[Insert Bad Pun Here]
Competitive shooters have generally been analogous to each other, in terms of layout. In this kind of game, you can usually count on the basic deathmatch, progression system, and set of rather annoying children throwing random obscene insults. Nintendo has decided to enter that market, and the results are something that shakes up the formula. Splatoon still derives attributes from those other games in its design, but places an emphasis shooting with ink, not bullets. In the end, it all makes for a unique experience in Nintendo’s first new IP in years.
The mechanics of Splatoon apply to all portions of the game. It takes the form of a third-person shooter, even to the point where it contains just about every sort of cliche weapon you’d expect the genre to contain. Of course, all of this is morphed with Nintendo’s ink-based twist on the concept. One of the main traversal methods formed from this concept is turning into a squid, to move faster within ink of your own color. In addition to this, its worth noting that Splatoon is a gamepad-focused Wii U game with a few of its own extra features. First is the ability to view a map always displayed on the bottom of the gamepad, but perhaps most importantly is the ability to use motion controls for the X-axis. Personally, I found this to be a bit unreliable due to the sensitivity, but some people have found it satisfactory.
Splatoon is broken up into two main portions: an action-platformer hybrid in single-player, and a cooperative turf war multiplayer. Its core single-player experience devises a simple story, based around rescuing the Great Zapfish, Inkopolis's source of power, from the evil Octarians. From there, the main campaign arises, which is surprisingly solid. These levels are formatted in a way akin to Super Mario Galaxy, but its gameplay elements are similar to a Ratchet & Clank game.
Each level has you traversing through its linear layout, with a goal of obtaining a Zapfish at the end; the equivalent of a Mario star. On each section of the map, there is small challenge you must complete, which usually revolves around either strategically gunning down every enemy or traversing its ink-related platforms; very similar to the mechanics of Ratchet & Clank. You only get one gun for its entirety, in contrast to Ratchet & Clank ‘s vast array of weapons, but the game instead contains its own upgrade system specifically designed for single-player. For instance, you can upgrade the gun’s rate of fire, reload time, and obtain a few new grenade-equivalents. All of these are adequately incorporated, and while it certainly doesn’t make for a sense of variety, the campaign is short enough for that to get a pass. However, the actual levels, as brief as they are, can be repetitive. Every section has accompanying levels that follow the same general layouts. There will be some tornado guy to mess you up, there will be your typical puzzle-platforming components, and you can count on a boss concluding after completing every section. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed these moments, albeit reiterated too much, but the highlights were almost always the bosses. Sure, they follow the “rule of three”, but they vary enough in terms of tactics to be engaging through each fight. Specifically, the final boss in this game is outstanding; I wasn’t expecting the difficulty to spike that high, but it was a perfect “final test” to represent the entire game.
Splatoon has been advertized as mainly a multiplayer game, and it’s not without reason. When first dropped onto the hub world, it’s a immediately apparent where the multiplayer-focused items are located, shunning the single-player material in the corner. That said, despite my fondness for the single-player, the multiplayer is the reason to own this game. After randomly generating two opposing and contrasting colors, your match is based around 4v4 matches, but with a focus on coating the ground with ink, not shooting others in the face. For three minutes, each team frantically tries to cover all areas of territory; the team with the most covered ground by the timer’s conclusion is the winner. Your weapon of choice determines your playstyle, as some guns require an emphasis on rapid fire in the back of a level while others, like the paint roller, have a focus on running to cover as much ground as possible.
This core mode is absolutely entertaining, some may say addictive, but it also retains the lack of variety that the single-player mode suffers from. As of now, there is a grand total of five maps to play on, with two being active an hour at a time. The core concept of this map rotation is fine, but it would work much better in a system with more maps available. Despite this lack of map variety, it’s insignificant when compared to fun you’d have with the core gameplay. There’s a progression system included as well, along with buyable equipment. It all makes up for the best online multiplayer Nintendo has ever done.
Splatoon looks like a game right out the Nickelodeon I grew up with. Its art-style has a look that’s a bit different than what we’ve typically seen from Nintendo, with enemy designs that look like a more colorful version of something out of Invader Zim. Despite this, Splatoon still retains Japanese culture within its aesthetic, particularly represented in the hub world. I’d say the music in the game is fitting for the setting, but it’s just not something that I would personally listen to outside of the game.
Splatoon is an excellent new addition to the Wii U’s catalogue. It may be starved for content at times, but the sum of its parts is truly a great game. It’s not perfect, I particularly dislike that Amiibos lock on-disc content, but its well-made single-player mode and addictive multiplayer mode is well worth the price of admission.