Announced at the 2014 E3 Nintendo Direct, Splatoon brought up a lot of questions from fans: it’s not very often that the Big N surprises them with a brand new IP fresh out of the oven, and a competitive shooter, no less.
A new 4 vs 4 competitive shooter full of bright colors and adorable visuals, seen as the family-friendly alternative to the genre by many, was meant to hit the shelves only a year later on the 28th of May 2015, after an extensive advertisement campaign that didn’t remain unnoticed.
After a year of teasing and development, is the game worth the hype it generated?
A fresh entry in the oldest shelves
A new IP is always a big event with Nintendo, considering how the company likes to remain within their usual boundaries in terms of franchises (which, ironically, is the opposite when it comes to hardware). And Splatoon stomped this boundaries mercilessly, and for two reasons: first of all, it’s a genre the company had yet to approach. The closest case Nintendo brought us was the multiplayer mode of Metroid Prime 2, where players could battle between 2 to 4 players.
This mode in itself was rather poor and limited, which makes sense since the single-player mode was the focus of this game. The online competitive shooter genre was so far seen as a more “adult” kind of gaming, far from the reach of the family-oriented Nintendo.
The second step Nintendo reached is to bring an online multiplayer-centered game to their console. Some could argue that Super Smash Bros and Mario Kart could’ve taken this title, but the heavy offline content offered makes the difference. Many games of the Big N had online functionalities, but never had they been the focal point of a game before.
But enough with all this, let’s talk about the game itself.
A whole new world
Splatoon allows you to play as a new race called the “Inkling”, a race of sentient squids able to assume a human form at will as they reach 14 years of age.
Armed with very toy-looking weapons, the Inklings shoot, spread or drop massive amounts of their ink. Able to swim in their own ink (but not water!) at high speed where they can remain absolutely invisible, these squids developed a culture around fighting and fashion, very reflected on their city: Inkopolis.
Very reminiscent of Tokyo’s famous Shibuya train station, this city is pretty much the game’s main hub.
From there, you can access to all the available modes, from buying gear and clothes to accessing Amiibo features. And this game has a lot of features to visit.
Even though the main focus of the game is on the online mode (which we’ll mention a bit later), some offline content are still available. This includes a single-player campaign, an offline multiplayer mode and the Amiibo features.
A short lived offline mode
Let’s not beat around the bush and set things straight: the game clearly wants you to know that most of the fun will happen online. The offline content, while still present, is far from sufficient in length and going through it will ask at best 3 hours.
The single-player campaign puts you under the command of a weird old squid called Cap’n Cuttlefish, a war veteran looking a bit too cuckoo to be reliable. As soon as you enter the single-player campaign’s hub, the Octo Valley, the old man screams at you and sends you to fight. But to fight what, you may ask? Well, the Inklings recently lost their main source of power, the Great Zapfish, and the culprits of this mysterious disappearance is none other than the Octarians, a sentient octopus race and sworn enemies of the Inklings.
Now presented (or rather, forced) with a mission, you need to run around Octo Valley, a strange place under Inkopolis, and access each of the levels available.
If you needed to sum up what the levels are, you can just look at Super Mario Galaxy’s level design, and you’ll have a good idea. A mix of plate-forming and shooting will be the main ingredients for the 27 levels of the campaign, divided in 5 zones and accompanied by 5 boss fights.
The level on themselves don’t take more than a few minutes to complete, and you’ll be expecting a real beginning of challenge only around zone 4. However, each level hides a “Sunken Scroll”, an item that reveals portions of the game’s backstory and lore, as well as unlocks new weapons for the online multiplayer. They can be quite a trick to find, and will probably make you redo a couple times at least a few levels.
However, as said before, these levels are nowhere long or too hard to complete. They seem to exist rather as a way to prepare players for the online multiplayer by teaching them various tricks to apply in fight. And it’s a real shame! This campaign possessed a lot of potential, only would it have been dealt with in depth.
There is however a way to add a little more length to this campaign: the Amiibos.
Accessible from Inkopolis, the Amiibo stand allows you to summon either of these 3 little guys into your game. What do they do? They offer you challenges. Each of them will give you the opportunity to play the single-player levels once again, but with a different weapon. The rewards are mini-games, exclusive clothes and a lot of money, which makes it quite worth the trouble.
It is also good to keep in mind that the level design of the single-player mode was only meant for the default weapon: it can thus be quite a challenge to get through all the levels with a different weapon.
On the other hand, the local multiplayer, called Battle Dojo, is not going to help fixing the lack of offline content if you didn’t buy the Amiibos. It is, in fact, the weakest part of Splatoon.
As you can see on the image above, the local multiplayer mode is a 1 vs 1 game mode in which you must pop as much balloons as possible within the time limit. The first player to reach 30 points, or with the most points at the end, wins. A good way to impede your opponent’s progress is to “splat” them (equivalent of a kill in Splatoon, shall we say): doing so lowers their score in half.
In itself the concept could be a bit fun, but the time limit isn’t the only limit of this mode, and because of this, it is flawed and poor.
First of all, there is only 5 levels available and there is way to change them. In fact, they are the first 5 online multiplayer levels that were made available. Considering that a match lasts 5 minutes, it means that a good 30 minutes will be enough to play through all of the maps.
Second of all, the weapon selection is extremely limited.
