I love Splatoon. I love every minute of it. It’s not perfect but Nintendo’s newest first-party IP is a much needed breath of fresh air for the company. In traditional fashion, Nintendo has taken an existing idea and reinvented it, injecting an exorbitant amount of fun into it. I can’t stress it enough, this game is AWESOME.
Being a primarily online focused game, there is very little in the way of story for Splatoon. In a post-apocalyptic Earth (one can imagine, it’s never outright said) squids (or Inklings as they’re called) have become the dominant species, adopting the basic look of humans but still being able to transform into their original squid bodies. They are at war with the Octarians, a similar race of Octopus people who are trying to destroy the Inkling’s way of life. It’s a very simple set up for a fairly small single player campaign. The online focuses around Thunderdome style battles where Inklings battle for Turf supremacy by shooting their ink on the ground and at each other.
Splatoon is your fairly standard third-person shooter but with a bit of a twist and some Nintendo flair. Players can wield ink-shooting guns, (or a few melee style weapons such as a paint roller or paintbrush) and a variety of bombs to cover ground or opponents with ink. By holding the left shoulder button, players can transform into squids and swim around the inked ground. This allows for increased mobility around the battlefield as well as replenish ink.
Single player is broken into five worlds, each with six to seven levels a-piece. Unlike most third-person shooters, these levels are less about going from objective to objective killing everything in sight, but rather more Mario style puzzle platformer with shooter elements. Each world is capped off with a fun and sometimes silly boss fight and the final boss in particular is a bit of a nail-biter. The levels are well designed, fun and have a pretty decent difficulty curve.
Multiplayer is where the real fun is though, and boy howdy, did they ever nail it. To start, connection times are unbelievable, often only taking a few seconds to fully connect to eight other players and get into a game. Rarely did I have games crash due to connectivity issues (the good old “a communication error has occurred” that Smash Bros players as so familiar with). And just in case games are taking a little bit longer, Nintendo’s got you covered with a fun, and actually progressively challenging, eight-bit Doodle Jump-esk platformer you can play on the gamepad called “Squid Jump.”
There are only two game modes available at launch, but Nintendo has promised more as the months go on. The first one is an unranked, “fun mode” game called “Turf Wars” where players must compete to cover the most ground in their color ink. It’s incredibly fun and amazing how Nintendo could take the basic fundamentals of the shooter genre, but completely reevaluate the objective. While you can still splatter opponents with ink to kill them, killing players doesn’t contribute anything to winning the game, except a momentary reprieve from opponents ruining your hard work of ground painting. This creates a whole new level of strategy as you both try to gain ground on your opponents but also avoid and return fire upon them.
The second game mode, which becomes available after players reach level 10, are ranked matches called “Ink Zones.” In these King of the Hill style games, players compete to control specific zones for a prolonged period of time. These are the matches where killing your opponents actually takes a bit more priority, however inking the ground to give yourself and your team ground to advance as well as retreat.
At time of writing, there are six maps available for online, the game launched with five and that’s pretty paltry considering you can only pick from two at a time, although you can’t because it’s random. There is this kind of neat system where the levels cycle every couple of hours, and is announced as a newscast by some of the game’s personalities so it’s kind of forgivable for having a sense of style and charm about it. Nintendo has plans to release more levels as DLC, and it’s all going to be free, so I guess it’s a minor complaint.
While rank only serves to group you with players of similar skill (although it does that thing where loosing matches causes you to rank down that always bugs me), matches award players with experience and gold which they can use to purchase hats, shirts, shoes and new weapons. Not just for aesthetic purposes, clothes can be leveled up and given bonuses which are rewarded at random through a roulette system. I think this is a very interesting take on a buff system and rarely will you have two players that have the same gear making everyone’s play-style unique since you have to better tailor your playing to your gear. It’s really cool.
However, it’s not totally perfect. The lack of voice chat or a party system really hurts gameplay since you can’t really co-ordinate properly with your team (although when I caught myself shouting “YOU LITTLE F***ER” I thought it might’ve been for the best). Also, you can’t change your gear from the matchmaking screen, so if you get into a group of really good players and you want to switch weapons or clothes, you’d better say bye to them.
Also, let’s face it, Nintendo really dropped the ball again on the Amiibo support. I got very lucky and just happened to find a Squid Girl, but I’ve heard a lot of people have been having a hard time finding them. Amiibo’s unlock challenge maps that unlock extra bonus gear, only obtainable through Amiibo, so game extending content is locked off to anyone who can’t find them, because again Nintendo only shipped like 25 Amiibo.
But these are pretty minor complaints since at it’s core, Splatoon has a full amount of content and a lot of playability.
Splatoon looks great. It’s got a great cartoony aesthetic in the character designs and the levels have a very modern, Japanese feel to them. The vibrancy of the ink, shining in the sun on lots of modern locations like a highway underpass or a European style mall. It all has that sort-of “Mario charm” and the use of bright colors in HD looks amazing, the same way it did in Wind Waker HD and Mario 3D World. I especially like how in multiplayer, teams are set apart by their compliment colors (orange and blue, pink and green).
Unlike most shooters that opt out of music online (to create a more realistic battlefield I suppose), Splatoon has five or six original song that play throughout each online battle creating a very fun and intense atmosphere; at the one-minute mark this sped up, “last-minute theme” plays and it never ceases to make the match feel more intense, yet also silly. All the swishes and drops of paint add to the games messy, slippery feel, with nice ‘ker-plunks” when you drop into paint as a squid from up high, like the solid ground it a pool.
Splatoon is an ink-credible, if not slightly flawed game. The perfect mixture of challenge and fun, enjoyable for both kids and adults. While it certainly could have benefited from a larger selection of content, what’s on hand is more than enough to keep you invested and entertained. With lots of charm and heart, it’s easily on my top 10 list for 2015.