Despite the fact that Nintendo is known for releasing several acclaimed games over their lifespan, it’s no secret that most of their classics come from only a couple of their franchises. It has been some time since we have seen Nintendo release a notable, totally original game. This might cause some people to wonder if Nintendo has lost its creative abilities. With the release of Splatoon, I can thankfully say that Nintendo still has the magic to create a memorable new franchise.
Splatoon is a rather unique take on the standard online-multiplayer shooter. It is by no means the stereotypical violent sci-fi game that we have come to expect from the shooter genre. Rather, it is a sort of paintball-like game where you play as children who turn into squids.
Surprisingly, the game becomes even weirder once you play it. The overall look is reminiscent to the punk-80s era. The characters, called Inklings, wear very goofy clothes and often use terms such as “fresh,” “rad,” and “hip.” It is pretty strange, and its wacked-out synthesized soundtrack contributes to its oddities. There is even an obese cat that gives the score at the end of online matches.
Am I complaining? I could be, if it were not for the fact that the game is so funny and entertaining. Particularly in the story mode, the dialogue can be quite witty and shows that the creators find the setting as ridiculous as you do. Sure, it can get a little too weird at times. The Squid Sisters, the hosts who repeatedly talk about each available stage, are usually more cheesy and awkward than funny. But cases such as these are more of an exception than anything.
In regards to gameplay, there are three modes: story mode, online multiplayer, and local multiplayer. While the story mode and online mode are great, the local multiplayer is unfortunately very dull. In it, two players compete against each other to pop as many balloons with their weapons as they can. The end result is a very bland experience, especially when compared to the other two.
The story mode is a very fun experience, but takes a bit of time to pick up in terms of pace. I remember playing the demo thinking that the story seemed rather slow. It turns out that while the first few levels are slow, the rest of the story is quite enjoyable. The action becomes more fast-paced, and the levels themselves become more creative. Sure, some might find the story to be a little simplistic. But what is wrong with being simple? After all, most Mario games rely on easy-to-grasp concepts, yet they are almost undeniably great experiences. Splatoon’s story mode might not be as memorable as that of a Mario or Zelda game, but it offers the pure enjoyment found in many of Nintendo’s classics.
Though it should be said that the story mode is not the driving force of Splatoon. After all, it can be completed relatively quickly. What truly makes Splatoon a great game is its online mode. In it, there are a few different types of games, but they are narrowed down to two categories: Turf War and Ranked Battles.
Turf War is the mode you start with. In it, eight players split into two teams are put in a randomly-selected map and have to cover as much of it as they can in their team’s color. This is accomplished by splatting the ground with your ammunition. While doing this, you must face off against the other team in combat, trying to prevent your opponent from covering the ground with their team color. As long as you are standing on your own color, you can press the ZL button to turn into a squid. This allows you to travel around your colored areas faster. It also allows you to refill your ink tank so you can fire more ammunition. As you continue to play matches, your character levels up, unlocking new powers and purchasable weapons. Like the story mode, some might find this concept to be too simple. However, it is much more enjoyable and intense than it sounds.
After a while, Turf War might seem a little repetitive, which is why it is nice that there are more objectives that can be unlocked. Once you get your character to Level 10, you unlock the second mode: Ranked Battles. This mode bears similarities to Turf War. It still consists of eight players in two teams. The basic gameplay and maps are the same, but there are different objectives.
Sometimes, the mode is “Tower Control,” which is where teams have to hop on a tower in the middle of the stage and ride it to the other team’s territory. The catch is that it does not move unless someone is on it. Another mode is “Rainmaker,” which is like “Capture the Flag” except the “flag” is able to obliterate players with ink tornadoes. The final mode is “Splat Zones,” which has the two teams try to color one or two small squares with their color. As long as the zones are their color, the countdown to victory starts to go down.
