Platform: Wii U
Release Date: May 29th, 2015
It’s a rare occasion. An in-house new IP from Nintendo has finally come out. As expected, Splatoon has been getting some traction in its hype and Nintendo has been giving it a solid marketing push. Do they pay off? Is Splatoon Nintendo’s next big IP? In brief, yes, it has the potential.
While it’s true that Nintendo is planning several post-release updates, this review will be covering its first launch week, when consumers are expected to pick Splatoon up.
Even though it has a multiplayer focus, there’s a lot of underlining narrative in the world of Splatoon. The game takes place in bustling city of Inkopolis, which serves as the hub for all your Splatoon activities. One of these includes the Octo Valley, where you find the campaign missions hosted by Cap’n Cuttlefish.
The story involves an invasion by the menacing Octorians, who have captured the Great Zapfish and plan to use its power to attack Inkopolis. Cap’n Cuttlefish employs you as his new Agent to stop the Octarian threat.
Really though, the story serves as the thread with which to tie together levels and not much else. Splatoon’s focus lies much more in its world-building. Throughout the single-player, you’ll find Sunken Scrolls that give you some backstory of the events leading up to the Great Turf War that occurred 100 years ago, and the source behind the Octorians’ grudge.
In addition, the aesthetic of Inkopolis Plaza and its inhabitants is world-building in a different way. While a lot of its design looks inspired by hip-hop culture (like Jet Set Radio and The World Ends With You), it’s very obvious that Splatoon was designed by Japanese developers. Inkopolis itself clearly draws inspiration from places like Shibuja Square in Tokyo.
Characters besides the Octarians are actually surprisingly prevalent. Besides the story, most characters in Splatoon service the various features of the game. Shop owners like Crusty Sean and Annie are some really good designs, while the Squid Sisters Callie and Marie (get it? “Calamari”?) are cool despite their weirdness. It’s clear that there’s a lot of personality here.
Another cool feature that adds a lot to the world of Splatoon is the game’s Miiverse integration, which feels the most appropriate of any Nintendo game. For starters, Inkopolis Plaza is filled with avatars of other players. You can see their current loadouts and recent Miiverse posts above their heads.
My favorite part has to be the incorporation of Miiverse art as graffiti in the Plaza as well as in multiplayer maps. It adds to the world building, even if the some of these break the 4th wall.
For what the Wii U is capable of doing, Splatoon’s visual design is impressive, with ink and the variety of ink colors being its strongest asset. I’m most impressed by the load times. Everything is so fast and snappy, from loading campaign levels to entering matchmaking and starting multiplayer.
While it’s not pushing the envelope tech-wise, Splatoon is functionally stable. Chaotic battles and boss fights with ink spraying everywhere, and the game still runs at a rock-solid 60fps.
Unfortunately, the Plaza doesn’t run as well at 30fps. The Plaza itself isn’t necessary since all of its features can be accessed on the touchscreen, but it’s still great for world building. I do hope that it could be patched in the future.
As far as the sound design goes, it’s clearly polished. The splats of ink, the glubs from jumping through your ink, the record scratches when switching between shops, they all sound so alive. Even the gibberish lyrics in the game’s music is a nice touch.
Speaking of music, Splatoon has by far the most bizzare soundtrack I’ve ever heard in a game, and I absolutely love it. The music works much better with the game than on its own, and the game’s better for it. However, besides the standout tracks (the online loss theme is especially devastating), most of the music is interchangeable, especially online.
Now, we get to Splatoon’s most important part, the gameplay. We’ll go over the campaign first, since it does an excellent job at teaching you the basics. Even though the Octo Valley story is merely an overlay, it helps the gameplay shine like the true star it is.
The Octo Valley campaign has mission-based progression, with the Zapfish end goal for each level ever present. The structure reminds me of the recent Donkey Kong Country games that bring new or enhanced mechanics for each level. The only downside are some reused levels and repurposed multiplayer maps, but these tend to have varying mechanics.
The most important purpose of the Octo Valley campaign is teaching you how to control the game, which may not sound like a big deal at first. For me, trying to jump online first was hard, especially with the default Gamepad motion controls. It can be turned off and you can just use the right stick for camera control, but I encourage you to play the campaign with default controls first. Now, I can’t imagine playing the game without them.
One of the features I wasn’t expecting to love were the boss fights, but I was proven dead wrong! It’s been awhile since I’ve seen such well-designed original bosses from Nintendo. This makes for battles that are not only a lot of fun but also simple to figure out on your own and satisfying to beat.
While the Octo Valley mainly teaches you the controls of the game, the multiplayer is where Splatoon’s mechanics are put to the test. The multiplayer of Splatoon is an online 4v4 third-person shooter where the main goal of the game focuses more on inking the ground than killing the other team.
