Nintendo took a risk on a new IP with Splatoon, hitting the competitive multiplayer scene with a focus on the younger audience. Did it pay off?
I can safely say that the answer to that is a complex one. Splatoon is a really well made game, designed to be accessible for kids but still fun enough for the ‘hardcores’ to get into it. During my time with it, I became totally invested. I played the entirety of the singleplayer, found all the collectible sunken scrolls that show backstory, did half of the Amiibo challenges I’d unlocked and played up to level 10 online, with various weapons.
So let’s break it down. The core of Splatoon is all about the competitive online multiplayer. When you boot up the game you design your Inkling and are then immediately encouraged to head into the multiplayer. There are currently two gamemodes – Turf War, a deathmatch-like mode where the real goal is to cover as much of the ground with your colour ink as possible, and the (currently ranked-only gamemode) Splat Zone, where you have to capture and hold two zones. Unfortunately the ranked mode is currently locked away until enough people have been playing the game and hit level 10. A huge and essential mechanic in battles is that you can squid jump to a teammate, letting you quickly travel into the heat of battle. No waiting around or slowly travelling to where you want to be – see a teammate on the Wii U gamepad and -WHEEEEEE- squid jump over there! The action is fast paced, the matches are short (only 3 minutes), it’s a perfect combo. Swimming through the ink is also a hugely important feature that speeds up your squid by a ton – but watch out, you can’t swim through your opponent’s ink!
One thing I don’t quite enjoy about the multiplayer is how maps are handled. There’s plenty of maps available, but they’re on a constant rotation of two at a time every two hours. This is of course just my preference, and I haven’t really seen anyone else complaining about this. When the maps change, you get a quick and quirky cut-scene with Callie and Marie, the fabulous Squid Sisters who are essentially squid celebrities. These two characters are great, oozing personality and charm. You can even find their studio in the main hub of Splatoon and see them – they sometimes even wave at you.
Ah yes, the main hub. Booyah Base. The area where you choose singleplayer or multiplayer, activate Amiibo support, buy items and see all the squid kids you’ve been duking it out against. You can also order the gear of people you see in this area, allowing you to jack their style. There’s also heaps of Miiverse integration here. You can see what people have said, see their drawings as graffiti on the walls and write your own posts from the Miiverse box near the entrance to the multiplayer. The hub is fantastic but if it gets old to you, you can even just quick travel using the gamepad. Remember when people said the gamepad was terrible? They’ll be eating their words.
You start the game at level 1, with a standard ink shooter and low-level clothing. But fret not! You might feel like a squid in a barrel at first but after a couple matches and a few levels up, you’ll be the jetting to the top. There’s three unique weapon types; roller, charger and shooter. Chargers are sniper rifle-like weapons that require a brief charge before firing. Rollers are basically paint rollers that cover a huge part of the ground in ink as you move forward – you can also flick ink at your opponents with a quick tap of the fire button. Finally, the shooters are the generic ink guns. They come with all kinds of stat changes, such as with rapid fire or explosive ink shot abilities. My preference is the roller type weapons, but there’s a handful of shooters that I find exceptionally fun to use.
You’ve also got the sub weapons. These include various kinds of bombs, homing bombs and support items like splash walls that allow you to fire out of them but don’t let opponents fire in. One of my personal favourites was the Squid Beacon that allows you and your team to squid jump to wherever you place it. The final part of your arsenal is special weapons. These include Inkzookas (self-explanatory right?), and the Bubbler, a bubble shield that blocks attacks for a short period of time. These are all in one loadout that can’t be changed. When you select a weapon, it comes with the sub and special weapons – this system is brilliant, it evenly levels the playing field for everyone and means that you have to play to that loadout’s strengths.
Your clothing is completely customizable though. You can mix, match or look completely odd, it’s all up to you. There’s a huge variety of clothing including actual Japanese branded clothing, and you can also unlock a handful of clothing and weaponry from the singleplayer and amiibo challenges.
The singleplayer is a series of 25 levels and 5 bosses against a mysterious enemy known as the Octolings. Each level has a hidden scroll that tells you more about the world of Splatoon, whereas each boss gives you a blueprint for a new, custom weapon. I’ll avoid spoilers so I won’t specify, but completing the game gives you two full sets of clothing (three pieces per set, 6 pieces overall). Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a bonus for collecting all the scrolls, but I’d still say it’s worth it due to how easy they are to find.
The singleplayer levels are very impressive though. Despite the campaign’s short runtime of about 2 to 3 hours, each level brings a new mechanic to the table and then experiments with it. For example, one level brings in the sponge block that you can fill with ink to expand it. Later, you have to use a path of them to traverse a gap. In later levels, you’ll have to climb sponge blocks while fighting off enemies that can shrink the blocks back down with their ink. Each level feels fresh and exciting, and I really respect that despite the game’s shortness. Like I’ve said, I would’ve appreciated a bigger reward for my time in the singleplayer but the five weapon unlocks and six clothing pieces are still pretty nice.
Did I even mention how beautiful this game is yet, both visually and audibly? The colours are so vibrant and perfect, the ink effect looks great and the music, a genre the game dubs Squidcore, is upbeat and exciting. While playing, I frequently had moments where I was reminded of the sunny and inky adventure of Super Mario Sunshine which, for a gamecube game, was also beautiful. Up close some of Splatoon’s textures are a little underwhelming but the game looks great where it matters – during a frantic inkfight. The five maps that are included with the game are fantastically designed from both a graphical and level design standpoint. A particular favourite of mine is Blackbelly Skatepark.
I do have some criticisms for this game though. The five maps that come with the game are great, but there just isn’t enough and the rotation of two per hour is really small. Three per hour would’ve been more acceptable and given us way more variety in that two-hour period. I have to add too that the singleplayer, while fun, would benefit from much more. The Amiibo challenges add to the singleplayer’s replayability, adding fun twists to stages you’ve already played, but that is essentially a paid extra.
This one is 100% my opinion, but I’m also not a huge fan of the motion controls. At least this mode can be turned off in the options menu, but the game should let you toggle it during the tutorial to see if you prefer it or not, rather than landing you with motion controls as the default.
Overall, Splatoon is a frantic and fun game that I recommend to everyone on Wii U. Did it fall splat on its face? Almost. The lack of content would’ve been a huge killer if the gameplay wasn’t so damn fun. I’d say wait until August for when all the new maps and weaponry are released so there’s more content, but if you really want to play Splatoon you’ll probably love it regardless. I can safely say I’ll be coming back to it over the coming months, likely with an update to this review. As it stands though, the lack of content really pulls this game back from being the powerhouse it could’ve been. Splatoon is a fantastic game, but even fantastic games can be lacking in some areas.
This game was reviewed with a copy of Splatoon & Squid Amiibo that the reviewer purchased.