Splatoon is an inventive take on the whole shooter genre that encourages players to swap headshots for making a mess with paint. In this game you take control of the fashion conscious creatures known as Inklings who are an evolution of squids with the ability to take on human form. Armed with ink filled water pistols you must compete in 4-on-4 turf war battles, take on the nefarious Octolings, compete with your friends to pop balloons and…well that’s it really. Splatoon is easily one of the best games on the Wii U and is a great addictive experience, it’s just a little unfortunate that at the moment there’s not more to it.
The main bulk of the gameplay rests in its online multiplayer mode. In regular battle you are pitted in 4-on-4 turf war battles to claim as much ground as possible with a range of ink based weaponry. The niche element that Splatoon has over other shooters is that kills count for nothing other than buying your team a little extra time. The goal is to have more of the arenas covered in your ink rather than your opponents’. Covering the environment in as much of your own Ink also has an added benefit when taking on squid form as it allows players to move twice as fast, reach areas they couldn’t previously or even adopt stealthy strategies. This means players of all skill levels can participate and feel like they’ve made a contribution. Ranked battle has recently been unlocked but this is meant more for people who are after more of a challenge as the teams compete for possession of a single area. This mode is much faster and massively more frantic as both teams will be in close quarters at all times. As this is Nintendo’s first attempt at online gaming you might notice some little connection issues but they are mostly minor concerns. Besides you can always keep yourself entertained with a bit of Squid Jump while you wait!
Before charging headstrong into battle it’s best to equip yourself with your choice of mess making weaponry. There are 4 distinct categories of weapons which are shooters, blasters, chargers and rollers. Shooters are your common rapid-fire weapons, Blasters are devastating single shot tools, Chargers are effectively this game’s sniper type and Rollers spread large quantities of ink very quickly but are more like melee weapons. Reaching higher levels in online mode and defeating bosses in hero mode opens up your weaponry library in the Inkopolis store. To accompany these standard weapon categories are sub weapons which are mostly like grenades and special weapons which first require a certain amount of ink before using but can have devastating effect such as air strikes. Unlike other shooters that allow you to customise your loadout here you are restricted to the setups the game gives you. This is a little disappointing but the reason it’s been done is to help balance out the gameplay.
The central hub for the game is the Shibuya-esque city of Inkopolis. Here the player can enter the modes they wish to play and purchase weapons and gear. Clothing is everything to the Inkling, unless you’re ‘fresh’ you’re a nobody. Gear has a number of slots which grant certain perks like reduced ink usage and faster movement speed. Using money gained in online mode you can purchase gear through a number of shops run by unusual characters such as Annie, a human sea anemone with a clownfish in her hair. This level of customisation won’t tip the tides of battle in your favour but it does have a positive effect on your physical abilities. Taking a break from the frantic online battles to dress up your Inkling helps give the game a bit of variety and you really get some enjoyment out of making your character look as cool as possible.
Hidden beneath the hip city of Inkopolis the respected hermit Cap’n Cuttlefish awaits a new agent to help him fight the nefarious Octoling army and reclaim the stolen Zapfish. Luckily you’re just the Inkling for the job! Each level displays different ways of utilising the paint mechanic such as filling sponges with ink to make them rapidly expand or using it to reveal invisible platforms. The early levels start of as more of a tutorial as it eases you into gameplay and you don’t really get too much of a challenge until much later levels. That said, after a number of scenarios you are then faced with enormous bosses which tend to follow patterns of three hits to win but deciphering their techniques and weaknesses is quite a challenge. Unfortunately the whole mode only comprises of 30 missions amounting to 35 hours. It’s an enjoyable and at times challenging experience but it leaves you wanting more.
On offer is also a 1-on-1 mode for people playing on the same console. One person plays on the TV with a pro or classic controller and the other plays on the gamepad. In this mode you select your tool of destruction and compete with a friend to see who can pop the most balloons. This mode is more a practise scenario or for introducing new players to the series without dropping them in to the online carnage. You’re playing in the same arenas as online but because they are made for 8 players they feel empty and you spend a lot of time traveling from location to location with little going on in between. The mode has some potential so it’s also not really clear why they didn’t use this in the online modes.
Splatoon is one of the latest Nintendo games to utilise Amiibo functionality. Tapping one of the 3 types of Splatoon Amiibo onto the gamepad unlocks a series of levels from hero mode but throws in special criteria for completing them. The Boy Amiibo focuses on using the roller weapon, the Girl Amiibo challenges revolve around the charger weapons and finally the Squid Amiibo requires you to complete levels under time limits and with limited ink reserves. These scenarios do well to build on the single mode and completing them rewards players with more unusual pieces of gear for their Inkling. However when you consider the price of these small pieces of plastic and the fact that the Splatoon Amiibos can only be used with this game you’ve got to be thinking is it really worth it?
Splatoon is a delight to look at, character and environments are very well designed and the paint littering the battlefield has that nice glossy appearance. True some would say it’s overly bright and could have benefited from some extra details but this minimalistic approach really helps boost performance as levels take only seconds to load. The soundtrack is quirky being nice and fast paced during the frantic battles and switches perfectly to a more relaxed sound during downtimes. Its music is for everyone admittedly but it quickly fades into the background during brawls. Sound effects are possibly the highlight in terms of sound they are very satisfying from the rat-at-at of the ink pistols or that giant splash as you jump into the ink as a squid.
Splatoon is without a doubt one of the best games out there for the Wii U. The games unique paint mechanics make for great frantic, fast paced matches that anyone can get some enjoyment out of. Unfortunately it’s disappointing how little content there is at launch – with only two online modes and short hero mode it leaves you wanting more. Yet the quirky nature of the game makes it highly addictive and something that’ll keep you entertained for hours on end.
This review was originally published on the site GamersFTW which unfortunately has now been taken down.