Developer: Nintendo EAD Group No. 2
Release Date: May 29, 2015
Platforms: Wii U
In recent years, games of the Shooter genre have been rare on Nintendo’s consoles. The Wii U specifically has been unable to attain the same massive library of Shooter games that the competition — specifically the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 — have in spades. It seems like an unspoken acceptance that the Wii U was just not built for serious Shooter games.
That mentality is probably the reason why many were surprised at the announcement of Splatoon back at E3 2014. While some wrote it off, others were curious about the game’s selling point, specifically the ability to switch back and forth between human — shooting ink onto the ground and walls — and squid — swimming through the ink just sprayed.
Now here we are a year later. Splatoon has been released a mere few weeks before E3 2015. Nintendo took a risk backing this new idea and there’s only one question left for Splatoon. How is it?
The short answer: Pretty damn good. But a short answer isn’t good enough, so let’s break this game down piece by piece.
Splatoon is Nintendo’s attempt to produce a unique third-person shooter for the Wii U. Rather than focusing on the “kill or be killed” aspect, players must take control of an Inkling, a sentient creature that is half-human and half-squid, and use their chosen weapon and sub-weapon to cover as much of the battlefield in their team’s color as possible before time runs out. The Inklings also have the ability to transform into a squid and swim through their team’s ink. This provides for faster movement, but it leaves players vulnerable to enemy attack. Additionally, entering an enemy team’s color damages and slows movement dramatically.
Players also have access to one Super Weapon set for each weapon. When a player covers enough of the field in their team’s color to fill up the meter on the right-hand side of the screen, the player will be able to use their Super Weapon. This can range from the “Inkstrike,” which is akin to a massive bomb that spreads ink in a relatively wide area, to the “Echolocator,” which allows a team to identify the locations of their enemies for a limited time.
The majority of the game’s content centers on online multiplayer: the Regular Battles and Ranked Battles. Regular Battles focuses on covering as much of the field in your team’s color as possible before time runs out. It is meant for more casual players — a term used very loosely in this case — that have less interest in the rankings and all-or-nothing gambits of Ranked Battles. Even if the team loses, the player will still get experience points based on how much of the field they covered with ink.
Ranked Battles are played with that all-or-nothing in mind. From recent rumors and information provided in-game, Ranked Battles change out rules every few weeks. Presently, the battles are set to Splat Zone; it is very likely that the next mode will be “Rainmaker” although details aren’t out yet. The Ranked Battles are more hardcore: a victory gives far more experience points compared to Regular Battles, while a complete loss earns no experience at all. Also, Ranked Battles have a separate ranking system that increases or decreases depending on one’s wins or losses.
Although far more exciting — the all-or-nothing rush does that after all — there are connection issues with Ranked Battles. A lost connection counts as a loss, and, as a result, the player’s rank goes down even if the disconnect isn’t their fault.
Both multiplayer modes share the same stages. As of this writing, there are five stages available with two automatically chosen every few hours for each mode. Each stage is created to provide as much gameplay balance as possible between the two teams in terms of environment and obstacles. Splatoon also attempts to balance gameplay and teams by reorganizing the teams every two matches, ensuring a randomized team and varying chances of success in combat.
These aspects, combined with the different weapons available, ensure a balancing act that is difficult to find in other multiplayer-based games. There is no guarantee that a higher level player will always be superior to a lower level player. I’ve occasionally performed better than, even defeated higher ranked players in combat with ease, and have had lower level players surpass me in points and skill. Gaining levels only helps to unlock new weapons and gear that provide more combat bonuses. In the end, the only thing that it comes down to is skill and teamwork.
Speaking of teamwork: the game has no voice chat function. While this would usually be seen as a negative, keep in mind that Splatoon caters family and kids. To avoid voice chat issues in other multiplayer games, Nintendo opted to remove voice chat altogether to ensure that players — especially younger ones — are not subjected to inappropriate language or harassment. This sets another challenge to players: coordinate attacks and territorial takeovers without using sound beyond two phrases: “Booyah” and “C’mon.” That being said, Splatoon fails to provide an adequate alternative to the lack of voice chat. Only two phrases can be used, which aren’t very helpful in terms of strategy. If the developers added a ping function or a few more phrases indicating when and where to advance or retreat, the lack of voice chat might be considered a blessing.
Another problem with Splatoon comes from the multiplayer lobby. Players cannot change their weapons or attire without leaving the lobby to wait for a match to start up. This puts a very harsh limit on players that want to try out different tactics and keep their opponents guessing since there’s a very high chance that they won’t end up facing the same opponents after leaving that lobby. And if all eight positions are not filled for a match, the entire lobby shuts down 200 seconds after the latest player entry or exit from the lobby.
But after wading through these problems, the result is well worth it. The game’s unique take on the Shooter genre is absolutely enjoyable, even borderline addicting. The ability to swim through the ink splattered on your team and the “super-jump,” which allows for a player to jump all the way across the map to a teammate’s location, lets players to return to the fight far faster than in other games. Additionally, the Super Weapons provide tactical advantages that tips the scales in multiplayer.
It should be noted that online multiplayer allows only one person per system, unlike other games Nintendo has produced for the Wii U, such as Mario Kart 8 or Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. However, Splatoon also has a local multiplayer for one-on-one battles using the same stages as online multiplayer. One player uses the Wii U tablet while the other uses the television and either a Classic Controller, a Classic Controller Pro, or the Wii U Pro Controller.
I will admit right now that I did expect Splatoon’s story mode to have been left off to the side. The story centers on the player’s Inkling working with what appears to be a crazy old man to recover the stolen Great Zapfish to power the home city of the Inklings, known as Inkopolis, from the Octarians, a group of tentacle-like beings that were once caught in a long struggle with the Inklings. The player must go through each level to recover enough Zapfish to challenge the boss in each area. Each level also has a Sunken Scroll item which reveals more of the lore behind the world of Splatoon.
Although the story is fairly basic and expected, the levels themselves are well created. The difficulty ramps up at just the right rate where one doesn’t feel overwhelmed too quickly. Additionally, each level centers on a general puzzle or mechanism theme, making the levels feel like they have rhyme and reason to them. Later levels that return to that mechanism ramp up the difficulty or presents the concept in a new way. Finally, each boss in the story mode is creatively done, with their own specialties and weaknesses, and each presents a challenge. This includes the final boss, which I found to be one of the best challenges for a final boss to be produced by Nintendo in a long time.
Not only are the concepts of Splatoon and the levels of its single player mode well done, but the lore is excellently drawn together. By finding the special Sunken Scrolls in each of the single player levels, players learn about the secrets of the hatred between the Inklings and Octarians, the backstories of some of the characters seen in the game, and some of the culture of both sides of the conflict. However, the most interesting pieces by far come from the scrolls that reveal the origin of the world Splatoon is set in. For those who own the game but have yet to really play the story mode, I advise them to try it and find the scrolls they can. It just adds far more to the experience, especially since the scrolls received from defeating the bosses unlock new weapons.
Splatoon is a game that Nintendo created to buck the norm of the Shooter genre and in that regard, it has succeeded. Although it has its problems with multiplayer and launch day content, the satisfaction of the gameplay itself and the culture that was produced for the purpose of this game make it well worth playing, if not purchasing. For gamers who love the Shooter genre and are interested in trying something different, this is the game worth trying. Play for the multiplayer and stay for the lore, single player levels, and the pretty good music.
Now if you excuse me, I have some enemies that deserve an Inkstrike. Maybe two.