Release date: May 2015
Format: Digital download (eShop) and physical disk
Other platforms: NA
Price: ~$60 AUD
I’ve never had any interest in first person shooters like Call of Duty or Black Ops. My Dad once bought me a copy of Killzone Mercenary for the PS Vita because it was on sale and he saw me looking at it (also he thought that “because you’re a grown up, it’s time you got your first shooting game”) and I disliked it so much I returned it about four days later (I was also rubbish at it, which didn’t help).
When Splatoon was showcased at last year’s E3, I was excited. Not just because it was a fresh, new IP from Nintendo, but because it looked like a competitive shooter I could actually enjoy. Given my love of painting and art supplies in general, the idea of throwing coloured ink around definitely appealed to me, as did the concept of switching forms between a squid and a kid (go ahead and try to get the song out of your head. I’ll wait.) to glide around in your own coloured ink and pop up as a human to start shooting ink at anything that moved. Splatoon came out a week before my birthday, and my Nan decided to get me both the game and the Amiibo as an early present.
After a short tutorial that teaches you the controls, you end up in Inkopolis Plaza, which is basically the hub world for Splatoon. Here you will find a lot of other players hanging out.
From the Plaza, you can access the various game modes, as well as shops where you can buy gear. Once you get to a high enough level, there’s also a character in the Plaza who will let you check out other players’ gear and order that gear for yourself. I’ll talk about the multiplayer modes first since that’s what most people will be interested in, but the single-player mode is also a lot of fun.
Arguably the main draw of the game, multiplayer in Splatoon offers a number of modes. The game launched with only six stages, but since then, more stages have been added as free DLC, with more on their way. Updates to the game have also added more weapons to the line up (though many can only be unlocked when you reach a certain level).
Turf War pits two teams of four against each other in a battle to see who can cover more of the terrain in their own team’s ink.
Each round is only three minutes long, but those three minutes will be full of mad, colourful action. Victory in Splatoon isn’t based on how many times you kill the enemy, but on how much ground you can cover in ink. You earn points during battles based on how much ground you cover; even if your team loses, you may still get more points than members of the winning team based on how much of your ink you put down. These points help you to level up, which, in addition to the coins you earn for battling, allow you to buy an increasing variety of weapons, headgear, clothes and shoes from the shops in Inkopolis Plaza. The weapons you start with are fairly basic (short range and long range super-soaker-esque guns to paint rollers) but as you play you’ll unlock some really fun weapons, with the ink brush being my favourite. All the weapons have various attributes and sub weapons so it’s worth playing with a few before deciding which will be your main weapon. Likewise, the clothing you can buy has different statistics (some will increase your running speed, while others can help you respawn faster after being splatted) so your choice in attire can make a big difference in how you perform (not to mention that some of it looks really cool).
Many people have criticised Nintendo for not including voice chat in Splatoon, and while their complaints are valid (it is 2015 and most online games have this as standard), the game honestly doesn’t suffer from not having it. The map on the GamePad allows you to easily see where your team members are (and if they get killed) and which areas have been covered by each team’s colours, and by touching the icons for your team members, you can jump to their location immediately rather than having to go there on foot. Also, the battles are short enough that there’d be little time to coordinate a decent strategy anyway.
Splat Zones requires players (again in two teams of four) to try to take control of a small section of the map to see who can hold that area for the longest.
In Tower Control, teams have to try to take control of a tower in the centre of the map. When a player is standing on the tower, the tower moves towards the enemy’s starting base. At the end of the three minutes, the team that has pushed it farthest away from their own base wins.
Rainmaker is similar to Tower Control, but instead of seizing control of a tower, players fight for possession of a Rainmaker (a weapon which can fire powerful tornadoes of ink), with the goal being to take the Rainmaker to their enemy’s base, or at least as close as possible.
