My heart quickens as I take cover from incoming fire, its noise perpetuating my panic. I check my ammo, find that it’s adequate, and take a deep breath. Finally, I leave cover with all guns blazing. Then I get squashed by a paint roller. My killer gives a resounding cry of “Yeah!” and continues his rampage. Splatoon is a game unlike any other, to put it in layman’s terms. It’s the first original game from Nintendo in 14 years and its first shooter, and it certainly shows it in the amount of fun I’ve had with it both online and off. But is it worth a purchase, and is it worth picking up the failing Wii U console for?
Splatoon takes place in a post-apocalyptic future in which the Earth is populated by half-human, half-squid/octopus hybrids, called Squidlings, and one where warfare is fought with ink. Its cities and people take after Japanese architecture and conventions, and the biggest craze amongst young Squidlings is a sport called “Turf War.” In it, two teams of four scramble to cover as much of the arena (but only the floors, mind you) in their team’s colour using all sorts of weird and wacky ink-based weapons. Either that or you can simply shoot the enemy themselves to make them explode in a satisfying splat. Don’t rely on this too much though, as enemy ink will slow you down and make you more vulnerable to damage. It doesn’t match your outfit, either. They change between a Kid form and a Squid form as well, which buries them inside the ink, making them go fast (I hear the red paint makes you go faster), or concealing them entirely if you stand still. Jumping out of ink in an ambush is incredibly fun, and makes you feel like some kind of jungle warrior. This crazy hobby is how you’ll be playing the online component for the time being, but this mechanic of colour-based combat carries over to the single-player modes as well.
The single-player campaign centers around your squidling, who has been recruited in secret, and rather hastily, into a one-squid army dedicated to stopping the nefarious plans of the Octolings. The Octolings resent the Squidlings for winning a war long ago, and want to take revenge. They do this by capturing Zapfish: Small, sad-looking things which power the Squidling’s civilisation. These Zapfish are recaptured at the end of each level, and you need all of them in a level zone before moving on to the next one. But the last Zapfish in each zone is guarded by a boss, and they’re some of the most well-designed bosses I’ve seen in a long time. Each of them is difficult enough to feel like a challenge, but not too hard to feel frustrating. The final boss in particular was a real toughie!
Once you finish the single-player aspect of the game, two options remain: Play online or buy an Amiibo to unlock challenges. These challenges are the same levels you’ve played before, but you’re using a different weapon. These challenges also unlock gear and earn money for your Squidling, so they’re well worth the 15-20 bucks you can expect to pay for the figures. However, without them, the single-player remains all too short. This doesn’t mean I didn’t have a blast with it, but it would be nice to not have all replayability locked to additional purchases. Luckily, as of printing, many retailers offer bundle deals that may save you a bit of cash. There is a two player split-screen option, in which Turf War is replaced with a “who can pop the most balloons” game mode. Unfortunately, even if it is as addictive as the online mode, this is the only mode available that can be played with a friend in the same room. Which is funny, considering that Nintendo are usually pretty on the ball with that.
The other option available to those who complete the offline component is to enter the arena and ink it up! At the time of writing, only one mode is available (the aforementioned Turf War) and only seven stages and weapons exist. This number may seem underwhelming to new players, but each weapon fills its niche quite nicely and still results in varied gameplay (except for the Roller, which many consider to be a tad overpowered). Each weapon also has several sidegrades: They do the same job a little bit differently, ala Team Fortress 2. Nintendo’s promised more as free updates, but it’d have been preferred if they’d waited a little and shipped more with the initial release. The online itself is some of the most addictive gaming I’ve had in a long time, and is a ton of fun. Unfortunately, Nintendo’s P2P online network is lacking in overall quality: I had to play the online component at a friend’s house because my Internet was, quote, “not fast enough.” To put that into perspective, my ethernet adapter hasn’t arrived yet and my wireless speed is about 1.5MB/s. I couldn’t go ten seconds without being dropped from a game, so to have this happen simply because Nintendo aren’t investing in online infrastructure is disappointing and will lock out people who aren’t as fortunate in terms of their overall speed (Australians re-pre-sent).
The game also doesn’t offer much in the way of other conventional features either such as voice chat, matchmaking, or even stage selection. The stages are rotated each day with only two maps being used in each rotation, which gets boring after only twenty minutes or so. While I understand the plight of those who want these features, I don’t think the game is worse off. Matches only last three minutes which doesn’t really lend itself to strategic cooperation. That, and the WiiU’s in-built microphone is shoddy and wouldn’t work well anyway. As for matchmaking? Yes, please. You currently can’t exit a lobby or a match once you enter it, which can alienate some players. That said, Splatoon is designed to be a fun game, not a competitive one, and I think it’s great in that it removes the risk of people quitting a team if they get relatively inexperienced players. Again, it’s not a serious game and isn’t trying to be.
This lack of seriousness can be seen in the game’s visual style and soundtrack as well. It’s refreshing to see colour be used as a primary mechanic in a shooter, and the overall aesthetic of the game is bright and imaginative. The soundtrack is also sublime, and one I’ve already downloaded! It sounds like a mix between Musato Muzika’s Crash Bandicoot 2 soundtrack, 70s British punk rock, and human music. These components all add to the overall originality that the game has to offer, and proves that Nintendo’s still got it when it comes to ideas.
Splatoon is a game that the Wii U desperately needed. It is an original IP that breathes fresh air into a stale genre and a game that makes Amiibo purchases viable (if arguably mandatory). It’s certainly a fantastic online game, but it’s nothing worth buying a Wii U exclusively for. If you already have one you have no excuse not to pick this up, but this won’t make you leap off the fence in order to take the dip and buy one. The Wii U needs a few more games like this in order to do that, but it’s a step in the right direction. I just hope that the next game (and let’s face it, there’s gonna be another one) improves on the formula and doesn’t make the same mistakes this one did. But for now, it’s one of the Wii U’s strongest titles and one of the most fun games you’ll play this year.