Making a mess has never been this much fun…
Splatoon has always been an interesting project ever since its inception in 2013, not in the sense that its obtuse or abstract, but more by the defining manner of how Nintendo rarely ever set their foot in the shooter space of the gaming ecosystem. I’ve never once thought that they were incapable of crafting a competent shooter, it’s just that the idea had honestly never crossed my mine. For better or for worse, Nintendo has constructed a family-friendly persona, ripe with imagination and innovation like no other; shooters are an oversaturated genre that implore the excessive use of violence and are stubborn for their inability to change. These two statements adherently contradict one another, so I never thought the two would ever merge. Splatoon is Nintendo’s take on the traditional genre, adhering to the common standards of the online shooter while simultaneously adding their own flare to spice up the formula, resulting in one of the most original gems to have ever graced the online gaming community. Splatoon’s pleasantly surprising emphasis on team-oriented, objective based gameplay is a shining feat that is not commonly attempted nor explored in the over-arching realm of the online shooter. The game is just oozing with unparalleled charm, a fantastic colour pallet like no other, and its moment to moment gameplay is fast, frantic, and houses an addictive nature that very few shooters have the potential to reach. Just like any new IP or first entry in a series, there are clearly a few kinks that need to be ironed out, and even though Nintendo constantly updates the game with free weapons, maps, and new modes, the game unfortunately feels a bit sparse which is evidently apparent after playing a few online matches. There’s obvious room for improvement with Splatoon, but there’s no denying the fact that it’s one of the most original shooters in recent memory, an addictive joy to just splatter your enemies, and to be accommodated for, what honestly seems to be, vandalism. Splatoon is a reminder that Nintendo are the rightful kings at what they do, creating the most fun and entertaining games that the medium has to offer; Splatoon wholeheartedly continues this legacy of theirs and in doing so, brought life to an aging genre. Simply put, Splatoon is a breath of fresh air and the best online shooter I’ve played in a long, long while.
Even though Splatoon’s true forte and purpose resides in the online gaming realm, there is still a forgotten component to the obscure third-person shooter that I wish to touch on and that is none other than its single player counterpart. Some individuals would be flabbergasted to realize that Splatoon does indeed include a single-player campaign. I won’t touch on it for too long as it is rather bite-sized and is clearly intended to be an appetizer to whet your appetite for what is undoubtedly the main course, the online multiplayer. The single-player campaign follows the traditional Nintendo formula that we’ve come to expect at this point. On a positive note, that iconic Nintendo charm is present in literal full colours as you spray your vibrant ink across the drab landscapes of this wonderful world. The overall level design is also an impressive feat, one to be noted for its intricate usage of verticality and clever puzzle and platforming game design. Your objective as an Inkling of Inkopolis is rather simple, recover the vast number of Zapfish from the malevolent Octarians and restore power to the great city. Zapfish act as the Power Star equivalent to the Super Mario Galaxy series and are your final reward at the end of each level. In all fairness, I applaud Nintendo for including a single-player component as many online focused titles, such as Titanfall for instance, make the audacious decision to strip any single player content whatsoever and bet heavily on their online community, which can be successful in certain cases but it’s not a proved system. However Splatoon’s single player campaign feels rather shallow and unfortunately lacks the depth to be deemed as one of Nintendo’s greats. Nintendo knows how to do platformers, that’s an undeniable fact, and the varying platforming segments showcase Splatoon’s very best; they’re weaved perfectly with the gunplay and add a slice of variance to the overall level’s pacing, also intricately situated into the offensive design of certain boss battles. As fun as the pure shooting can be, the standard gunplay against AI controlled enemies is rarely challenging and failed to grab my attention for a period of time. Slow, mindless enemies may be a proven staple in the platforming genre, but shooters require a more adamant take on artificial intelligence. Let me clarify, I am not saying that all platforming games inhabit slowly developed AI, hell the Super Mario series most definitely has some of the most relentless and frustrating enemies in all of gaming; it’s just that shooters are twitchy in nature and require a relative sense of responsiveness and if not done right, they feel fairly effortless and tiresome which Splatoon is unfortunately guilty of. The single-player is not very engaging and honestly while playing it, I just thought about how much I’d rather play the multiplayer. Clocking in at an unfortunate 5-6 hours, there’s little reason to replay this unmemorable solo experience, but hey, at least the boss fights uniquely entwined the gunplay and platforming together. The Hub world of Splatoon is a fantastic addition that is both immersive and intuitive; gone are all of the traditional, clunky menus and instead, we have a plaza that houses all of the game options, modes, and information that would normally be displayed by a game menu. It’s a neat deviation and I am always pleased when games stray from the familiar and implement new designs which cater to their lore and atmosphere. Splatoon’s vibrant graphical fidelity and its upbeat punk rock-esque soundtrack add a unique flare that is uncommonly found in the modernized shooter but is no stranger to the idiosyncratic charm of the Big N.
