Splatoon is my surprise video game addiction of 2015. I’m all but ready to declare another game that came out around the same time as Splatoon, The Witcher 3, as my game of the year—and while Splatoon hasn’t knocked if off that pedestal I currently have a dilemma each time I sit down to play games because as much as I want to continue adventuring with Geralt, Splatoon’s highly-addictive online battles keep calling me. And currently, they’re winning.
If Nintendo hadn’t described Splatoon as a new take on shooting games when they first unveiled it, I’m not sure that “shooter” would have been the first genre to pop into my head when looking at it. Shooters are dark, gritty, intense and realistic—or at least that’s what the current trend says they have to be. Splatoon is colourful, fun and cartoony. There’s not a drop of blood to be seen, but there’s plenty of ink. It’s bold, it’s not afraid to take risks, and it brings a huge splash of colour to a genre that has become, quite frankly, dull and repetitive. Best of all, it’s not just different for the sake of being different. Nintendo has created a great new concept and executed it well. It’s a well-
crafted painted game that’s solid and tons fun to play.
Players assume the role of Inklings; hybrid beings who can switch between human and squid form at will. In human form they can hold weapons, run around on foot and shoot things, all while looking incredibly hip and fresh. In squid form they swim through ink, allowing them to traverse the cityscape far more rapidly than on foot and manoeuvre through tight spaces. Inklings fight with ink, not bullets, and switching to squid form also allows you to refill your ink supply if you run out of ammo.
Squid form adds some unique elements to the gameplay. There are some areas of the various maps that are only accessible if you switch form. Got a fence blocking your path? No problem. Splatter some ink on the ground under the fence and swim right under it. Likewise, if there’s a high wall in front of you, cover it in ink and swim to the top. The squids also add a strategic element when playing competitively, because you can hide in your own ink and then pop out to take the enemy by surprise.
When you fire up Splatoon for the first time, there is a short tutorial that takes you through the basic mechanics and controls of the game. This is a game that requires the Game Pad, and by default it uses the Game Pad’s motion control for moving the camera and aiming. This takes a bit of getting used to, and can be turned off but I recommend sticking with it for a while because you will probably get used to it. I turned it off for a while and used a more familiar setup with the right stick for camera control and aiming, but aiming felt clunky and was never as precise as I wanted it to be. With the motion controls active, you can still use the right stick to spin the camera and this combination allowed me to turn and aim very quickly, which is more suited to the fast pace of the game.
Like most shooters, the online multiplayer mode is where it’s all at, and Splatoon is no different. In fact, every time you turn on the game you’re forced to watch a news broadcast about the current rotation of multiplayer arenas as if it really wants you to go online to play. (This broadcast gets annoying pretty quickly). There are two types of online battles: Regular Battles and Ranked Battles. Ranked Battles aren’t unlocked until you reach Level 10, so you’ll be playing the Regular Battle at first. You have the option to jump into a battle with your friends if they’re playing, otherwise you can play with anyone.
A battle consists of 8 players, randomly assigned onto teams of 4. The Regular Battle is called Turf War, and the objective is to cover as much of the arena with your team’s ink as possible in the time limit. When you encounter enemy players you can shoot them to take them out of the game for a few seconds and send them back to their team’s spawn point. Each battle lasts for 3 minutes and the fast pace of the game makes it feel even shorter. This is where the addictive nature of the game comes in. As soon as a battle ended, win or lose I wanted to jump straight into another. I found myself saying, “Just one more. Just one more. It’s only 3 more minutes,” over and over until another hour had flown by.
When you unlock Ranked Battles, you play a slightly different type of game where your team’s objective is to control a specific area rather than the entire map. When your team has enough ink down, you control the area and a timer will start to count down. If it reaches zero, your team wins. The game itself goes for 5 minutes maximum though, so if neither team’s counter has reached zero then the team with the lower counter will win. You’re awarded or deducted points based on wins and losses, and your point count is translated into a rank. Players of similar rank are pitted against each other, whereas in Turf Wars there’s no matchmaking and it’s anyone vs. anyone (which honestly isn’t as big a deal as you think).
Both online modes are a lot of fun. Turf Wars is a fast-paced frenzy, while Ranked Battles are better fought with a bit of strategy. Playing online earns you cash as well as levelling up your character, and these allow you to buy different weapons and gear for your Inkling. There are some really fun weapons in the mix, and the gear gives your Inkling various abilities such as faster movement or shorter respawn time.
The only downside to playing online is that connection errors are pretty common. If you’re disconnected during a game, the game doesn’t end but your team loses a player and typically when it’s 3 vs. 4, the 4-player side will usually completely crush the other. Not only did I get disconnected somewhat regularly, I began to be able to tell if someone from either team had been disconnected (they show up with 0 or very few points at the end) based on how the game went. Being disconnected will also affect your rank (which is fair in case of deliberate drop-outs), so it makes me reluctant to invest a lot into my rank until Nintendo fixes this problem. I sometimes had connection problems while trying to enter battles too, however I never really had to wait more than 5 minutes before being able to play, and most of the time the battles started very quickly, adding to the overall fast pace of online Splatoon. If you have to wait a few minutes to enter a battle, there’s a Squid Jump minigame that you can play on the Game Pad.
If you don’t want to play online, you have the option of playing local 1 vs. 1 in the Battle Dojo, or the single player mode. Local 1 vs. 1 feels quite boring in comparison to playing online. One player uses the Game Pad as both screen and controller, and the other a TV and secondary controller. The objective of this mode is to burst more balloons than your opponent. In fact, when I got together with a big group to play the game we ended up going online and taking turns playing while the others watched. With each battle being quite short, it ended up being more entertaining than playing locally.
While the multiplayer is by far the most fun part of Splatoon, the single player campaign is pretty decent, if not a bit short. It gives the Inklings and their city Inkopolis a bit of story as you fight the evil Octarians to rescue the city’s power source. There are a lot of fun and creative mechanics in the single player mode that take advantage of your Inkling’s human and squid forms, such as ink-propelled rafts or sponges that get larger the more ink you fill them with (and shrink if they’re hit by enemy ink). The boss battles in particular are quite creative.
amiibo support is included in Splatoon, with three special amiibo produced for the game: Inkling Girl, Inkling Boy and Squid. These are the only amiibo that the game currently supports, but each adds several new challenges similar to the single-player levels to the game, with rewards of coins and new gear for completing them.
Overall, Splatoon is a ridiculously fun game and a welcome addition to the Nintendo stable. Don’t let the cartoony graphics or lack of violent kills make you pass off Splatoon as a game that’s only for children. With more modes planned to be added and plenty of people now playing online, it’s a must for any Wii U owner.
Splatoon is available now for the Nintendo Wii U.