Splatoon Review: Nintendo's FPS
Historically, Nintendo has not been known for offering software that caters to mature audiences. Save for Conker's Bad Fur Day, very few M rated games make their way to a Nintendo console. Enter Splatoon, a third person shooter published and developed in house by Nintendo, exclusively for the WiiU. While there may be a big black “E” listed on the front of the box, make no mistake, This game isn't for kids, This is a first attempt at bringing the the visceral and chaotic nature of online shooters to the shores of a nintendo console. As a first attempt, Nintendo passed with flying colors.
Splatoon casts the player as an Inkling, a hybrid humanoid/squid like creature that, in its human like state, can wield a variety of weapons from a standard assault rifle to shotguns. These guns don't shoot normal ballistics however, instead churning out globs, bolts or rounds of brightly colored ink. Most weapon classes are represented in the game, however instead of the dark, gritty gunmetal of an M16, your inkling wields a brightly colored Super Soaker type water gun. Different weapons can be purchased from an in game store with coins earned through online play. As your player level and in game wallet increase you can diversify your armory with sniper rifle type weapons, or the now legendary paint roller.
Ink that is fired from a gun, or covers the ground by way of a grenade, tags the ground in your teams color. When you are standing in your own teams color of ink, you are able to transform into your Inkling's squid form. While in this form, you are able to swim, relatively undetected in your own color of ink, adding a stealth element to combat that can be difficult to pull off in a third person shooter. Swimming is not relegated to the ground, as an inkling can traverse up walls and through grates, so long as your ink tags the surface surrounding the path you are swimming.
Swimming in ink also reloads your weapon, albeit painfully slow. With some grenades expending the same ammo that your main weapon uses, you may find yourself swimming much more than you would like. You are unable to swim in an opposing team's ink, instead moving at a snails pace and taking damage to boot.
Presentation is, no doubt, Splatoon strongest area. Combat features the bright colors of ink covering the arena alongside the vibrant and stylish clothing variety of the unique characters. Arenas are well designed and clearly were done with shooter mechanics in mind. Although there are bowls for combat, due to the nature of Splatoon's spontaneous game play, combat is rarely relegated to these areas.
Music and sound are also a strong point in the game. Although firing ink, guns in Splatoon fire with a weight to them. Ink hits both the ground, and your opponents, with a distinctive, gooey sound, and there is a very rewarding sound as you score a kill. Music in Splatoon also garners high marks. The sound and pace of the music fits the tone of the game quite well. Each of the tracks played during combat adds a toe tapping amount of pace to contests.
Esthetic changes don't stop at your choice of weapon, your Inkling can don different types of stylish clothing and accessories. Each article of clothing comes equipped with one of more than a dozen different abilities, ranging from increased walking speed to increased damage. As you increase in level, you will find that clothing you can purchase comes with up to three blank spots that will generate a random ability once a certain level is reached. While its fun to deck my teenage inkling in clothes that I would wear in real life, this doesn't lessen the sting of my favorite shirt rolling an ability that is absolutely useless when coupled with my play style. This effect is made even worse by the fact that you can only own one of each unique article of clothing.
Booyah Base, Splatoon's hub world, is where you'll find yourself spending your time between games or excursions to one of four of the games accessory shops. Booyah Base currently has few features for players to interact with, and merely serves as a sort of animated menu. By entering a building on foot, you can either shop, enter online multiplayer, engage Amiibo support, or try your hand at Splatoon's single player campaign mode.
Like most modern multiplayer shooters, the single player action in Splatoon leaves much to be desired. As an Inkling, it is your job to defeat the evil Octilians, an invading force of robot/squid creatures who have abducted the power producing Zapfish. It doesn't go much deeper than that. The campaign is presented through single stages, each about ten minutes in length. Stages do a great job mixing combat and platforming, taking full advantage of Splatoon's unique mix of gun play and character movement.
Stages contain frequent checkpoints, allowing players to retry difficult sections if they fail. While the campaign does contain some more challenging sections, I rarely felt stonewalled in terms of progression. Most of the game, you will find yourself armed with Splatoon's signature weapon, the Splattershot assault rifle. However, through Amiibo support, you can replay missions using a different variety of weapons. For novice shooter players, its a nice opportunity to get field experience with different combat scenarios, yet its somewhat disappointing that the promised new Amiibo missions are simply campaign stages replayed with a different weapon.
The meat of Splatoon's game play is the multiplayer combat. This is where Splatoon both exceeds and falls a bit short. First out, Splatoon is a ton of fun. The End. Combat in Splatoon is undeniably unique and undeniably Nintendo. Combat is still fast and frantic, but the absence of a deathmatch mode means players must think and act in a slightly less aggressive and more tactical fashion than in, say, Call of Duty.