Splatoon’s core gameplay is fast, frantic, and a complete mess in the best possible way; gameplay is simplified into two key components, you’ll either be shooting your ink in attempts to splatter your opponents and spread your colour throughout the stage or transforming into a squid and swimming through your corresponding colour of ink to evade and traverse throughout the environment. The two work hand in hand and are effective for both offensive and defensive methods of play. Spraying your ink across the stage will not only allow you to traverse through the environment with ease, but it’ll also impede your enemies’ movement as they’re unable to swim in your colour, allowing for easy takedowns. Spreading your ink is also a fundamental crux for success as the main objective of the regular game mode, “Turf War” is to cover as much of the stage in your coloured ink. Splatting your enemies takes a back seat in prevalence with Turf Wars and is only required when opponents try to cover the same territory, resulting in some intense battles. Matches are rather bite-sized and last for about 3 minutes, being a fantastic game to slip a few quick matches into your busy schedule. However, due to their short nature, they’re rather addicting and will ultimately incept a “one more game” mentality and before you know it, you’ve been playing for 3 hours, happened to me on multiple occasions. Maps are also well varied and provide enough verticality for different strategic approaches, allowing each match to be played in a different manner. However, regular and ranked battles are restricted to 2 maps each at a time and new ones are randomly selected every 4 hours. That means you’ll be playing the same two maps for an extensive amount of time, and there’s no option to select or vote on which map you’d prefer to play as they’re chosen at random. This restriction in player freedom was a rather obtuse one as I don’t see what Nintendo nor the player gains from this decision and makes the overall experience feel confined and limited. Ranked battles, which are unlocked at level 10, are the true showcase of Nintendo’s little shooter and house the most insane and frantic matches that Splatoon has to offer. In ranked battles, players can rise or fall in rank (C- to A) based on the outcome of the match, adding significant weight to each match. There are currently two modes available for ranked battles and those are “Splat Zones” and “Tower Control”, clearly adding more variety than its regular counterpart. Splat Zone is essentially Splatoon’s rendition of the traditional King of the Hill, however players must cover all designated zones for their counter to decrease and the team that reaches zero first or hold the zones the longest in the given 5 minute time limit wins. Tower Control requires a player to take control of the tower situated in the middle of the map and ride it towards the enemy base, in the manner of a reverse capture the flag. The players on board will have to sit idly and defend the tower as they head through enemy territory. The first team to reach the enemy base or whichever team reaches the farthest in 5 minutes wins. Ranked battles have a heavier emphasis on splatting enemies as you must control certain points of the map, and every player, friend or foe, is headed to said point; however great team coordination will result in success and help you flush out your opponents. There’s something so satisfying, albeit cynical, about splatting your opponents and the imminent “pop” sound that ensues. These control battles are cunning, unbelievably frantic, and truly showcase the pure fun that Splatoon is able to achieve. I would’ve liked more freedom in the offered game modes; the ability to play Turf Wars in ranked battles or Tower Control/Splat Zones in regular battles would’ve been a great inclusion but this restricted nature unfortunately adds to Splatoon’s limited stature. However even though proper team work is required for optimal success in ranked battles, Splatoon does not support voice chat, which is a puzzling omission as communication is key. I found myself having to resort to other alternatives such as Skype so my party could coordinate properly; this problem isn’t the most pressing issue but it’s most definitely a hindrance to the overall experience. All negative issues aside, Splatoon’s online multiplayer is an outstanding blast; it’s probably the most addictive online experience in recent memory and is the revitalizing breath of life that the online shooter so desperately needed.
