My kids and I have been playing and evaluating Splatoon for about two weeks now. Here are some of my thoughts on Nintendo’s newest and freshest game for the Wii U.
Title: Splatoon | Platforms: Wii U | Release Date: 2015-05-29
Distribution: Retail and Digital | Digital Install size: 1732 MB
Rating: E10+ (Everyone 10 and up): Cartoon Violence
Genre: Action | Players: 1 - 8 | Current Version: 1.2.0
Splatoon is a third person shooter where the primary goal is to cover as much ground as possible with ink. Splatting other players is secondary. It’s possible to play a whole match without ‘killing’ an opponent, if you were to just concentrate on inking turf. There are certain advantages to hitting other players of course, not the least of which is getting them off the field for a few seconds while you continue to cover ground. However, you don’t get any extra points for how many ‘kills’ you made, or anything like that. The emphasis is on the ink, not the kills.
Splatoon is a shooter like no other. What shooter would have a weapon like a paint roller, which can only fire blobs of ink a very short distance as you shake the roller? Not very effective at hitting targets any father away than a few feet, but extremely effective at putting ink on the ground.
The design team have also taken the Gamepad and used it to give players the option of Motion Control aiming. It’s a divisive issue, especially as it comes turned on by default, and those who are used to playing shooters with the camera on the right-stick may find it off-putting. I would recommend giving it a fair try, it might just win you over, as it did I. The right stick is still used, but only for left and right movement, and the Gamepad tilt and pan for anything else. I found the most success by limiting the Gamepad to up and down and minor left right movements, and using the Right stick for bigger turns.
Splatoon offers various modes of play. The main one is found in the Lobby: the online multiplayer mode. Upon release the game has Turf Battle mode, and Ranked Battle mode, the latter being unlocked when your character reaches level 10. Experience is gained by playing Turf Battle, and points gained in that mode double as currency you can use on upgrades and gear. Ranked Battle differs from Turf Battle in that you fight for control of zones on the map, rather than greater coverage.
Offline you can play local multiplayer in the Battle Dojo, one on one. One player uses the Gamepad for controls and looks at the Gamepad screen, and the other player uses a Pro Controller or Classic Controller (Pro) attached to a Wii Remote, and looks at the main television screen. Battle Dojo matches are determined by who pops the most balloons that spawn around the map in the given time. It’s a fun way to get to know the layouts of the maps, and have a little friendly competition as well.
Then there is the story mode: Octo Valley. In this mode, the player makes her way through various stages and floating ‘worlds’ in a land controlled by Octopi. Throughout each stage the player will navigate various obstacles, defend against Octo enemies of differing types, and make their way to the end of each stage to recover the missing Zapfish, a sort of living lightbulb. Each stage also has a hidden Sunken Scroll, which can be found through careful examination of the level and some fancy platforming to reach these hidden areas. At the end of each world, there is a boss, which in traditional Mario style must be defeated three times in order for them to be truly finished. Bosses also give the player a special scroll, which unlocks special weapon loadouts in the Inkopolis Weapon Shop. Even without that incentive, the story mode is creative, fun, and challenging. The way the differing worlds are connected to each other in a organic way reminded me of Dark Souls’ level design. And when you reach the final boss, take a moment to look around from that high viewpoint. It’s pretty spectacular. You can even see Inkopolis in the distance. If you’re wondering how much content the single player has, I would estimate between three to five hours, depending on your skill level and whether you find all the secret Sunken Scrolls. It’s definitely not an afterthought tacked onto the game, and it’s worth playing.
Sound and Music
Splatoon supports 5.1 surround, and I would definitely recommend it if you have the setup for it. It makes for an immersive experience, and shows off the excellent sound design.
From the putt-putt of the paint guns, to the guitar scream of the Killer Wail, the sounds in Splatoon are superb. Everything sounds organic and authentic, and when you submerge into the ink, all sounds take on that muted underwater quality, as they should. Even the loading screen is alive with the sounds of the city; I could almost see the commuter train as it passes from the front speakers to the rear.
The music in Splatoon ranges from Rock to laid back Reggae, all infused with tinges of Surf, as befitting the musical taste of a squid. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but at least it isn’t boring.
