Let’s Review: Splatoon

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Speaking of hype, how about Nintendo’s new squid-based third person shooter?

Splatoon is a vibrant third person shooter where you play as a squid/child/thing and fight other squid/child/things by shooting ink at them. There is a pretty meaty single player campaign but the game’s real focus is on online arena matches, which (now) come in both the ranked and casual variety.

There are five online maps in the game so far (4 on release, and one added later), and they are rotated so that only two are available at one time. Kind of a cool way to make sure you don’t spend the whole day getting the same map, but potentially makes it pretty hard to avoid playing on a map you hate. The UI looks like it was intended for there to be three maps per rotation, so perhaps that will be a future change made when more maps are released. The rotation is changed every four hours or so.

There are three general weapon types, but each individual weapon differs some from others of its type. Clothing also has its own stats which affect things like your character’s run speed or the time it takes them to refill their ink tank. All of this potentially gives the player a chance to develop unique character builds for different playstyles.

Online matches are short and super fast paced which keeps things interesting. Matchmaking queues are short as all hell right now too, and they’ll probably stay that way since online play is not region restricted and it’s not uncommon to be put into a game with players with Japanese names. Much like Blizzard’s Hearthstone, there is no communication between opponents (or even allies!), which allows for the regions to be opened and also makes the game more appealing to those who don’t like trash talk or parents thinking of buying the game for their kid. However, this makes strategizing with your teammates pretty much impossible, so you just kind of have to rely on your team knowing what they’re doing.

I’m going to finish off talking about online play on a bit of a cynical note. On release, there was only one online game mode in Splatoon, ‘Turf War’, where the team of four with the most of the map covered in their team’s ink wins. Nintendo has promised that more (presumably free) game modes will be introduced in the future, saying that they want the game’s content to mature with the community. And while I do sort of trust Nintendo to deliver on this, let’s be honest and realize how, if Splatoon was released by any other company, we would not find this half as acceptable as we do. It’s one thing to roll out new features after the game has been released, but a whole different kettle of fish to ship a game with only a fraction of its intended content and handwave its absence “it’ll come later, trust us”.

Perhaps I’m reaching, though. Ranked mode (which a different game type to normal mode) was unlocked three days after the game shipped, when Nintendo had felt that that a reasonable amount of players had reached level 10 (the minimum level requirement for ranked). Rolling out ranked and other such competitive modes a while after the game ships is a good idea and is used by lots of games with thriving competitive communities. Perhaps the same line of thinking is being used in regards to these unannounced game modes. Staggering this much of the game’s content just seems like a bit… much.

The single player campaign isn’t much more than an extended tutorial. It’s fun and has some very interesting boss fights, but nothing to write home about.

The game’s controls are novel, but work incredibly well. You are required to use the gamepad controller (that one with the screen), which is awkward at first because of its bulk not letting you sit how you would usually sit while playing a shooter. But if you weren’t prepared to sit weirdly you probably wouldn’t have bought a Wii U to begin with, would you? The gamepad screen acts as a map of the stage, showing you the location of your teammates and how inked up everything is. The camera is, by default, controlled by the Wii U’s motion controls. This can be turned off in the game’s options menu, but the alternative doesn’t provide as much range of vision and will put you at a disadvantage to enemy players who are using motion controls. This probably isn’t good news to players with certain disabilities preventing them from using the motion controls. For those who can, I highly recommend keeping the motion controls on, as they only take a little while to get used to and provide great advantages.

The soundtrack’s great (I especially like the shopping music) and the visuals are great. Every map seems well designed and it’s obvious that a lot of thought went into choosing the ink colours of the opposing team. I’ve also heard that the colours are chosen in such a way that colourblind people would be able to differentiate the ink of their team and the ink the opposing team. I can’t confirm this myself, but good on Nintendo if this is true.

There’s also Amiibo integration, but good luck in trying to get your hands on one.

The Good

  • Map rotation keeps things fresh (heh).
  • Ranked mode available to players above level 10.
  • Nintendo promises to add more maps and game modes in the future.
  • Awesome soundtrack.
  • Short matchmaking times.
  • No region restrictions on online play.
  • Offline campaign mode with a pretty neat backstory and some cool rewards.
  • No voice communication.

The Bad

  • A single normal game mode as of right now.
  • A single ranked game mode, also.
  • Four maps on release, now five.
  • Maps and games modes are actually pretty important for an online arena shooter that costs $60.

All in all, I really like Splatoon, even if I don’t quite agree with the extent of Nintendo’s staggered content rollouts for the game. I want to go back downstairs and play the hell out of it some more, but it’s two in the morning and I have a flight to catch later today. I might try to sneak in a bit more after I wake up and before I leave for the airport because, other than the staggering, I can’t really seem to find much wrong with the game.

And a big thanks to Dreadsorrow for buying me the game for my birthday. If it wasn’t for him my review would probably be even later than it already is.

Banner image courtesy of Nintendo.

(What’s a capture card?)

($300 that’s what)