By Will Whitehurst / June 26th, 2015
All of Splatoon’s action happens in the city of Inkopolis. First, the game makes you choose your Inkling’s gender, skin color and eye color, and then, after a basic tutorial, you’re off to this big city. There are many weapons for you to acquire, and you unlock more of these as you level up. Some of the more common types include: midrange guns, such as the Splattershot, as well as my personal favorite, the Aerospray MG; rifle-type weapons, such as the Charger and Splatterscope; and melee weapons, like the infamous Splat Roller and Inkbrush. Each weapon type has its own good and bad points, but Splatoon definitely likes to keep things balanced. All weapons also have secondary weapons, such as bombs and sprinklers, as well as special weapons, like Inkstrikes (surface-to-air ink missiles) and Bubblers (shields). In addition to the weapons shop, there are three other shops in Inkopolis’ Booyah Base, each selling different types of gear. You can deck your Inkling out with different headgear, shirts and shoes, all of which have randomized status upgrades that can give them an edge. If you see any other Inklings in Inkopolis with some gear that you like, you can get it from sketchy black market dealer Spyke for a higher price.
Right now, there are two major multiplayer modes in Splatoon, Turf War and Ranked Battles, with more modes being prepared for release in the coming months (and best of all, they’ll be free for anyone who owns the game!) Just about every hour on the hour, two lovely ladies named Callie and Marie host Inkopolis News, a bulletin that tells players the current stages for these two modes. And then, it’s time to get to work. Splatoon’s modes are not scored like your traditional shooter. It’s all about marking your territory with your team’s paint. Sure, the game displays your kill/death ratios at the end of each individual match, but there is no average K/D, and, aside from the rudimentary C- to A+ system in Ranked Battles, there is no win-loss record. Instead, your individual score is what makes you level up, and that is the score you need to pay attention to.
In Turf War, you and three other players paint the town blue, or orange, or lime green, or whatever color your ink is, while fending off your rival team of four and their ink color. After 3 minutes have passed, the roly-poly cat Judd examines the battlefield and crowns the team with the highest percentage of ink on the battlefield the winner, with each team member getting a 300-point bonus on their individual score. Ranked Battles get a bit more complicated, and most (at the time of this writing) involve teams taking control of certain zones, called Splat Zones, for 100 seconds, a timeframe that can be interrupted at any time. The team which is in control of the Splat Zone for the most time, counting down to 0 seconds, wins the match. Turf Wars are more fun for the sake of fun, while Ranked Battles are more competitive. So far, if you fall in either of these camps, Splatoon has you covered.
The single-player campaign in Splatoon is far from the afterthought it could have easily been. In the campaign, accessed by going under a manhole cover in your Inkling’s squid form, you are whizzed off to Octo Valley. The Octarians, a rival species to the Inklings, have stolen the Great Zapfish, an electrified fish that controls the power in Inkopolis. The benevolent Cap’n Cuttlefish hires you as Agent 3, and your mission is to save all of the Zapfish from the Octarians. Splatoon’s 27 levels and five boss fights are all just as well-designed as any Mario title, but you just can’t beat the satisfaction that the Inklings’ gun gives you. Indeed, as with other Nintendo games, there’s a special item to collect: in this case, you get special research notes about culture before Inklings came to be. And the final boss fight will surprise anyone who would dare call this game “casual.” It echoes The Wonderful 101 with its ludicrous action and hilarious dialogue, and puts everything players learn in fantastic perspective. No spoilers, but it’s among Nintendo’s very best boss fights.
Finally, there’s the Battle Dojo co-op mode. Like Hyrule Warriors before it, one player uses the GamePad, while the other uses the TV and a Pro Controller. The object of Battle Dojo is to pop as many balloons as you can, and this count can be lowered by getting killed. The player with the highest score wins. There is not much else to say about Battle Dojo in Splatoon. It is a fun diversion, but the basic nature of it is noticeable compared to the intricacies in the multiplayer and single-player campaign modes.
Splatoon‘s amiibo integration, a sort of extension to the single-player campaign, is pretty good as well. I picked up the amiibo 3-pack with my copy, and while the figures are awesomely designed and unlock some pretty cool stuff, they are by no means required for the whole experience. The bonus challenges are stages from the single-player campaign, but change things up depending on what amiibo you use. The Boy and Girl amiibo unlock challenges with different weapons (the Roller and Charger, respectively), while the Squid’s challenges involve set conditions, such as ink and time limits. Successfully completing these stages can get you new equipment, as well as extra NES-style minigames for you to play on the GamePad, either in the lobby while you wait for a match, or at the arcade machine in Inkopolis. If Squid Jump isn’t good enough for you, you might want these, yet you’re matched up so quickly most of the time that you’ll barely have enough time to play them.
The picture Splatoon paints is not always a perfect one, but the negatives are fairly minor here. Unlike most, I do not miss the lack of voice chat—on the contrary, I think that particular feature is abused way too much in other shooters, and it also makes you think carefully about how to approach each stage. I also previously mentioned the occasionally finicky gyroscopic controls (which, again, can be turned off if you’re more into full analog movement) and the rather rudimentary feeling of the Battle Dojo mode.
Most of the key issues in Splatoon are of the online variety. The game rarely lags, but gets quite annoying when it does. When your ink doesn’t hit the ground, that’s your first sign. My Wii U, which usually plays well with others, has booted me off several times. Leveling up takes a lot of time if you’re new at the game, and there are times in Turf War where players who are level 20 are matched with those at a lower level—yet, unlike the more hardcore Ranked Mode, Turf War is not based entirely on skill. Also, the amiibo stock problems going on right now have hit Splatoon the hardest as well, and there really isn’t much variety with the game’s level selection at this point, but both of those things will probably change in the coming months.
Aside from those quibbles, Splatoon lives up to its lofty reputation as the aggressively hip new kid on the online shooter block. The almost constant upgrades, free DLC and promises of long-lasting support are all reason enough to not be skeptical of this game. In the time that I played the game for this review, Nintendo added more than several new weapons and stages, as well as one new mode. That’s Valve-level commitment right there. Here’s hoping this incredibly fun and addictive shooter will continue keeping me on my toes, and that Splatoon will always, as Callie and Marie might say…
Review copy and amiibo were acquired by reviewer.
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