Since E3 last year Splatoon has been on my mind almost every day. Playing it at various conventions and trying out the Global Testfire demo, Nintendo's hat-toss into the third-person shooter ring felt right at around every corner. Now that the game is finally out, is the hype for Splatoon justified? Oh, is it ever!
Splatoon has you controlling an Inkling, a human/squid hybrid with the passion for painting the town red...or orange or any color you are designated with at the time with your ink guns. Centered in Inktropolis Plaza your Inkling will be able to participate in various modes: multiplayer, campaign, and Battle Dojo. As you level up and progress through the game -- depending in which mode you're in -- you can upgrade to more powerful arsenal, new clothes, and even some slick kicks that will hone your skills to a higher potential.
First let's focus on the campaign mode, which hasn't been getting as much attention. In the campaign (known as Hero Mode) your Inkling is in charge of saving the Octo Valley realm from the Octarians, an octopus-like society that has captured your power supply known as Zapfish. At first the levels are fairly simple, as you take down Octarians and collect Power Orbs with relative ease. Soon the gameplay becomes all the more challenging, with some split-second decisions becoming all the more necessary when it deals with long ledges, jumps, and enemies that are far smarter than just about any soldier you'll come across in a Call of Duty game.
Splatoon knows how to prepare its players for the challenges ahead, with puzzle-like elements such as sponges that are needing expansion or walls requiring ink to be covered to reach higher places. At times it can take a momentary glance of the area you are in to find out where your next destination lies. (Perhaps it's a good thing there's no time limit, as it gives players the opportunity to explore without fear of rushing through a level.) Once you figure out a tactic to take down specific enemies, whether it's a sniper or a shielded Octarian, running through them with your ink becomes fairly easier.
However this leads to the weakest part about Hero Mode, and that is the boss battles. Like most video games the boss battles have you facing off against a bigger enemy, with the end being reached after hitting its weak spot three times. In Splatoon, finding out how to take these enemies down is too easy, with almost no brain power necessary to handle them. There are Octarians that put up a bigger fight than these boss battles, which shows how unchallenging they can be. Despite this downside, the single player mode offers a pretty thorough (albeit short) experience.
Those who are able to get their hands on the Splatoon Amiibos will be also able to unlock new challenge modes, which will have you attempting to beat levels with a specific kind of weapon. Completing these will unlock new weapons and armor to use in multiplayer, some of which will come very handy in dire situations. While the Amiibo integration is pretty cool it can be frustrating to find these figurines in America at the moment. (I managed to grab a boy and girl Inkling, with the squid one being imported from Japan since they don't sell it separately in the US.)
Now let's get into the real meat of Splatoon: the online multiplayer. Currently there are two modes being offered: Turf Wars and the king-of-the-hill inspired Splat Zones (which, since it'll be unlocked later tonight, won't be covered here). In Turf Wars the object of the game is to cover the map with your team's colored ink before the three-minute time limit runs out. Using your ink weaponry you can squirt, roll, bombard, and snipe areas and enemies. Multiplayer will take place on one of six maps, two of which are available for a certain period of time each run-through. (Splatoon mascot girls Callie and Marie will announce as soon as you boot up the game which maps are available, and will interrupt gameplay when it's time to switch it up.)
Turf Wars is multiplayer shooting done right. This one singular mode has brought me more joy than any Spec Ops or Battlefield experience combined. After spending hours spraying my ink around and battling it out against friends and foes, the sheer utter happiness Turf Wars brings to the table has yet to fade away. Unlike other shooters, this game doesn't spit in your face or give you the evil eye if you don't succeed. Rather, even if you lose you still gain experience and cash that can be used for new weapons and clothing.
Nevertheless there can be some tinkering done to make multiplayer better. While I do have fun with the mini-game Squid Jump, it would be nice to be able to switch out your weapons and gear without having to leave the room you've joined. Many times have I played where I didn't quite like the gun I chose, and after soldiering through a level with barely any points earned I find myself having to leave my place, choose another weapon, and then join a brand-new room. Perhaps an update will fix this, but at this moment it can be a bit of a pain.
The in-room two-player Battle Dojo has its moments, where you and a friend battle it out as you attempt to pop the most balloons. Sadly it lacks the excitement of a Turf War, a mode that seemed like an obvious choice when it came to in-room competition. Maybe in the long run more will be added to it, but as it stands this mode I imagine will be the least used of all of them.
Perhaps the most unlikely surprise of the game comes in the form of its soundtrack. Composed by Toru Minegishi and Shiho Fuji the score is comprised of tracks ranging from rock and punk to even Cookie Monster-inspired death metal. It's a change of pace from Nintendo's usual orchestral or poppy melodies, but when you are playing a title that is basically a hardcore paintball game with squid people then you need something more in this vein.
It's also fun to see how the Miiverse invades the Plaza. Various players will be seen hanging around, showing off their gear and leaving about their comments in either speech bubbles or as graffiti. It feels rather lively, in a way that a certain console's hub was intended to be but failed to deliver. When you walk up to another Inkling, you also have the option to try and buy any of the items they're wearing from a street corner sea urchin merchant. (The price tags may be a tad steep, so you may want to wait and earn these keepsakes on your own.)
Yes, it seems rather odd to spend $60 for a campaign, one offline versus game, and one single multiplayer mode right out the box, but in all honesty the experience that I've taken from Splatoon these last couple of days has given me my money's worth. What's more Nintendo plans on expanding the game at least throughout the summer with new modes, levels, and various other goodies. (A collaboration with Squid Girl creator Masahiro Anbe is what excites me the most, with fingers crossed that his little invader has Inktropolis Plaza in her conquering scope.) It may seem like there isn't a lot at the moment, but believe me when I say that the small doses the game delivers is packed with an insane amount of flavor.
- The finest online shooter you can imagine
- Great assortment of weapons and costumes
- Solid solo campaign...
- ...but boss battles are kinda easy
- Can't switch weapons while waiting in lobby
- Playing the waiting game for the other modes
The emphasis of joy is strong in Nintendo's shooter, thanks to a great single-player mode and an online multiplayer system that's more enjoyable than most of the other shooter games currently on the market. As it stands now Splatoon is a two-run homer, but by the end of the summer -- once all the free content is released -- it can potentially transform itself into a grand slam. In short: whether you're a kid now or a squid now, Splatoon will be as fun as being surrounded by a plethora of Pinkie Pies and Andrew W.K.s at a pool party hosted by the Aquabats.