- Format: Wii U
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Nintendo
- Players: 1-2 (offline), 8 (online)
- Site: http://splatoon.nintendo.com/
- Game purchased by the reviewer
A certain corner of the internet criticises Nintendo relentlessly. This dark and smelly corner is full of people who for some reason believe that Nintendo keeps rehashing the same ideas, and shout about it while putting their pre-orders in for Black Ops 3 and FIFA 16. These same individuals, identified by their sweat stains in much the same way one might identify a leopard by its spots, have sneered and guffawed at Splatoon (a brand new IP) constantly since it was first announced. This corner is full of people who will never play Splatoon – and is therefore full of people missing out on one of the best, most refreshing games of the year.
You step into the squishy shoes of an Inkling, a girl or boy who can transform into a squid at will for some reason. Weapons shoot or spread ink. As a squid you can dive into ink of your colour on any surface, swift of movement and awkward of detection. Any other colour ink will not only refuse to allow you to submerge, it will also hurt you in both squid and human forms. The basic idea across all modes, therefore, is to use ink as both a weapon and a way to facilitate/hinder movement.
The ‘Octo Valley’ story mode should only take a few hours, but it’s much more than an afterthought. It’s not quite a fully-fledged campaign, either; it is perhaps best described as a collection of carefully designed assault courses with a sprinkle of boss fights. The final fight aside – which is challenging, but verging on frustrating at times – it’s generally a fairly simple trip. No less fun for it though and, in fact, Octo Valley is a veritable treasure trove of great ideas. There are several elements which would improve the online maps still further and/or could easily be used to create a brilliant co-op mode. If any of this will come in future DLC remains to be seen.
There’s an offline competitive mode, but it must be said that this is extremely disappointing. It’s limited to just 1v1 (one person using the TV, one the GamePad) and is a sort of tug-of-war of points. Your chosen arena will have balloons pop into existence now and again, and bursting these balloons earns you points. Being ‘splatted’ (i.e. killed) by your opponent on the other hand loses you points and, of course, the player with the most points when time is up is declared the winner. It’s one way to kill time if you have nothing better to do, but it’s easily the weakest part of the package. And now that we’re done with it here, let’s move on to the strongest part; online battles.
The main meat of the game is to be found in a Regular Battle. The goal is simple: when time is up, be part of the team with the most ink covering the map to win. That’s it. Splatting opponents can be a good tactical decision (if somebody keeps sniping teammates, for example), but taking somebody out doesn’t give your team points of any kind. It doesn’t even earn you XP. You level up purely based on the amount of ink you cover maps in across your career (regardless of any of your ink opposing teams cover up). You also get a bonus bunch of points for winning. Bottom line: Help your team, you help yourself; and vice versa. Levelling up itself unlocks new gear (which all carries buffs of some kind) and weapons to buy.
Some of the weapons on offer are vague approximations of bog-standard online shooter fare such as submachine guns and sniper rifles, but none are cut-and-paste ideas that substitute ink for bullets. The more you play, the more the advantages and disadvantages of each weapon stand out. Some are better suited to defensive play, some offensive, and some are more balanced. They have different rates of ink consumption too, and the only way to regenerate ink at a half-decent speed is to submerge yourself under your team’s ink somewhere. In fact, we found ourselves switching and experimenting with different weapons in Splatoon more than in any other online game. And therein lies a niggle.
As with so many Nintendo games, Splatoon has the appearance of being designed by a team of mad geniuses who are completely unaware of the existence of other videogames. This (as usual) leads to fantastic art design and the sort of bold, unashamed inventiveness that most other companies can only dream of; but it also means that some established traditions players are accustomed to – and very much want – are ignored. You can not change weapon loadouts, for example, without leaving the current game lobby. Speaking of weapon loadouts, these are fully uncustomisable. They come in sets (a main weapon, a sub weapon, and a special weapon charged by covering a large area with ink) and you like the sets or you lump them. You don’t get to vote on a map, either; maps are rotated throughout the day, and there are only two at a time on offer.
But, back to online. Using a combination of your weapon and your squid form to climb walls, hide, and move quickly makes for a great many surprise attacks, sneaky ground coverages, and close-shave escapes. The ability to tap a teammate on the real-time GamePad map and leap straight to their location is a fantastic idea. The recently unlocked Ranked Battles are a Domination-style mode that, while fun, would be greatly improved if the area/s for control changed during a match rather than staying static.
With new weapons and maps still being unlocked on a regular basis at time of writing, not to mention the general addictiveness of online battles, Splatoon will last you a long, long time. The simple idea of extending your domain as far as possible can make you surprisingly territorial; and that’s why you’ll come back again and again.