Third Person Shooters have become one of the most popular genres since joining their First Person brethren. Nintendo has seen some minor action in these realms before. With Metroid Prime being one of its flagship entries. But that trilogy was more of an adventure game, with light combat elements. Long before that, there were Rare’s Goldeneye, and Perfect Dark. What did both of these titles have in common? Second Party status. Nintendo’s formerly partially owned studio made these. Nintendo hasn’t had a fully First Party shooter with a competitive focus. Until now.
PROS: Focus on a different target. Family friendly as well as hobbyist friendly. Miiverse. Humor.
CONS: A little light on maps. Customization needs to be unlocked. Campaign may be too hard for young kids.
STEVEN BLUM?: There’s a homeless version of Mugen named Spyke who will steal clothes for you.
A smaller, younger team of Nintendo’s developers played a lot of those Nintendo 64 shooters back in the day. They initially came up with an idea of two blocks splattering ink on a floor. Competing with one another to see who could cover more of it. From that game play idea, the team built Splatoon on top of it. It’s a surprisingly captivating direction to take the genre in. For years we’ve been used to shooting at each other for frags. Even in games with team based objectives, there is an obsession with kills versus deaths. Splatoon has fragging, but the focus on turf really makes kills secondary.
Booting up Splatoon for the first time immediately puts you in a tutorial to get you accustomed to its control scheme. The game uses the Wii U gamepad in a combination of controller, and mouse look controls. If you’ve been accustomed to game pads over the last 20 years, it may take you a few minutes to get used to. But it’s actually pretty intuitive. The left stick moves your character, while the right stick just swerves the camera left, and right. You actually use the Gamepad’s gyroscopic feature as a mouse. This makes aiming much closer to a PC game. Things are fairly smooth, and easy when tracking down an enemy. The left, and right turn speed is a little slower though, so you may go back, and forth between using the stick, and moving the pad. For those who absolutely refuse to use mouse look, you can turn it off in the settings, which makes the right stick aim instead.
Once you’ve completed the tutorial you end up in a hub world. Walking straight ahead takes you into the online battles. You can play turf war against friends, or random players in four on four matches. Every match you play, whether your team wins or loses will give you some in-game currency, and experience points. Of course winning a match will give you more points, than losing. Rounds are two minutes long. In that two minutes your team has to paint as much of the floor with your ink as possible. While your team is doing this, the other team is doing the same thing. Skirmishes then break out, as you kill opponents to buy yourselves enough time to continue painting the level in your turf color. It may not seem like much, but Splatoon’s combat actually becomes pretty deep. Pressing the left shoulder trigger will turn you from a humanoid, into a squid. You can then swim in your own ink, undetected by the enemy. Spraying walls allows you to even swim up them, and onto higher terrain. If you’re running out of ink, turning into a squid, and swimming in your team’s color will reload your weapons. Each weapon comes with two secondary attacks as well. Pressing, and holding the right shoulder button will launch the first secondary. This uses up more ink, but depending on your weapon can have a variety of uses. Ink grenades, landmines, and shower curtains are just some of what you’ll see in Splatoon. Each can be used in a variety of tactical ways. The shower curtain can be placed in narrow hallways, while you paint the other side of it. You use it like a force shield in a sense. There are desperation weapons you can use as well. Filling a meter by painting over enemy ink, will let you launch them by pressing the right stick down as a button. Then you can press the right shoulder button to use it. There are ink tornadoes, Shin Hadokens, among a plethora of other options.
The gamepad touch screen also comes into play during battles. There is a fast travel option you can use. If you look at the pad, during a match you can see where your team mates are, and super jump to their location. You can also see where enemies are, so long as they aren’t swimming in their ink. This can be good, and bad. Good in the sense that you’re able to quickly come to the aid of a comrade. Bad in the sense that the opposing team can use it as an ambush. This could be even more effective had Splatoon offered a voice chat option. Unfortunately it doesn’t. While the reasons are sound when it comes to public matches (Not having to deal with sore sports hurling slurs or curse words in a family friendly game is a good thing.) it takes away communication from friends.(You also have the ability to join your friends in these matches through a friend’s filter.) It isn’t unreasonable to think someone might have 7 friends or acquaintances who might play this together online. Still, with the short match times, it isn’t too much of a detriment. You’ll still have plenty of fun, and if you’re desperate you can always conference call three friends during your games together.
While you’re in the lobby waiting for players to join up, you can also play mini games on the gamepad. These also appear on an arcade cabinet in the plaza, where you can play them at your leisure. The best of these is probably the first one, a tower climbing game, where you jump up platforms as a squid. After levelling up to a certain ranking, you’ll be allowed to play ranked matches in addition to the standard turf wars. Every so often you should stop playing online, and re-enter the hub stage. There are stores you can enter to buy better weapons, and clothes. Clothes in this game do more than simply make your character look cool. You have to reach a rank of 4 before you can buy anything. But once you do, you’ll find the store clothing items will enhance your online play with perks. A shirt may refill your ink faster. A certain pair of shoes may make your character run faster. At the same time none of this feels really overpowered. if you can aim, and move well enough, anyone can defeat anyone. In addition to abilities, all weapons have some sort of drawback. There is a big emphasis on balance when it comes to maps, and weapons. While there are plenty of weapons to choose from, rivaling even the Call Of Duty series, there aren’t many maps. Nintendo is promising free content updates for this game, so in a few months things may be better on this front. But for now, it is a little bit lacking. Thankfully, the underlying game play is so much fun, that it shouldn’t dissuade you.
