Developer: Nintendo EAD Group No. 2
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: May 29, 2015
Splatoon is a bonkers Nintendo game.
It’s an Adderall-paced shooter that looks like you’ve sliced open a rainbow’s belly as squid-human hybrids roam a wasteland of a world.
It’s also exactly the sort of game that the Wii U needs right now. Picture a reverse Super Mario Sunshine where instead of cleaning up Delfino Isle, you were the one mucking the whole place up. And while Splatoon is a whole lot more than that tantalizing “What If?” scenario, it basically coasts on the idea of how much fun it is to make a wild, sprawling mess. Because as much as we all love being the good guy, wouldn’t it be sublime if that position also required you to get downright filthy?
Splatoon boasts a simple-yet-complicated structure to its splatterful game mechanics. For example, if you’re in your own color of ink, you’re allowed to transform into your squid form (see above re: Splatoon is a bonkers Nintendo game) which allows you to jump and reach more crucial areas as well as generally make haste. You might have seen gameplay videos of Splatoon where players are just as concerned with drenching their level as they are with nailing foes, and it’s not just because it looks really cool and is super fun—it’s actually a smart gaming strategy, with territory domination being an integral component of the gameplay.
As Splatoon is a game that teaches you to perfect your offense and defense equally (yin and yang, human and squid), each weapon also caters to these functions. As a result, something like your trusty Splatroller will launch out a wide column of color to claim space, while also delivering a shotgun-esque blast. Between the Splattershot, Splash Wall, Sprinkler, and more (with even the Nintendo Zapper being added as a weapon soon, in some delightful company synergy), there are a lot of choices in your literal arsenal. The game is well aware of this too, and offers up a training ground for you to test out your bounty and troubleshoot which ink flinger suits you best.
The single player campaign is a quick burst of joy that has a Mario sensibility to it, with the gameplay cribbing from both Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy in various ways. The result is this weird synthesis that feels like if somehow Sunshine got a sequel and if somehow that sequel was a third-person shooter. There are a scant five worlds (each with their own central gimmick to them) to play through, amounting to an experience that nets you well below ten hours of gameplay. Every minute of it is manic fun, though. Naturally there are extras thrown in too, like hidden scrolls in each level to increase the difficulty and incentivize you to work through these levels once more. Nintendo has gone on the record that new maps and content are going to be added soon and will continue to be added, which is encouraging.
Splatoon’s bosses are also a creative triumph with the game making the most out of them rather than squandering the opportunity. Each of these mega-foes requires you to use your ink against them in some novel away, evoking a feeling that’s again very Galaxy-esque. It’s also worth mentioning that the creepy looking enemies that you encounter on a regular basis shouldn’t have irked me as much as they did, but it’s a testament to the characterization going into them
All of this moves very nicely at 60 fps, whether your arena has rainbow-colored paint raining down all over it as you all swap in and out of your squid forms, Splatoon can handle it, and it’s all the better for it. Slowdown would be a game killer here and taking down the graphics a few notches (not that the graphics look shoddy by any means, they’re just simple) to allow fluid shooting is some ace developing on their part.
Beyond Splatoon’s single player campaign is a deeply fun, albeit equally flawed multiplayer system. Several different variations on the idea of ink-based competition are offered here, whether it’s who can cover the most ground in their color or a more traditional death match. Turf Wars is a 4 vs. 4 foray for the most territory, while Battle Dojo lets you duke it out one-on-one as you try to take down more balloon targets than your competition.
When it comes to online inking, more flaws become apparent (squidders gonna squid), as the game suffers from the usual problems that Nintendo online endeavors have, like lack of a voice chat (which could be a gamechanger for something like Turf Wars, for instance) or only allowing one-on-one battles. That being said, an online presence is certainly appreciated, and there’s already a very lively community for the game online.
And for those more concerned with fashion than action, there’s also a pretty fleshed out item system where you can dress your inklings up in a myriad of costumes and apparel earned in-game or purchased from various vendors. It’s the sort of thing that could be entirely for aesthetic purposes, but wisely these fashionable (or not so fashionable) items end up having some in-battle perk, such as boosts in your defense, speed, or power. Like most games of this nature, Splatoon puts you through a rather vicious cycle of earning money to purchase upgrades, new items, or weapons, constantly hanging the next shiny one right in front of you. It at least adds some longevity to the rather short single player campaign, but like most titles that operate like this, they run the risk of breaking themselves by fatiguing the gamer—which is something that hasn’t happened to me yet, at least (in fact I’m finding myself increasingly addicted).
Of course, there are small grievances to be griped at elsewhere, like unskippable cutscenes, and buggy online features (which also make you unable to exit something prematurely, interestingly enough) which hold the title back from being a true classic. None are too egregious that they’ll be wearing away at you either though. It screams of an experience that would be perfected in a sequel.
And on the topic of such a thing, Splatoon is certainly a game that deserves one. Any complaining done here is because the game is such a slick, enjoyable package that it’s being held to a higher standard. Clearly Nintendo has faith in this property with them already shipping out Splatoon Wii U Bundle Packs (a very bold move), producing Splatoon Amiibos, and announcing soon-to-come Splatoon-based DLC for Super Smash Bros. The title has somehow turned into Nintendo’s largest new IP in forever, and so hopefully this is just the start of a lengthy franchise. Nintendo has a history for upping their quality in sequels and tapping into even more magic than in the original game. Let’s hope Splatoon is no exception to the rule.
Now excuse me, I’m going to go get filthy.