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June 23, 2015

Splatoon (Wii U)

2717093-spratoonboxWhat’s Good:
-Bright, colorful visuals and tone.
-Charming characters and dialogue.
-Great single player boss fights.
-Ink mechanics are a ton of fun.
-Fast, engaging and hectic multiplayer.
-A plethora of unlockable gear.

What’s Bad:
-Sometimes iffy matchmaking.
-Rare occurrences of network instability.

What I thought:
“A welcome breath of fresh air for shooters.”

If you had previously told me that the next compelling shooter would be coming out of Nintendo, and would sport bright, arguably kid-focused visuals and a motion control component, I’d have suggested professional help.
Here I sit however, having unloaded barrages of brightly colored ink at fellow Inklings, glided through the aftermath in squid form, and braved the Octarians’ wrath in the single player to emerge victorious, and have but to show for it a content grin and a thirst to jump back into the fray to paint the town just about every color but red (It’s rated E for Everyone after all).
Telling the seemingly eternal conflict of the Inklings, Splatoon is a third person shooter where you play as a race of creatures who can transform between a firearm squirtgun-toting humanoid form, and a squid form which can submerge into similarly colored ink to regenerate ammunition or stalk and ambush enemies.
The motion controls are daunting at first, and I had even tried turning them off (which is an option, don’t fret) and found the aiming there a waking nightmare, but after an hour or two of single player and perhaps a multiplayer match here or there, aiming with motion controls turned on becomes a non-issue.
What are simple mechanics offer an admirable amount of depth, for while any old average Joe can pull a right trigger to shoot ink at a fool, jiving with the intricacies of the reasonably large range of weapon types and finding new pathways through stages using the increased speed and wall-climbing abilities of squid form takes a bit of time, but the good news there is that the road to squid-slaying/ink-laying proficiency is a fun one to tread.

A Tale from the Sea
The single player plays more like a puzzle platformer almost, with your Inkling being tasked with making its way along interconnected level sections akin to Mario Galaxy while gooping baddies and scrounging for collectibles along the way.
The plot is uninvolved, though it is presented in a charming way, with a small number of colorful personalities seeing you through to the end.
The campaign can be finished in a mere couple of hours, but each level feels distinct, and bosses will show their ugly appendages at regular intervals; all of which are well crafted and make good use of all of Splatoon’s unique gameplay mechanics.
It only gets better near the end, too.

The Colors of Conflict
While the single player is fun stuff, the main draw of Splatoon is the competitive multiplayer.
While there are currently a mere two modes of play (one only found in Ranked play, which is not unlocked from the start), both play differently from one another while fulfilling two important needs: Frantic action, and focus on ink/squid mechanics.
The default mode has two teams seeking to cover the traversable ground in the stage with their team’s color of ink while denying the enemy team from laying down their color as best they can within a three minute time limit.
Killing Fragging Splatting enemy players is not the goal, though even focusing your efforts there helps your team as a whole, as each brief second your drenched victim spends out of the fight is one more second your team can spend slathering the environment with your color.
While I was at first nervous that such short matches would mean more time would be spent in menus than actually playing the game (as seems the case in many shooters these days), three minutes means that every single second counts, and it isn’t uncommon for a team losing by a landslide to turn the tide in the waning moments of a match and eke (イカ?) out the win. There is very little down time between matches (a minigame can even be played on your tablet if for some reason it’s taking awhile to get going), and the short match length has led to me saying “They’re short. I’ll just do one more.” for a good dozen matches in a row.
The second mode places emphasis on controlling one specific area of a map, and plays much like king of the hill. It places more focus on player on player combat, as both teams will generally be focused into that one area, which makes it feel distinct from the default mode. As this is the Ranked play gametype, XP and currency is gained faster by winning here, and your rank will raise and fall with wins or losses.
All of the maps are symmetrical, which makes them perfectly balanced for both teams, and each feels entirely different from the rest both in layout and visuals. One odd thing to note with Splatoon though is that each mode is given two maps per day, and in each mode only those selected maps will be played for a few hours until the next batch is chosen. This sounds limiting, but it’s also a smart design choice, as not only does rotating maps around keep the game feeling fresh and exciting over time (seeing favorite maps come and go makes them more fun once they’re available), it also prevents players in the short term from becoming utter beasts at playing each map.

Gear is important, as each piece of the clothing you choose to adorn your Inkling with comes with it a number of randomly selected perks which unlock as that particular set of clothing is used. Perhaps the only issue I have with this game’s multiplayer would be in that low-level clothing comes equipped with fewer slots for perks than high-level stuff, and depending on the time of day you choose to do your inking, the game may place you in a match with higher level (read: max level) players sporting more decked out duds than those scraps you’re wearing. This isn’t a complete deal-breaker however, as after the match is through, all you need to do is find that player in the Inkopolis and spend some of the game’s easily accrued currency to order a similar getup. As the perks are randomly chosen and there are diminishing returns on the same perks, min-maxing doesn’t appear to be an issue. One of the ultimate goals of this game will surely be collecting sylish linens with perks to your liking.
The Inkopolis is your hub for both the single player and competitive multiplayer components, as well as offering a range of shops in which to browse a range of clothing items (which changes daily), or test and buy new weapons (which unlock through leveling as well as single player progress). While the framerate in Inkopolis is noticeably worse than anywhere else in the game, this rather small area is crammed full with activity, and will populate with the avatars of people you see in online matches who will mull about and shout out Miiverse posts.
While you’re there, wave hi to the Squid Sisters for me.

Keeping it Fresh
I have loved just about every second I have spent with Splatoon. The 90’s-esque skater punk attitude and the wacky, almost akin to Jet Grind Radio soundtrack (which is terrific, though you end up hearing the same tracks quite a bit), and the cast of hilariously charming characters, and the lot of it. I could ramble until the sun goes down about all of the things this game gets right.
It isn’t wholly innovative though, nor is it any sort of revelation or life-changing release. Rather, what Nintendo has whipped up has taken what are in places well-known ingredients and combined them in a unique and refreshing way to produce what I’m hoping is but an appetizer for a continuing series.
Much of this game’s success however, being multiplayer focused, will depend on support. More maps will undoubtedly roll out as time passes, and there have already been announcements of new weapons, so I have no doubt that if the playerbase stays strong, ongoing support will as well.
Splatoon takes fun mechanics and surrounds them on all sides by smart design. “Fun” is a key component, and perhaps the primary draw. In a world of military shooters which try desperately to mask their lack of innovation and creativity behind more and more shiny new trinkets or minor gameplay tweaks, whose tone and communities are too busy focusing on the aspects of multiplayer which matter the least, Splatoon is a charming, refreshing and most importantly, fun, entry into a genre which has lost its spark and its joy in recent years.

From → Games

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