This game does a lot of little tiny things that make it feel different enough from other games in the genre to make for a vastly different feel. The atmosphere is right out of a mid nineties Nickelodeon cartoon. The music is filled with late 80’s, and mid 90’s power pop, and pop punk trappings. It’s pleasant to look at, and listen to. While it might look like a children’s game on its surface, it really does hit a vibe that screams “Everyone is welcome.” If you love your modern military shooters, you’ll have fun. If you cut your teeth on Quake, Doom, and Unreal Tournament, you’ll have fun. If you’re a parent who wants to play a shooter with your 10-year-old child, the both of you will have fun. Very few, if any, developers have been able to implement a genre usually aimed at a 17, and up demographic, into an all ages setting.
The game also does a really great job at implementing Miiverse. Probably one of the best implementations thus far. Going through the hub world, you will find other players’ characters populating Inkopolis, with their forum posts being spouted in a cartoon bubble. Other times you will see Miiverse postings appearing as graffiti on walls. You can also go to a kiosk to post to Miiverse. It’s pretty good, and I hope it’s expanded upon either in updates, or new games. Another thing that happens fairly often are the progression updates. As you get farther in the game the two valley girl news caster characters will warp you to the hub world to watch a news brief. Sometimes this will be upon unlocking a new map, or mode. Other times it pushes along the single player campaign story. That’s right. Splatoon also features a campaign.
If you go to a certain manhole cover in the hub world you will find this old man inkling named Captain Cuttlefish. He’s a conspiracy theorist who is obsessed with proving a race of Octopi are looking to take over the world. Why? Because years ago the people of Inkopolis defeated them in a turf war, and they want revenge for it. Of course the Captain can’t prove it, but he sends you on a 5 hour-long campaign to stop them anyway. While Splatoon is focused almost entirely on the multiplayer aspect of the game, this campaign is not an afterthought. It does a pretty great job of acclimatizing newcomers to the controls of the game, and teaching multiplayer techniques. All while offering a satisfying single player experience. Much like the base game, it starts you out in hub worlds. You have to find secret entrances to each level by uncovering them with ink. When you do, you’ll enter them, and be treated to a TPS meets Super Mario Galaxy level. What I mean by that is that each one of these levels has launch sequences similar to the SMG series. You’ll kill a bunch of Octopi, look for secrets, and then launch Mario style to the next area. At the end of each of these levels, you’ll free a Zap fish. Think of these like the game’s shines, or stars. After you beat so many stages you’ll have to contend with a boss. And make no mistake, these bosses are difficult. They add in the challenge of Nintendo’s greatest platformers’ boss puzzles, and patterns with third person shooting.
All of the stuff you need to succeed in the multiplayer, also needs to be used in this campaign. So for those who have zero interest in the competitive online combat, the campaign is still going to be compelling. Plus you can use the skills you learn in either mode in the other. The campaign is also worth playing for those who have no interest in single player. Why? Because throughout the campaign are hidden blueprints you can find, that will unlock weapons for the multiplayer mode. So the game is really poised to make you want to try everything. There is also a 1 on 1 multiplayer mode where one player plays on the gamepad, while the other uses a classic controller, and the TV set. This is played offline, and each player tries to shoot target balloons. But they can still frag each other to buy time to pick up a few more targets while the other waits for their next life to spawn.
Splatoon also has support for Amiibo figurines. There are three figures available one based each inkling, and a squid figurine. In the plaza there is a giant Amiibo figurine package. Putting one of these toys on the gamepad will give you a handful of special clothing items, and a list of challenges. The special content really has no bearing on the gameplay. The clothing items don’t give you any better perks over the main game’s. The challenges are really for a personal experience, so you don’t really have to buy any of the toys to enjoy the game. Though two of the mini games can be unlocked by beating the challenges.
Splatoon is an excellent Third Person Shooter. Nintendo has laid the seeds for what could potentially be a major franchise, and has made one of a handful of shooters that can be enjoyed by any age group. Still, it isn’t absolutely perfect. There aren’t any functional problems to speak of. Everything in the game feels great. After bingeing on the game for a couple of days non stop, I can say I rarely ran into a connection problem. I never experienced any notable lag. This game is solid in every respect. But the lack of voice chat in games with friends, and the low number of maps keep it just shy of reaching its full potential. Nintendo has plans for updates, and content. Nobody knows all of the details, but as of now things are light on the map front. It’s also going to disappoint some that you have to unlock the ability to customize your character by levelling up. Fortunately the game play in multiplayer is so good, it will keep you wanting to play in spite of those issues. The game’s single player campaign is also a great ride. It might prove difficult for some of the younger children to get a handle on, and lead to some frustration. But if your kids are pretty good at platformers like Mario, or Donkey Kong, and want to move into fast paced action games Splatoon is easy to recommend. It’s also easy to recommend to any shooter fan. It plays great, and does a number of things to move the genre in a new direction. Whether you’re a hobbyist, or a dabbler Splatoon is something you should look into.
Final Score: 8 out of 10