Ladies and gentlemen, I have a confession: I missed the Splatoon bandwagon. Even though folks have been raving about this kid-friendly Wii U shooter since it debuted in May, a number of factors conspired to keep me from trying it out until recently. The release of a free update with new content provided a perfect opportunity to jump in, but I was worried about the idea of entering an online multiplayer shooter that had been live for months. Clawing my way up the ladder to try new game modes is a tough enough prospect without having to go head-to-head with players at levels far beyond my own.
Fortunately, I learned that Splatoon is not a typical shooter. It’s plenty fun regardless of your skill level or any traditional ideas of multiplayer difficulty.
For those not in the know, Splatoon is primarily a squad-based (4-vs-4) third-person shooter in which the citizens of Inkopolis, human/squid amalgamations called Inklings, participate in heated ink-laden battles. Armed with all manner of ink-flinging devices while in human form, Inklings run about shooting at one another and leaving splotches of coloured ink all over the environment. Splat an enemy enough times and you’ll eventually cause them to respawn, while spreading ink charges up your special ability.
Meanwhile, Inklings can switch into squid form to stealthily swim through ink of the matching colour. It renders the Inkling invisible and you can even swim up paint-covered walls, making it the preferred way to traverse the map. Swimming through your own ink also replenishes the supply of ink for your weapon, while fulfilling objectives, inking territory, and soaking the opposition rewards you with money and experience. The higher your experience level, the ‘fresher’ your Inkling is, giving you access to better weapon sets, equipment, and abilities.
Controls are easy to learn, allowing players to jump into the game and enjoy themselves fairly quickly. The Wii U’s versatile Game-Pad is put to good use, with the motion-based controls allowing you to look around quickly and the touch-screen display serving as a map while in battle, revealing the positions of your teammates and current ink distribution. The left analog stick is assigned to movement and the button schemes for shooting, secondary weapons, special abilities, transformation, and jumping are all easy to use.
For a game that involves weapons, Splatoon is disarming and charming. Losing a game doesn’t carry the same level of frustration as a ‘serious’ shooter – most likely due to the clever character designs and the ease of getting back into the fray. The in-game culture also goes a long way to reinforcing the friendly nature of the game, from the dialogue of the in-game characters to the choice of music. You really can’t be negative when you play, and if you start off the game in a bad mood, chances are you’ll feel a lot better after a few rounds of Turf War.
Turf War is the only game type available in Regular Battle mode, and is also the only game type available to new players. Each team has to ink as much of the game area as possible, and it’s a great way to cut your teeth since rounds are three minutes in length and teams are randomized for every single match. Only two maps are available at any given time (they change every four hours), which may seem like a negative, until you realize that it helps you learn the maps inside and out, making for a more fun gaming experience.
The game takes on a whole new dimension at level 10, where you’re able to participate in Ranked Battles, which grants access to a wider variety of battle modes. Splat Zones is a variation of Turf Wars in which both teams attempt to control an area of the map for 100 seconds. Tower Control is all about trying to escort a floating tower towards the opposition’s side of the map. The latest game mode, Rainmaker (released in the most recent update), is like capture-the-flag, except that the flag is a weapon that removes the wielder’s jump ability but makes up for it with a powerful chargeable attack.
Occasionally, Splatoon shakes things up by holding special events called Splatfests, in which Inklings choose one of two “themed” teams to join (the latest Splatfest pit team Autobot against team Decepticon). Splatfests are announced a few days ahead of time, and urge players to choose a side before the fun begins. Every point that players earn goes towards their team, with the winning team decided by popularity and performance. As always, the spoils of war are items that can be used in the game to modify equipment.
While online multi-player is entertaining, if you need a break Splatoon includes a single-player campaign and a local one-on-one mode. Octo Valley pits you against the evil Octarians who are trying to steal Inkopolis’ source of power. Players will battle the enemy across a number of boards and search for hidden scrolls that reveals bits and pieces of the story of Splatoon. Defeating bosses will net you blueprints to modify weapons that you use in the rest of the game, and is a great reason to try out the Octo Valley campaign. Battle Dojo, the one-on-one local multi-player mode, has players trying to destroy balloons for points. The winner is the one with the highest score. Further game value can be unlocked by grabbing a compatible amiibo, which gives you a number of extra quests for Octo Valley.
While Splatoon is fast-paced and frantic, it’s the strategic thinker that will win the day. Within the first thirty seconds of each match combatants tend to ink as much as they can since it helps them get around faster. However, skillful players will veer off to coordinate attacks, striking quickly and fading back into their murky ink. That being said, Splatoon remains accessible to a younger crowd. My daughter (who is 8 years old) was quick to pick up the basics, and enjoys playing the game with the Wii U Pro Controller, citing its colourful character design and the fun ink concept as reasons to partake.
That’s what makes Splatoon so great. The developers created a lighthearted game that contains a number of the mechanical elements that make the shooter genre so successful, yet they didn’t amp up the violence, which makes it a fun experience that can be shared with a younger audience. In addition, the inking mechanic and the ability to move through liquid as a squid adds new layers of strategy to the mix. The overall result is a fantastic gameplay experience. The various battle modes and easy-to-learn controls ensure that longtime shooter enthusiasts and newbies can both find reasons to keep playing.
The only aspects that could be considered disadvantages are the lack of control over map choice and the inability to communicate during online games. I personally don’t think that these detract from the game at all. I like the challenge of adjusting my game-play strategies to work in a new map, and I definitely don’t need the typical loud and foul-mouthed jerks that hog the airwaves with their ‘banter.’ Kudos to Nintendo for those design choices, because I feel that they make the overall experience far more enjoyable for everyone.
If you need one more reason to grab a copy of the game, it’s also worth noting that Nintendo seems to have big plans to release a lot of updates and free content. There are already a number of new game types (Rainmaker, for instance, along with Squad Battles) that add variety to Splatoon, and Nintendo doesn’t seem to want to let up, promising to release even more goodies in the future.
I began my journey into the world of Splatoon with trepidation, but my nervousness quickly dissolved as I played round after round. Whether it’s because of the welcoming design, the sense of balance, or the lack of profanity (it’s probably all three), the sense of joy was enough to trump any fears that I had initially felt. Splatoon is a title that highlights all of the strengths of the Wii U, as well as a game that allows you to have lots of fun. It even takes advantage of Nintendo’s amiibo technology via a new challenge mode, though it is not necessary to enjoy the game. If you, too, are feeling a bit intimidated by the prospect of trying out Splatoon, you should cast those feelings aside. Family friendly, entertaining, and well-designed, this title is definitely worth getting into, even so many months after its release.
Amiibo Photo by Jorge Figueiredo