Despite the massive success of the Wii in the last console generation, it’s been quite a while since the last major new franchise from Nintendo with the most recent being Pikmin way back on the GameCube in 2001 (unless you count the various Wii fitness and sports games, but they don’t really have characters) and despite the overall high quality of games based on well established franchises like Mario and Zelda something completely new had been more than a long time coming.
In an unusual move, Splatoon was not developed or headed by any of Nintendo’s older or more well-known creators. Instead, the team consisted of mostly younger creators who have come up with an entirely new game that doesn’t rely on any existing Nintendo properties.
Splatoon is a third person shooter has you play as an Inkling, an odd humanoid race who also possess the ability to turn into squids. As it’s a Nintendo game it is aimed at a lower age audience which means that there’s a lot less violence than you would expect to find in your average third person shooter and they’ve managed this by having you shoot what are basically paintballs instead of bullets.
The ink from the paintballs works as half of the game’s main gimmick. As you fire around the levels, your ink will hit the floors and walls and remain for the duration of the level. Enemy ink does the same, and this can be covered up by your team’s ink. When travelling on your own coloured ink, you can turn into squid form which allows you to move over ground faster as well as climb up walls. Moving on enemy ink however causes you to move slower as well as take damage so it always pays to cover their ink whenever possible.
In the single player story mode, the Inklings are locked in a battle with the Octarians (who come in a variety of different shapes, but there are also humanoids like the Inklings who can turn into an octopus) with the Octarians having stolen all of the Zapfishes which power the Inkling society. This of course means that it’s your job to single handedly find each Zapfish, take out the Octarians and all that good stuff.
The story takes place in individual stages, with each typically on a number of floating islands that you travel between. Most of the levels will add a new element to the mix that will periodically reappear in later levels such as small robots that can clean up your ink and stop you from climbing up walls or balloons that can be shot repeatedly to fill them up until they explode and cover everything near by with ink to one of my favourites, a level that was made up of mostly invisible walls and floors that you make visible by shooting them.
The main focus of the game though is its online multiplayer which thankfully works pretty well, despite my fairly flaky wireless I’ve never noticed any ingame lag though I do occasionally get times where I’m unable to connect to a game session. Nintendo are still a bit behind the times with online though and haven’t allowed any voice chat even with friends – likely a move to prevent younger players from being exposed to the kinds of language you’ll often find on online shooters but it would have been nice for friends at least to be able to chat together as team games work much better when you can communicate.
Nintendo have also made the unusual decision to limit the map rotation to two at a time for each mode, with them changing every 4 hours. The multiplayer is split into player matches and ranked matches and each has its own selection of maps, so you can have up to four different maps to play in each four hour session.
The player matches are a game mode called Turf War, where the winning team is the one with the highest percentage of the map covered in their ink so as well as gaining personal points for taking out (or ‘splatting’ as the game puts it) enemy players you and then your team also get points for your ink coverage.
Once you reach online level 10, ranked matches are unlocked. Initially this was just the mode Splat Zones, which is very similar to traditional king of the hill gametypes. A location on the map is the splat zone which each team must try to cover with their ink, the longer it is held the more points they score.
Future updates are promised to add further game modes to ranked multiplayer with the first of these, Tower Control, having launched just this week.
Playing online gives you both experience for your player level as well as money. Levelling up gives you access to better selections of equipment from the stores in the lobby with the money then used to buy them of course. You can equip your Inkling with new hats, shirts and shoes as well as other weapons, and each comes with various upgrades such as faster moving speed, more accuracy etc.
By far the weakest point for me at least would be the selection of local multiplayer modes. There’s no co-op for the story mode and worst of all no offline 4 vs 4. The ability for two players together (one on the TV, the other on the gamepad) and six bots to emulate the online mode and allowing you to play either together or against each other would have been perfect, but instead the only local mode is a head to head battle where you score points by popping balloons.
Considering Nintendo’s history of local multiplayer modes it just seems like such an odd omission but with new modes being added to the online mode I can only hope that offline gets some attention in future as well. This isn’t too well documented on the packaging either, and I suspect a lot of people (like me) won’t have researched the game thoroughly before buying it making what I thought would be a perfect game to play with my stepson into one where the only thing we can do in it together is fight each other and balloons so was a bit of a letdown in that regard.
It’s a very pretty game. Despite the WiiU being the weakest console in terms of raw hardware power, Nintendo always manage to make their first party titles look spectacular and Splatoon is no exception. Everything is bright and colourful and shiny, and it’s truly a delight to look at, and I never noticed any performance issues or loss of framerate either.
The default control layout uses the gyroscope controls in the gamepad for aiming. I’ve heard people saying that this works really well for them and it’s certainly possible that it feels more intuitive to those less accustomed to dual analog stick first and third person games but at this point I don’t think I can handle anything else. Thankfully you can turn the motion control off for a more traditional aiming method which worked for me perfectly.
There’s a fair mix of music in the game, with some of it kind of reminding me of Jet Set Radio in terms of tone. There are quite a few tracks that I really like but almost an equal amount that just don’t work for me at all. Given that the music plays for each multiplayer match (you’ve no voice chat after all so there has to be some noise) you’ll get to hear each one many many times, but there’s no way to select which track is on or remove ones you don’t like from your playlist.
The last irritation is the notifications in the game. Each time you fire the game up you’re given an introduction to any new maps and the current map rotation by the game’s two mascot characters which is unskippable. I get that it helps to give people that information but I really don’t understand why I can’t have the option to skip it.
My issues with the local multiplayer options aside (and if that’s not something you’re interested in then it wouldn’t be an issue for you) Splatoon delivers a solid fun online multiplayer experience as well as a decent and inventive single player campaign all wrapped in colourful presentation that make it a joy to play.
Splatoon is out now on the Nintendo Wii U