Splatoon’s level of customization is also an impressive accomplishment; you can equip your inkling with effective apparel that increase certain stats to give you the essential edge to level the playing field. Weapons are restricted to sets that include a main weapon, secondary weapon, and special weapon, there is no ability to swap between certain secondaries or specials. However this restrictive nature allowed me to try out different variations of weapons and abilities that I wouldn’t have in normal circumstances, resulting in some neat combinations and discoveries. Weapons are nicely varied and truly have a unique feel them; my personal favourite, the Splattershot Jr, has a fast fire rate which is compromised with poor range capabilities, while a Roller is ideal for ink coverage and close ranged combat but is fairly useless when confronted by a charger (Splatoon’s take on a sniper). All weapons have their own strength and weaknesses and are better utilized in certain scenarios. I found certain maps required certain weapons and their respective sets, however Splatoon doesn’t support the ability to equip sets and gear during battle or while waiting in the online lobby. So if you wish to change your set or equip new gear, you’ll have to exit the lobby (you can’t even exit mid-game), and do your business at the plaza of Inkopolis. This implementation is extremely inconvenient and hinders the fast and seamless pace that online shooters yearn to achieve. Alongside the phenomenal online component, Splatoon also includes a local multiplayer mode called “Battle Dojo”. Here one player uses the Gamepad’s screen and the other uses the TV, competing to see who can pop the most balloons. It’s a trivial inclusion that proves to be surprisingly competent; Nintendo has always excelled at delivery amazing local multiplayer experiences such as Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. and although Battle Dojo is a fun addition, it’s also a rather shallow one at that. There are only 5 maps to choose from, a restrictive list of weapons and their corresponding sets, and only one game mode; to put it short, it won’t hold your attention for very long, but it’s fun nonetheless. It’s rather unfortunate as I’ve always admired Nintendo’s ability to shine light on the dying breed that is local multiplayer, and I truly hope that Nintendo will update Splatoon’s local multiplayer and permit the inclusion of more players and new game modes, though I’m not holding my breath for that anytime soon.
Splatoon is an imaginative take on a banal genre that is heavily criticized for its inability to innovate. Obviously Splatoon doesn’t nail everything perfectly but it should be commended for its efforts and implementing a sense of innovation that was, at one point, thought to be impossible. It does feel rather limited at times, and with a short, forgetful single-player campaign, and a scarce amount of online game modes, it’s hard to disagree with that statement, but none of this however detracts from Splatoon’s fundamental core and makes it any less fun. Both regular and ranked battles are an absolute joy and properly showcase the exquisite madness that awaits you, coating the world in your colour and just having a fun time doing so. Splatoon is simply addictive in nature and rarely has a game ever hooked its claws into me in the permanent manner that Splatoon has. A lot of us couldn’t even fathom the idea of Nintendo creating a new IP as history would show that they rarely stray far from the familiar, but every now and then, a rare gem like Pikmin and Splatoon come a long and wow audiences left and right. Nintendo clearly still has the capability to whip up fresh ideas that either expand on their fantastic catalogue or bring life to new experiences. Nintendo’s first attempt at the online shooter resulted in a great, unique experience like no other which further satisfies their existing portfolio.