t deathmatch-based, you don’t have to worry about being good at third-person shooters. Hell, you can win a match without actually shooting anybody. Maybe this isn’t the Mario Kart of multiplayer shooters, but it’s damn close.
Splatoon is a must-play on the Wii U, and while the $59 asking price might scare a few off, let’s not forget that people have been clamoring for Nintendo to come up with a fresh IP that changes the way you look at a genre yet maintains that fun factor and everything else the company stands for. This is it.
Editor’s Note: This review only addresses features in the game as far as version 1.2.