Thoughts for Parents
Nintendo have gone out of their way to make Splatoon friendly to new players. The one on one Battle Dojo and the offline Single Player Story Mode are both excellent training modes for the Online Turf Battle mode. Not that they aren't fun in their own right, of course. But at its heart, Splatoon is an online game, and Nintendo is doing everything it can to help people embrace that. Keeping matches short, eliminating voice chat, and focusing on turf rather than kills, takes away much of the potential for bad manners, and keeps the game fun even if you don't come out on the winning side.
My kids seem to sense that as well, and they progressed through the game much as (I suspect) Nintendo wanted them to: playing some of the story mode, doing the 1v1 with me or with each other, and then venturing on to the online game once they'd gotten a handle on how to play on their own.
Unfamiliar with a new stage, or just want to run around inking things without any enemies? There’s a Recon Mode for stages so can you explore at your own pace. Want to try out a new weapon before you buy it, or just get used to the ones you have? The Weapon Test area has dummies you can practice on.
If you want to play with your friends, you can choose to jump into their multiplayer lobby instead of a random one. If they’re in a game, a countdown timer appears to let you know how long you have to wait until they are done their match. Once you start the match, you’ll remain together in the same lobby until you exit multiplayer mode.
If you do end up waiting for a match to start, you can play a cute 8-bit minigame on the GamePad screen to pass the time. Included from the start is Squid Jump, a simple game which has you powering up to jump upwards onto various platforms in a race against time to the top of the level. It’s surprisingly fun, and is a perfect time waster. It also saves your place in the game when the match begins, and resumes from the same spot the next time you play. Other minigames can be unlocked by completing the amiibo challenges.
Speaking of amiibo, there are three characters supported in Splatoon: an Inkling Girl, an Inkling Boy, and a Squid. Each of them unlocks a series of challenge stages, as well as exclusive gear and the aforementioned minigames. I was not able to test them pre-release, but I look forward to the additional content they will unlock.
Nintendo seem to be keen on making sure the game is a success, and their plan to release a free update in August with new gameplay modes is part of that strategy. As additional modes and maps are added over time, as in-game Festivals are announced, the game will hopefully keep players engaged, and coming back for more. For an online multiplayer game to work, it must have an active community, and I believe Nintendo’s strategy is to grow it steadily over the long term.
Much has been made of the decision to leave out voice chat, and I think it’s a good decision. From a parent’s perspective, it eliminates one of the greatest issues I have with letting my younger kids play or interact with anyone online that they don’t already know in real life: the potential for abusive behaviour. In fact, with no way to speak or even type messages, the only way to communicate with my kids as they play is through other services, which lets me vet who they can and cannot interact with.
That’s not to say that there aren’t areas of the game which could be improved. Here are a few of my suggestions:
In our pre-release review copy, there is no way to switch user accounts while in game, and there is only one character per user. So if my daughter wants her own character, and wants to save her own progress in single player, we have to close the game, go to switch the Nintendo Network ID to her account, and then launch the game again. It would be great if there was a way to switch accounts without quitting and re-launching the game.
More local multiplayer:
At launch the game’s only local multiplayer mode is the 1v1 Battle Dojo. It would be a natural addition to have a local 4 player mode, so that families can play together. With local multiplayer so strongly represented in Mario Kart and Smash Bros., it seems even more glaring by its absence here. I really believe that Splatoon has an opportunity to become this generation’s Goldeneye, if Nintendo were to seize it.
Streamline the start:
When you first load the game, after the splash screen you are required to watch the Squid Sisters announce the current Turf War and Ranked Battle stages. It was cute the first time, but it does lose its charm with repeated viewings. There is no way to skip it, and even mashing the A button it still takes nearly half a minute before you can play. It is especially annoying after having to switch users (see above).
Changing Weapons while waiting for a match to start:
As it stands right now, you need to exit the Lobby altogether to change weapon loadouts, which means that if you want to swtich weapons in between matches, you have to go through multiple steps. It would be much handier to be able to access the weapon switching screen while still waiting for the match to start, without exiting and losing your place in the lobby.
Nintendo have made the first truly friendly online shooter, and have managed to do so while maintaining its reputation as a company that makes games that are safe for kids to play. At the same time, they haven’t so severely limited the game that it isn’t still fun for grownups. Amazingly fun, in fact. Splatoon keeps me wanting to play more.
Splatoon Pre-Release Review Copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.