Splatoon Review (Wii U)
Nintendo is sailing in uncharted territory with Splatoon. A multiplayer, online-based shooter is not something I'd normally expect from the House of Mario, and Nintendo's frustrating refusal to fully accept the online gaming realm in recent years made a game like this seem even more like an impossible dream.
Yet here we are with Splatoon, and Nintendo's first shot into the dark is an admirable one. Splatoon features a lot of fun and silly ways to play online with friends, even if there are a few asinine limitations, and that formula is packaged within a solid single-player experience and a surprisingly robust customization package. If this is Nintendo's idea of what a multiplayer shooter should be, then I'm not about to argue with them.
Splatoon is at its core a third-person shooter, but there's not a bullet to be found in this inky universe. Colored ink is the name of the game, and I'm supposed to splat every piece of ground I walk on with it during multiplayer matches in the game's signature mode Turf War. I can shoot other players with my ink and force them back to the beginning of the level, but I won't score any points by racking up kills; the only way to win is to cover the ground with my team's colored ink.
Controlling the game is super simple: move the Inkling with one stick, look with the other stick (or GamePad-based motion controls), shoot with the right trigger, and turn into a squid-like creature and sink into ink to reload. Yeah, that last one won't exactly feel familiar to shooter enthusiasts, but the mechanic really feels like taking cover and reloading all at once. Don't be fooled by the character's disappearance though, as Inklings are still vulnerable to attack even when in the squid stage. As long as I keep moving while shooting the earth around me with ink, I'm able to stick around for a while during a match.
I do stress covering the ground with said ink, because covering the walls has zero benefit to the team. I learned this the hard way, as I thought I'd try something different while the rest of the teams were constantly smashing into each other in the middle of the stage. I quickly realized I was wasting my time.
That's one of the beautiful things about Splatoon, however; it allows me to try different approaches and ideas without major consequences outside of losing that one particular battle. I still gain experience for a loss; I still earn rewards as I normally would; I just hear different music at the results screen. This makes for a friendly approach to what otherwise is a fairly strategic shooter, and that friendliness will entice a lot more players to try the game out than it will keep new players away.
Those that don't want to jump right into the multiplayer offering can get their bearings in the single-player Octo Valley levels, which are little more than obstacles courses for testing out the game's mechanics against various cephalopod-like enemies. Every once in a while I found myself in a stage that was basically a Turf War straight from the multiplayer, only I was fighting AI opponents all alone. I find that playing single player vastly improved my multiplayer performance, especially those miniature Turf Wars, as I'd become more comfortable with button placement and controlling my Inkling as the chapters passed.
The Octo Valley single player never pushed my skills to their limits, but there were a few times I had to plan my attack effectively and strike quickly in order to proceed. One enemy in particular, a small mechanical creature that cleans up splattered paint and cannot be killed, always seems to be placed in my direct traveling path for maximum annoyance. Boss fights are the only real challenge, even from the massive Thwomp-like block that was the first boss. For a first boss he's a real piece of work, using the squid's wall-climb ability against me rather effectively. The single-player is challenging when it needs to be, but for the most part it's a great tutorial for the world of Splatoon and what I'll be doing in multiplayer matches.
Perhaps most impressive about Splatoon is its robust customization options, all of which are made available through the Inkopolis home hub. This is a multi-tiered city area with a handful of shops where I can buy new clothes, weapons, etc. The selection changes daily, and each piece of clothing I can choose gives me some kind of stat boost during matches. The combinations I've come up with as I've tried on different pieces of gear are insane, and I don't think I've ever scratched the surface of how many items are available.
My main loadout consists of clothes that increase the size of my ink tank and an automatic ink shooter, so I can get more ink on the field in a faster time. If I wanted to try the blitz approach I could use the powerful Roller (the game's version of close-range combat) and roll wide swatches of ink throughout the map while equipping my Inkling with health-increasing clothes, turning him into a tank of sorts. I could also try clothes that decrease reload time and increase moving speed, making my Inkling a fast and nimble adversary in Turf Wars. It's all up to me, and the choices are seemingly endless. These customization options bring a whole new level of strategy to an already strategic game, as now I have to account for what the other team is wearing let alone what they're shooting.
The connection issues that have plagued online games forever still exist here, but I feel I can attribute it more to a lack of players than slow or unresponsive servers. Every match I did play had zero or very little lag, and the only time I'd fail to enter a match was due to not having the required eight players. The technical side seems to be up and running smoothly, but we'll know for sure once the game launches.
I find myself impressed with Splatoon, for underneath that cartoony and childish facade is a deep and fun multiplayer shooter with multiple ink-splattered maps, weapons for waging Turf Wars, and clothing sets to boost my abilities. Turf War is a refreshing approach to multiplayer, turning the focus from the enemies in front of me to the world around me providing ample enjoyment during these inkfests. Those looking for a more advanced shooter experience on Wii U have it now, but it's not so advanced that younger players won't be able to jump in, too. Splatoon is the shooter for everyone, and everyone will have a blast in Inkopolis.
This review was completed with a digital copy of Splatoon provided by the publisher for the Wii U.