Whether you can access these modes varies depending on the player’s level. Regular Battle consists solely of Turf War and can be accessed by players of any level. Ranked Battle can only be accessed by players at level 10 and above, and it includes Splat Zones, Tower Control and Rainmaker (but not Turf War). Like Regular Battle, players will fight in randomly assigned teams with other players from around the world. Private Battle allows players to create their own secure lobby just for their friends to play against one another and includes all four modes described above. Finally, Squad Battle allows friends to form squads of various sizes (2-4) to play against other squads from around the world.
Connection was pretty hit and miss for me. Sometimes I’d manage to play 5-6 games in a row with no issues, yet other times I had constant disconnection errors and kept getting kicked out a minute or so into a match. This was as just as likely to be a problem with my internet connection as with the servers or whatever, but it did take some of the shine off the experience. After fiddling with the MTU settings in my Wii U, I got far fewer disconnection errors, but there were still enough to be annoying (that “A communication error has occurred” bubble that pops up will forever haunt my dreams).
Another common problem I had was getting ‘stuck’ on the player search screen. Sometimes when searching for more players to join a match, the system would keep resetting the timer several times before allowing it to count down to zero seconds (at which point it returns you to the lobby). Once this starts to happen, it’s usually pretty obvious that you won’t be able to get into a match, so it would be better if there was an option for you to exit the search on your own rather than being forced to sit there for several minutes for no good reason.
In addition to these online multiplayer options, there’s also a local multiplayer mode called Battle Dojo, where two players compete to see who can pop the most balloons. At the time of writing I have not yet tried this mode.
Though most people will be buying Splatoon for its multiplayer modes, the game still offers a decent single-player campaign. The city of Inkopolis is powered by electric Zapfish, but these Zapfish have been stolen by the evil Octarians. Your job is to fight through various stages, defeating Octarians and rescuing the stolen Zapfish along the way.
The single-player campaign plays as much like a platformer as it does a shooter, and I don’t think this is a bad thing. The level designs are interesting and the stages require an interesting variety of tricks to navigate, such as sliding along a zipwire made of ink and soaking sponges in ink to make them big enough to stand on and jump across, moving platforms by blasting an attached propeller with ink, or revealing invisible platforms and paths by shooting ink everywhere.
I got through most of the single-player campaign in about 3-4 hours (at an estimate; I tended to just play one or two stages of single-player between online battles) and though I don’t think it’d be all that challenging to someone who plays a lot of shooters, there were some bits that were tricky, particularly later on. The final boss also seemed to have a really huge difficulty spike compared to the previous bosses throughout the game; so much so that I haven’t actually managed to beat it yet. The Octo Valley campaign is definitely a great component Splatoon, but if you’re considering buying it solely for the single-player component, I’d wait until you can pick up a cheap and/or pre-owned copy.
In terms of presentation, Splatoon does everything right. The graphics are great in general, but I particularly love how realistic the ink looks and how the light reflects off it. Also, the soundtrack is full of up-beat and catchy pop-rock melodies that really mesh with the world of the Inklings. That being said, some of them did start to feel a little repetitive and grate on me after a while, especially when one of my least favourite tracks was the soundtrack for four or five Turf War battles in a row.
Nintendo also released three Amiibo along with the game: Inkling Boy, Inkling Girl and Inkling Squid.
The Boy and Girl are available separately or in a triple pack with the Squid, while the Squid is only available in the triple pack or with the special edition of the game. These Amiibo unlock extra single-player challenges in Octo Valley, which give you exclusive new gear and weapons once you complete them. Using the Boy will unlock challenges with the roller weapon, while using the Girl will give you charger-based challenges. The Squid provides tougher challenges, requiring you to complete tasks with a limited supply of ink and/or time. I like collecting Amiibo so I would have been happy to buy them anyway, but I can see how it would be annoying for those who don’t want or can’t get the Amiibo to have content essentially locked away for no reason (the Splatoon Amiibo don’t have anything like the supply shortages the SSB Amiibo have had, so at least they are easily obtained if you’re willing to shell out for them). I think it would have been better to allow at least some additional weapons (other than the basic shooter) to be available in the single-player campaign without having to scan in an Amiibo.
Overall, Splatoon is a worthy addition to the Wii U’s library.