Previously, Nintendo fans looking for a multiplayer shooter fix would have turned towards Rare’s iconic Nintendo 64 game GoldenEye 007 or perhaps even Eurocom’s Wii-imagining, but trends have changed over the years and players who were once enamoured by James Bond’s sharp suits, British wit and womanising charm are now turning their attention towards cool clothes, rebellious attitudes and tentacles.
I am of course talking about Splatoon, Nintendo’s fresh new approached to the crowded online shooter genre. Instead of featuring grizzly military men shooting each other against grey and brown backdrops, gamers are now welcomed into vibrant urban spaces full of character and are invited to splatter the floor with an array of bright, contrasting colours – all while accompanied by a wonderfully charming aesthetic and soundtrack that, as someone who grew up in the 1990s, gives me a comfortable sense of nostalgia. While you can still indeed hunt down your prey and splat them into oblivion, that isn’t the aim of the game and in fact, will probably do your team more harm than good in the long-run.
When you first load up the game, your personal inkling finds itself in the middle of Inkoplis, a WaraWara Plaza-inspired intersection featuring the avatars of friends, online opponents and strangers from Miiverse hanging around, showing off pictures of Squidward Tentacles and the like while strutting around in the latest fresh fashion. Standing directly in front of the player is Inkopolis Tower, which leads players to the game’s core mode – its online player.
Splatoon’s Regular Battle mode allows players to experience the game’s revolutionary Turf Wars; which sees eight players from across the world sorted into two teams, before they battle it out to cover an arena’s floor with their ink before the three minute timer ends. While you can survive in other shooters simply by running and gunning, in Splatoon, observation is the key to success. Not only will you have to keep an eye on the GamePad map to see what areas are free and what sections of the map the opposing team are clearly occupying, but you will also need to pay attention to the movement of your allies. When a Turf War begins my eyes will quickly be directed to the three other players in my time, which shapes how I start off the game. For example, if they charge off with the intention of claiming enemy territory, I’ll shift my attention to redecorating the respawn area, or if they go one way at a crossroads, I’ll go down the other.
While that may seem to be setting up Turf Wars as a rather lonely endeavour, the ingenious level design has resulted in it being anything but. While the multiplayer stages have a wealth of discrete passageways that can lead to a healthy advantage, each arena has open areas that will be critical for either team at the end of a match, so conflict is inevitable. Just when Turf Wars are starting to feel a little bit repetitive and you’ve reached Rank 10, the experience you gained during those key battles will become crucial for your success in the mode that truly brings Splatoon to life – Ranked Battles, where you will take part in a different gameplay mode called “Splat Zones”.
The goal of “Splat Zones” isn’t to cover the entire stage with your team’s ink, but rather, to secure a small part of it. While I enjoy to stay out of harm’s way in Turf Wars, this time I would have to head straight into the chaos and boy, did I love it. Nothing makes me feel mightier than standing on a raised platform in Saltspray Rig, using my Splatterscope to deal with any punk kids who dare trespass on my team’s precious rectangle, or interrupting an enemy team’s charge by unleashing the Kraken!
Splatoon’s online play doesn’t come without its shortcomings though. Despite the game having six multiplayer maps and more on the way, both Turf Wars and Ranked Battles will only let players access a selection of two stages at a time, with a rotation only occurring once every four hours (and why can’t I skip Callie and Marie’s announcement of these stages?). I personally found that inhibited my enjoyment of longer play sessions, which is probably why I found myself investing a lot of time into the single player mode.
The Zapfishes that power Inkopolis have been stolen by the nefarious Octarians and it’s up to the player’s inkling to team up with the aged Cap’n Cuttlefish to retrieve them! This means venturing into the Octovalley and battling a diverse range of octopi across levels that feel pleasantly similar to Super Mario Galaxy. While I praised the level design seen in the multiplayer modes earlier, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by how uniform the progression of Octovalley’s stages feel. The different enemy types and the quirky boss fights do make up for this though, providing an experience I never thought I would have with a shooter.
The short length of the Octovalley campaign can be extended however, if you own any of the three Splatoon amiibo figurines. Tapping an inkling boy, girl or squid to the Wii U’s NFC reader will allow you to replay any Octovalley stage with a unique limitation – with rewards such as exclusive costumes and mini-games being unlocked for reaching certain milestones. While it’s amazing to see how changing something as simple as your weapon type affects the difficulty of a stage, I’m disappointed to see so much content locked behind amiibo; especially given their scarcity. I personally own all three of the compatible amiibo but considering that Splatoon won’t exactly bursting at the seams with content until the August update, locking even more behind a pay wall doesn’t inspire me with confidence about Nintendo’s future plans for amiibo compatibility.
The game’s main disappointment though, comes from the “Battle Dojo”. Nintendo have previously placed a strong emphasis on the local multiplayer aspect of their titles, so it’s disappointing to them falter here, even if Splatoon is largely an online game. Instead of Nintendo including a split-screen version of Turf Wars or Splat Zones, what we’re left with is a one-vs-one mode where players use pre-set load-outs and compete to see who can pop the most balloons and it’s about as dull as it sounds. The multiplayer stages that normally accommodate eight inklings feel huge with only two players, which could at least have been remedied by Nintendo allowing five-players (one on the GamePad, four via split-screen).
Nintendo’s workaround for the second player not having the Wii U’s tablet-esque controller is even more ridiculous however; instead of using a Wii Remote and nunchuk set-up to create a natural motion-control experience, Nintendo suggests tying their iconic controller to the front of a Pro Controller using a shoelace! While that method surprisingly works, it’s incredibly awkward to set up when a perfectly viable alternate was staring Nintendo in the face.
With Team Deathmatch, Tower Control and the mysterious Rainmaker mode coming further down the line, I can’t help but wonder if this squid needed some more time in the oven because while Splatoon is a charismatic and fun game, it does leave me with the impression that Nintendo decided to serve it raw, instead of cooking the squid thoroughly.
Although the game isn’t without its shortcomings, all in all, Splatoon is a fun experience with a lot of character. Nintendo took a huge gamble when they set out into the open seas with this new intellectual property, but with these strong foundations being set, I can definitely see a return to Inkopolis in the future and things can only get better, unless we’re talking about Paper Mario.