An online shooter crossed with toddler finger painting.
Nintendo really are a traditional videogame developer. When they find something that works, they tend to stick with it and do it really well. Whilst this formula has worked for them, in recent years their stubbornness to change with the times and trends has resulted in criticism. Nintendo make great games, but rarely do they make new games.
However, with the launch of Splatoon on the Wii U, Nintendo seem to be trying to fill a gap in their IP line up with something both familiar and very different. Online shooters are hugely popular amongst modern gamers, and want to offer their own vision of the third-person shooter – something both competitive, fun and, all importantly, family friendly.
And it would seem that they have succeeded for the most part. Splatoon is a little bit different from any online shooters that you would have played before in that, rather than spraying bullets, the player is spraying ink. Whilst Nintendo could have leaned more towards the paintball side of things for a hazard-free shooter, they go even further with a variety of weapons that unleash huge swathes of coloured ink onto the surrounding environment. This is key to how players have to change their thinking of online shooters, as rather than the emphasis being on taking down opposing Inklings, the player will be much more successful by covering as much of the environment in their team’s colour as they can.
Turf War is the main mode of the game, which pits two teams against each other to cover the largest area in their team’s ink. Splatting opposing players with ink certainly has its advantages by simply taking them out of the game for a short while. But winning the match will come down more to simply spraying everything and anything with ink and having the largest area covered at the end. Players can cover over the enemies ink with their own as they battle to out ink the opposing team.
But there is a more tactical side to this wanton ink spraying. With the simple press of a button, the player is able to transform into a squid-like creature and actually swim through their own coloured ink. Spray a trail of ink up the side of a wall, and the player can transform and swim up to the high ground. Moving around in the ink is far quicker than on foot and leads to many more advantageous places on the map. The player is also able to hide within their own ink as a squid, leading to some rather satisfying ambush tactics, and they can also refill their ink supplies. It’s a great mechanic that works really well.
Control-wise, the game uses a certain amount of motion control by default with the Wii U GamePad. Tilting the GamePad up and down will change where the player is looking and spraying, while the right stick adjusts the left and right view, and the left stick deals with the moving around. My first instinct was to simply turn off this motion control, putting all of the aiming on the right stick. However, using the right stick solely proved to be a little more twitchy than I would have liked, whereas the minor motion controls were smooth and surprisingly easy to get used to.
There is an impressive range of zany, ink-spewing weapons available in the game, with more becoming unlocked as the player levels up. All of your usual online shooter suspects are there, from the ink-spraying equivalent of an assault rifle to a sniper rifle, but there are also a variety of more unique weapons to use, such as a giant paint roller. The different weapons are both fun and interesting to use, adding some variety to the gameplay.
And that variety is much needed, as Splatoon is a little thin on the ground at launch. Besides the highly entertaining Turf War mode, there is another mode called Splat Zones, a “King of the Hill” type mode, which just doesn’t prove as much fun as Turf War. As far as multiplayer modes go, this is it – just the two modes. There is a local vs mode, which is fine for local play, and a fairly enjoyable single player mode which has much more emphasis on solving puzzles and traversing the environment, perhaps as a training ground for the online multiplayer portion of the game. But, yeah, there is not really a lot of content here. This is something that Nintendo will undoubtedly address with content updates, but the first update is not due until August and I can see a lot of players getting a little bored before then.
The same can be said for the map selection. As it stands right now, there are five maps available to play on. The maps themselves are brilliantly varied and fit perfectly with the theme of the game, consisting of the likes of malls, skateparks and such. However, there are only five in total, and these maps are on a rotation were two maps are switched between, and the two maps are changed every four hours. Again, this lack of maps will be resolved over time, but at launch there just aren’t enough.
When it comes to customisation though, there really is plenty. Aside from the choices of weapon and loadout, the player can also kit out their Inkling with a variety of different clothing items. These items are not purely cosmetic either, offering different buffs and improvements that will lead players to spend as much time searching for the perfect outfit as choosing the perfect weapon. The special Splatoon Amiibo, which are available now if you can find them, also add to the customisation by offering challenges when tapped on the GamePad which can unlock further gear.
Splatoon is bright, colourful, plays really well and is supremely family friendly. It is pure Nintendo, the Mario Kart of the online shooter world. Playing the game is both fun and addictive. However, there is a lack of content at launch and this fact alone may lead fans of the online shooter genre to abandon the game for something more substantial. Whether they will come back once the content expands, only time will tell.