As you cover the ground, you can swim through your ink as a squid, allowing you to move faster and recharge your ammo. You have access to a variety of weapons and gear with different traits, all with varied loadouts and abilities. You can be killed, but after respawning you can tap a teammate on the Gamepad screen and quickly jump back in. The Gamepad is required to play Splatoon, but unfortunately Off-TV Play is not supported.
Currently there are only two game modes, Turf War and Splat Zones. Turf War is the mode playable from the start, with the goal being to cover the map in as much of your team’s ink as you can. The counted areas include any horizontal surface, even the tops of walls. A good indication that you’re making progress is the ticker in the upper right corner of the HUD.
Splat Zones is unlocked in Ranked Battle after hitting Level 10, with the goal being to contest areas of the map with your team’s ink. This style focuses more on particular points, so expect a lot more intense action here. You can earn more points and money here, as well as receiving a ranking between C- and A+ depending on your performance.
You do have access to a variety of equipment and weapons available to purchase. The weapons are seperated into three classes, Splattershot, Splat Roller, and Splat Charger. The Splattershot is your default machine gun weapon The Splat Roller acts like its namesake and is best for inking ground and short-range attacks. The Splat Charger is your sniper (albeit with a much shorter range) and is best at taking out players and inking in straight lines. You also have a variety of Grenades and Special Weapons that are tied to each Main Weapon. In essence, each weapon acts as its own class.
Gear can be used to let you rock out in mad style, yo! They also have a variety of abilities and can have hidden ones that unlock after a certain amount of EXP is gained. Rarer gear has more slots. As you level up the gear, each hidden ability will be randomly selected, so you won’t know what abilities you will get. It does add excitement to leveling up your gear, but it’s a nightmare for micromanagers. On the plus side, at least some abilities stack, so there isn’t waste.
Currently there are six maps available, with one having recently been added on June 1st. Every 4 hours, the game picks two maps randomly for each mode as playable for that time period. While that’s good for getting players familiar with the maps, having a maximum of four maps split between two modes makes it very likely that you’ll play the same map over and over. In regards to current map designs, the symmetrical layout works best since the game is so focus on territory control.
One of my biggest concerns with Splatoon’s online was stability. Luckily, the Global Testfire paid off and the online’s virtually trouble free. You do get disconnects and errors, but they rarely occur during matches and the games pick up so fast it’s negligible.
One main issue I noticed on slow connections was that ink trails were delayed by a few seconds. This caused me to waste time painting over areas that were already covered. This only applied to a few matches, and these fixed themselves after a minute or so.
The most important part of the multiplayer experience is your teamwork, and there are limitations you have to account for. Once you join a lobby, you can’t change your loadout. You have to log out to equip different gear, so it’s imperative to learn your class and your role.
In line with this, current limitations to voice chat and inability to create lobbies with friends hurts this. Sometimes this results in unfair matchups, which is remedied a bit in Ranked Battle.
Oh yeah, there is a 1v1 Battle Dojo for local multiplayer, but it’s incredibly insubstantial. How it works is one players uses the Gamepad, while the other uses either a Pro Controller or a Classic Controller. The goal of the game is to pop more balloons than the other player. That’s it. This mode almost feels like Mario Kart 8’s Battle Mode, something that was thrown in last minute to add something to the game.
Lastly, Splatoon does feature amiibo integration. I’ll rag on amiibo for not having any inherit value in most games, but in terms of content, Splatoon’s amiibo have the most value so far. Each amiibo unlocks 20 themed challenge levels that reward you with exclusive gear. The amiibo I used, the Inkling Boy, unlocked Roller challenges and rewarded me with the Samurai set. The Inking Girl unlocks Charger challenges and rewards you with the School Girl set, while the Squid unlocks Kraken and Limited Ink challenges and rewards you with the Mech set.
In a perfect world, this amiibo paywall wouldn’t be such a terrible idea. However, the current amiibo shortage fiasco that’s been running since November makes this a massive problem. Not only are parts of the game cut off, but only the lucky few that were able to find these amiibo or who were willing to shell out 2 or 3 times the money to scalpers will actually be able to use it.
The Splatoon release is only the latest problem, but it brings to light a broader issue, one that I will address on its own soon. For now, I sincerely hope that Nintendo either does what it should have done in the first place and actually meet the amiibo demand or release the challenge content separately.
Splatoon has a ton of potential. It’s a nice take on the shooter genre and overall an excellent addition to the Nintendo catalog. While the story is barebones at best, the actual world and the characters that occupy it are charming and colorful. That color also shows in its gameplay (online and offline) and in its Miiverse integration. That said, Splatoon’s lack of established online features like friend lobbies and voice chat, its negligible local multiplayer, and the amiibo paywall for additional content that the game could use from the start brings it down. I still think Splatoon is great where it counts, and I don’t think I’ll be bored of it for a long time.