There are only 8 weapons available, each having one set of clothing affiliated to it. No customization what so ever when it comes to the outfit and abilities, and a very limited weapons over the massive amount usually available for multiplayer doesn’t play in the mode’s favors. If anything, it only proves that this mode is made for a quick, on-the-go fight between two players, and not meant to be serious at all.
Finally, the biggest flaw (at least in my opinion) is the lack of motion control. As you all may know, you can only have one Wii U Gamepad per console, which means one of the players will have to use another pad (Pro Controller or Wii mote). The only problem is that this second player will not have access to motion control unless they input a secret code. One could ask why the option hasn’t been made available immediately instead of having to input a random input code. The matter is even more problematic with the Pro Controller: it is specifically said that a Wii mote needs to be attached to the Pro Controller to access the motion control. How do you attach it, may you ask?
This has to be one of the least ergonomic set-up I’ve ever seen. Of course you can use pretty much anything you want to tie the two together but it’s really difficult, at least from my experience.
In all and all, the offline content is way too short compared to what it could’ve done. It is a real shame for those who can’t afford to play online.
Go online or go home
After the short (but still entertaining) single-player campaign, it’s time to hit the online and fight it out with other players around the world!
As soon as you open the game, every time, you will be greeted by Callie and Marie, two young inklings forming the very famous pop duo Squid Sisters. In the form of a news flash, they will show the player every new content as they are added to the game, as well as the maps available for each multiplayer mode at the current time.
There is two main modes for the multiplayer: the regular battles and the ranked battles. Each mode will have 2 stages randomly selected playable for a duration of 4 hours. After these 4 hours, the stages will be changed to 2 other randomly selected ones for each mode (they update at the same time, of course).
The regular battle consists of only one game mode: the famous Turf War, which could be considered to be the main mode of the game. Armed with their weapons, the Inklings battle in a 4vs4 fight where the goal is to spread as much of their colored ink on the ground as possible within the time limit.
Your score will only depend on the amount of ink sprayed: here, the kills won’t count. This a key element in what makes this shooter very much “Nintendo-like”: the players are invited to act strategically and not become killing machines, since the kills won’t bring them any reward.
Speaking of strategy, the Wii U Gamepad shows at all times the map of the stage with the current status of the inking. The player can, in a quick look, see where ink is missing and go to the spot, either by walking or tapping on the gamepad and “super jump” to the location of an ally, earning precious time.
The Turf War is the only available mode for online multiplayer until the level 10 is reached, where the players will be able to access the much harder Ranked Battles.
It is here that various modes will be at the player’s disposal to really show what they are made of: Tower Control (self-explanatory), Rain maker (a capture-the-flag) and Splat Zones (zone control) are the game modes available. Just like the regular battles, the available mode is selected randomly along with 2 stages and will be changed every 4 hours.
These matches are regulated with a rank system, going from C- to S+, allowing you to face players within your rank (and thus strength level). Sadly however, this system isn’t always the most reliable and you still may encounter players more experienced.
But to be the best, you need the best gear! And the only way to get it is in the Booyah Base.
The Booyah Base is a mall where the Inklings can go purchase hats, outfits, shoes and weapons for their online matches (online only!). Each piece of gear owns a special ability with many to unlock: it’s up to each player to raise their gear with abilities adapted to their fighting style.
Let’s party to our heart’s content!
The long hours that can be spent playing with the impressive amount of constantly-growing set of weapons divided in 5 categories (chargers, rollers, basic splattershots, buckets and Gatlings), the game offers every few weeks the possibility to fight for something else than level/rank: a cause.
Every once in a while, an event called Splatfest is organized. Separated between regions (US, EU & JP), these events allow player to pick a team based on a choice they make between two elements, and battle out who is the best. Eating vs sleeping, art vs science or roller-coasters vs water slides, anything can be decided on the battle field. Both the number of votes and the number of victories over the opposite team will decide the outcome, and the more victories, the higher a player can level up on a specific Splatfest rank. And what do you get as a reward? Super Snails!
These blue little things allow you to do some business with Spyke, a shady sea urchin guy with an British accent.
This scary-looking fella is actually extremely useful: using either a Super Snail or a decently big amount of money, Spyke can do two things for you. First, he can order gear that you don’t own. As you’ll walk around in Inkopolis, you’ll be meeting Inklings from other players just walking around. If one possesses a piece of gear that tickles your interest, you can just give Spyke a phone call and he’ll order it for you the next day.
He can also play with your gear’s abilities, either by adding a slot in a piece of equipment to allow another bonus to be added (up to 3 per gear), or re-roll all your abilities into new ones, but at random.
You need to lay your tentacles on this game
Nintendo brilliantly introduced a new IP along their long-running series and allowed players to have a fresh experience (see it’s a joke because “being fresh” is the way for Inklings to say that they are cool and-…ah, just…forget it). Even though the single-player might leave some hungry for some more bits, the game remains heavily multiplayer-oriented and never stops adding new elements, weapons and stages to the already extensive list, making so players won’t be bored of it anytime soon.
The artistic direction, both in terms of design and music, is absolutely brilliant and gives a great urban vibe to the whole game. As usual, Nintendo added all the little details that once again made the difference.
Final verdict: Splatoon is a must-buy for any Wii U owner. No exception.