Stages on either Turf War or Ranked Battles are selected at random. The selection of stages (and objectives for Ranked Battles) changes every hour or so. When the game initially came out, the maps could be quite repetitive. This is because back then there were only a few stages. After so many months, though, there has been a significant improvement in the number of stages. However, only two stages are available during an hour period (e.g. 8:00-0900 p.m.). Every hour, another two stages are selected. This means that during an hour period, online matches will take place in either of those two selected stages. It is nice that the overall selection has improved, but it would be nice if there were three available stages at a time as opposed to two.
Every month, there are special events called Splatfests. Splatfests involve players choosing a preference between two things and joining online teams based on their choice. The selections could be rather general, such as “Hotdogs vs. Burgers,” or unusually specific, such as “Autobots vs. Decepticons.” During Splatfests, you unlock snails, which you can sell to open ability slots in your gear. These slots can upgrade your weapons and clothes. Splatfests change the presentation of the game. The hub area and maps turn to nighttime and the music tracks are different. The hub world also features Miiverse posts for both teams by various users.
Online performance is quite strong, though not perfect. I have encountered a few instances where the connection has messed up and kicked me out of a round. However, I cannot say it is entirely the game’s fault. My Wii U is located in an area where other devices, such as my laptop or my phone also have somewhat lousy connections. Because of this, I cannot guarantee that the game has legitimate online issues. Even if it is the game’s fault, it is still one of the best online performances I have experienced.
One common criticism of the game is the lack of voice chat. Honestly, my experience with voice chat is rather minimal and none of it was good. When using voice chat in other games, all I heard was a bunch of strangers randomly swearing at me and shouting at each other. That being said, I am not particularly disappointed with the lack of voice chat. I suppose it would have been good for when you are playing with your friends, but otherwise it is quite useless.
Graphically, this game is quite beautiful. Though not as perfect as something like Super Mario 3D World, Splatoon boasts a neat, colorful approach that really matches its cartoony style. Not only is it great to look at, but it is also refreshing to see such vivid colors compared to the drab look of other shooters.
One final thing I want to highlight about the game is its customization. There are dozens of different weapons to choose from, such as paintball guns, sniper rifles, giant paint rollers, paint brushes, and buckets. Each of these different types of weapons have multiple versions that have different stats and secondary weapons. Outside of your weapon selection, you can also choose what your Inkling is wearing on his or her head, torso, or feet. The Inkling amiibo unlock special costumes and weapons that can be used. While many shooters feature customization, Splatoon’s options are clearly different from each other. Games like Halo: Reach and Star Wars: Battlefront have customization options, but are usually too subtle to really notice while in the middle of a fight.
In terms of moral content, Splatoon is quite clean. Of course, one of the main elements is shooting (and essentially killing) your enemies. However, it is very cartoonish, similar to the likes of Super Smash Bros. or Disney Infinity. There are a couple of other things I should note. For one, the female inklings, though not particularly suggestive, wear short shorts and are sort of curvy. Normally, I would not say it was worthy of mentioning, but it has caused several users on Miiverse to draw highly inappropriate and exaggerated pictures.
Another thing I should note is that other users can (though usually do not) have vulgar names. I have never seen explicit curse words, but a couple of users replace letters with numbers or symbols. However, I would not be too worried about your kids playing online. These kinds of names are exceedingly rare and I only found them because I was looking for them. Usually, you have to be able to read past the numbers and symbols before you even notice what their usernames mean.
Finally, there are secret scrolls you can unlock in the story mode that give background to the Inklings. They can be quite funny, but they also hint at the idea that the Inklings evolved on earth and the human race became extinct over time.
I will admit, I am by no means a shooter fan. I know I am in the minority when I say this, but shooters have never been particularly entertaining to me. They have always come across as repetitive and lacking in depth. That being said, Splatoon’s unique approach has caused me to consistently play a genre I thought I would never play again. This game captures the Nintendo magic while maintaining the core elements of the shooter style. I would easily recommend this game not only to those who enjoy shooters, but to anyone who owns a Wii U.