Currently, there are two modes offered, the casual offering of Turf War, and ranked battles known as Splat Zone. Turf War is the marquee mode of the game, and in my opinion the more enjoyable of the two currently offered modes. In Turf War, two teams fight for control of a map by covering the surface in as much of their teams ink as possible. While kills are a somewhat important factor in Turf War, they are hardly the deciding factor in victory. I have won many a game of Turf War with a single kill or fewer. Keeping control of the map and enemy suppression is the key to victory here.
Turf War matches are usually pretty close in score, and only rarely are determined by a blowout. An interesting design choice was made in Turf Wars, as online matches only last three minutes. This is hardly enough time to truly get into the real throes of battle, as just as your team has secured control of your own territory, the one minute warning siren begins to sound. Its exceptionally frustrating when your team is beginning to mount a sizable comeback, only to find yourself with 15 seconds on the clock.
Splat Zone is Splatoon's take on the traditional King of the Hill objective game type. Each team's goal is to cover and hold a determined area on the map by covering it in your team's ink. Victory is achieved by holding the territory for 100 seconds, or until five minutes have ended. As mentioned prior, five minutes is no where near enough time to enjoy an objective game type.
Most games of Splat Zone devolve rather quickly into a fight as to which team can launch the most specials, namely the Inkstrike missle. Each character has a special gauge that fills up as a character earns points during battle. As this gauge fills, you can hit R3 to activate your special. With Splat Zone though, The Inkstrike is king. Using your WiiU game pad, you can tap an area on the map to launch the missile. Upon detonation, a towering cyclone of ink covers the targeted area, killing any enemy squid who find themselves unlucky enough to be in it's range. Conveniently, the area you are fighting for is roughly the size of the Inkstrike's radius. You can see where this is a problem.
With only two modes currently available, you can see where some can complain that there is little content to keep players satisfied. However, Nintendo has promised that content will be released in big packs throughout the summer, free of charge. The reasoning behind this was presented as giving players a chance to experience and master Splatoon's game play without being inundated with conflicting game modes or multiple maps.
While playing Urchin Underpass for the twentieth time in a day can get frustrating, I personally don't mind the decision, nor do I feel that the absence of voice chat hurts the game in any way. The organic nature of teamwork that spawns from not being able to communicate verbally makes for more frantic game play and requires each player to fight for points with a sense of urgency. Plus, its welcoming to play a shooter and not hear the word “faggot,” screamed in my ear every two minutes.
Splatoon is a great accomplishment, and a hell of a first try for what is reportedly a very green development team in the world of competitive shooters. However, the lack of experience in the genre shows in some design choices. First and foremost, the only supported controls are the WiiU Gamepad. The pro controller was designed almost exclusively for games such as this, and the idea that there is no support for the peripheral is maddening.
The load out system also sometimes leads to a few head scratching moments. Weapons, grenades, and specials are locked in their individual load out. Meaning, that if the gun that fits your play style comes with a sub-par grenade, or special that you don't want, then you're shit out of luck. Not only that, but between matches you are unable to switch your load out on the fly. Instead, your attention is directed to a Doodle Jump type mini game that you can play on the Gamepad. Certain weapons typically perform better in certain maps and certain situations. Not being able to switch to a sniper weapon that plays better on a map that contains several sniper perches is quite frustrating.
Aiming isn't as tight as I'd like it to be in a shooter of this speed, and there is no zooming in non scoped weapons, meaning combat tends to be a very intimate affair. Certain abilities on your clothing also do not seem to affect the flow of battle in a meaningful way. It's quite hard to tell the difference between a load out containing one damage up boost and three. Four seems to be the magic number though, as a I recall an encounter with a Inkling with five defense up boosters.... he didn't die in the four matches I played in his lobby.
While at times Splatoon can feel a bit lopsided in quality and a bit unpolished in the combat department, this shouldn't take away from the huge accomplishment that was made in releasing this game. The shooter genre has been stagnant in the greater gaming community for sometime, and has been basically non existent on Nintendo consoles since the days of Goldeneye.
Splatoon will challenge your notions of what a successful competitive shooter can be. Your entire team can end a game fifteen and two, have short outings and still be on the losing end of the match. Objective game types are unfamiliar territory for most players, and some will even buck the notion that kills do not equal victory. However, if you're looking for something truly unique, something that will challenge your definition of a genre, and something you've probably never seen before, then Splatoon is well worth your time and money.
30 hours of muliplayer in, and I find myself employing the same tactics used in a more competitive shooter such as Gears of War. Speaking of Gears, Splatoon does has the potential to be Nintendo's Gears of War. Splatoon can get to that next level and can become that household name, however, there are some hurdles that the inevitable Splatoon 2 will need to overcome. Until then, do yourself a favor, and experience Nintendo's best new I.P. launch since Pikmin.
Final Say: Play It