It turns out that not all “shooter” games are truly created equal. This is a fantastic game that most everyone will enjoy.
- Gorgeous, colorful graphics with wonderfully unique characters and environments
- Simple, addictive gameplay that is easy to learn but deep when mastered
- A constant nostalgia trip for anyone who grew up in the 90’s
- Tacked-on two-player mode
- Connection issues cause dropped matches too regularly
- No future-proofing by way of true local multiplayer or bots
For years I have been a stalwart opponent of online shooters. Halo and its “teabagging”, Call of Duty and its kill/death radio, Gears of War and its…I dunno…chainsaw bayonets? Actually those are pretty cool. Forget that last example, back on target. I’ve just never seen the appeal of playing a competitive game, with a bunch of anonymous adolescents, only to be at the receiving end of a bunch of soda-fueled hostility and racial slurs. Call me a fogey, but I enjoy playing games with friends, on the couch, where they can be punched if they start acting like a turd.
So, imagine my own surprise when I tell you that an online shooter is the absolute number one reason to own a Wii U. It’s a bigger shock to me than anyone, believe me. When Splatoon was announced in 2014, my initial reaction was tepid; “Okay, so there’s some octopus dudes on Segways and this is supposed to be a shooter? PASS.” However, as time went on and I continually stumbled across screenshots, videos and articles, I rapidly began to warm up to the game. By the time Nintendo launched the Global Testfire, a free worldwide stress test for the game’s servers, my enthusiasm had been whipped into a manic, childlike frenzy. I hadn’t been this excited for a game since the months leading up to the release of Donkey Kong Country in 1994. So, the question is, what makes this game so special?
Splatoon is a team-based third person shooter. The player controls a humanoid creature called an Inkling, a weird mix of kid and squid, in fierce messy battles against other Inkling competitors, armed with a variety of weapons that utilize colored ink as ammunition. In Splatoon’s main multiplayer mode, Turf Wars, two teams of four compete not for the highest number of kills, as in most competitive shooters, but for map coverage. Each team is assigned a random color, and whichever team’s color of ink covers more of the map is declared the winner at the end of the three minute battle. Kills and deaths are counted, but they make no difference in the ultimate loss or victory. Primarily, “splatting” opponents is a way to stall the other team’s progress while one of their players respawns. Besides Turf Wars, there are also a few additional modes such as Splat Zones and Rainmaker, which act as the more competitive and “hardcore” offering in the game.
Inklings themselves are interesting creatures. In their default form, they appear as adolescent human boys and girls with cartoonish features and colored tentacles instead of hair. Their appearance can be customized with hundreds of unique pieces of gear (shoes, shirts and headwear) and armed with one of dozens of unique ink-shooting weaponry. By holding the left trigger, an Inkling can transform instantly into a cute, compact squid form that offers a number of advantages in battle. While in squid form, the player can swim through their own color of ink at more than twice their running speed on foot, and jump about three times as far. In addition to this, swimming allows one to conceal themselves from detection, swim up vertical surfaces and through permeable barriers like fences, as well as refilling the Inkling’s supply of weapon ammo and health. However, being in squid form offers no offensive capabilities whatsoever, so one must switch back and forth between the two constantly during play.
Weapons in the game range from the fairly standard Splattershot, or the sniper rifle-like Splatterscope, to the weirder weapons like the Slosher, a bucket of ink that is thrown in massive quantities, or the Inkbrush, which is flailed around in mad arcs to fling ink all over. There are dozens of these weapons, and each is grouped with a pre-determined sub-weapon and special weapon pairing. Sub weapons usually fall into a variety of grenade-like items and can be used at any time, while specials require a meter to be filled to be used, and usually offer a brief opportunity for overpowered offense in a variety of forms. In short, there are a staggering number of options for gear and weapon combinations, guaranteeing a unique experience for every player.
Moving beyond gameplay, undoubtedly the presentation is the biggest thing about this game that caught my eye to begin with. Matches are frantic, sloppy messes of bright explosive color, vibrant ink exploding and flying all around. The Inklings themselves have quickly become one of my all-time favorite Nintendo character designs, and the supporting characters are just as memorable. Updates and news within the game world are presented by the Squid Sisters Callie and Marie, who double as pop-stars in the game’s universe. Annie, the headwear shopkeeper, is modeled after a sea anemone, with wild spiky hair and a tiny fish named Moe who swims around her head, taunting you as you shop. The environments never fail to impress, with a current total of sixteen stages to play in. Saltspray Rig is an oil rig, complete with moving cranes and a central highground to battle over. Camp Triggerfish, a personal favorite of mine, is a wooden structure built in the middle of a summer camp’s lake. All sixteen environments are beautiful, loaded with color and tiny details, like the jellyfish denizens of Mahi-Mahi Resort, lounging on inner tubes in the resort pool. The music is upbeat and catchy as hell, especially the theme that plays when counting down the final minute of every match.
In addition to all of these wonderful details, there is a solo story mode, featuring around two dozen stages that will test the player’s shooting, platforming and puzzle solving skills. A local VS mode does exist, offering one-on-one play, but it feels pretty tacked on. Also, at random intervals, Nintendo will host a 24 hour event called Splatfest in which players voluntarily divide into two massive teams and fight for supremacy in a full day of Turf Wars awesomeness. During these Splatfests, the entire aesthetic of the game changes, turning day into night and bathing everything in striking neon colors.
A few gripes I can’t help but mention are, again the tacked-on two-player mode, which basically just has both players competing to see who can shoot more balloons in an arena. Also, server and connections issues are not infrequent, causing dropped matches at least once per play session. Lastly, I fear for this game’s playability once the community dries up. After a year of activity, the community is still strong, and it’s easy to find matches quickly. However, what if I want to pop this game in and play it five years from now? There’s no real local multiplayer option, and no option to simply play matches against bots. I worry that fans of this game will be left with a shell of what it used to be, and no way of emulating the core experience.
Returning to the more positive side of things, one final point I can’t help but address is the strange sense of nostalgia I feel while playing Splatoon. Although I don’t have a history with shooters at all, this game reminds me so powerfully of my childhood. The reasoning for this is simple: it is a perfect distillation of a childhood during the 1990’s. Super Soaker-like weaponry? Nickelodeon slime-like ink? The entire game oozes the basic essence of water parks and SpongeBob Squarepants. It’s hard not to feel this way when the fanbase is constantly drawing Squidward graffiti all over the walls of the various locales. I’d wager anyone who experienced childhood, adolescence or their teenage years during the 1990’s will feel these thick waves of nostalgia, and find it easy to get sucked into the game’s vibrant world.
Who should play it? EVERYONE
To put things as simply as possible, Splatoon is the most fun I have had with a game in decades. I believe it to be the shining example of what can be done with the Wii U hardware, and the prime reason to buy the console in the first place. When I say that everyone should play it, I am not trying to make the statement that this is a perfect game. I am making the statement that I believe this game, solely on its own, is reason enough to fork over the cash to buy a console. Splatoon is a deluge of colorful, messy fun, and every gamer owes it to themselves to share in the experience