Splatoon - Wii U Review

Why Do People Love Nintendo? This.

Splatoon is like no other online shooter. Nintendo

Pros: Original game mechanics, terrifically fun, solid single and multiplayer, great presentation.
Cons: Weak local multiplayer, unnecessary  informational newscasts.

I have never been a big online multiplayer gamer. Sure, it can be fun to play on hour or so of online Halo if there’s time to kill, and I am sometimes intrigued atypical multiplayer approaches, but I always prefer single player.

Yet I love going online in Splatoon.

I play hour after hour. I want to go back and play right now, but I should probably right this review first.

Developed and published by: Nintendo
Genre: Action/Adventure/Shooter
For ages: All
Platform: Wii U (exclusive)
Release Date: May 29, 2015


The Basics: The World’s First Paintball/Swimming Game

At its most basic, Splatoon is a paintball game, although one in which the goal in multiplayer is not to shoot your enemy but rather to paint the battleground. Your avatar is a kid with a paint weapon, but once the paint is laid down you can turn into a squid and swim through that paint, allowing you to move faster and jump further. You can even swim straight up a painted wall to get a better vantage point. Swimming also refills your paint gun.

There are a variety of weapons, including machine guns, sniper rifles that when charged for a moment will send a long stream of paint along the battleground, and paint rollers that cover wide swathes of ground.

The weapons all have paint physics, which means those used to shooting someone a hundred feet away in Call of Duty will have to adjust to a gun with a range of 20 feet.

You aim by tilting the gamepad, which works beautifully, although you you can switch to standard analog stick controls if you prefer.

There is also a secondary weapon, which could be a paint bomb or a paint shower that can block a passage. Once you’ve laid down enough paint you have brief access to a super-powered special weapon like a paint bazooka or a missile that can splat a big area anywhere on the map.

While the paint you are shooting is a warm ocean, the differently-colored paint of your enemies is a toxic goo. Your feet stick to it like tar when you walk, and swimming in it will kill you in seconds.

Online Multiplayer: A Very Colorful Battle for Supremacy

While there are other modes, Splatoon was originally conceived as an online multiplayer game. Players are divided into two teams of four and assigned a color and a map.

While you can blast opposing team members with paint to make them respawn at the starting point, the ultimate goal is simply to cover the ground, making avoiding confrontation can be a useful strategy. One way to escape quickly is by touching the icon of a fellow team member on the gamepad’s touchscreen map, causing you to make a huge leap to that spot. Unfortunately, by the time you land your teammate might be gone and his position overrun by enemies.

The map allows you to see how the battle is progressing and decide where to put your efforts.

It also lets you see who’s winning, although it is not uncommon for the battle to turn in the last 30 seconds.

Combat is crazy and chaotic, with flying paint, exploding bombs, paint sprinklers, missiles, and more all ravaging the arenas. Yet, for all the chaos, I always felt I had a grasp on what was happening and what my options were.

As you play you gain points that will increase your rank, with a new expert mode opening up at rank 10. Ranked mode was rather underpopulated on the press server I was on, and I only managed to find a game once, in which players had to take and hold a small portion of the map.

The level of play was decidedly higher, offering a place for those who become too good at the basic game.

Single Player: Nintendo Gives Their All to the Secondary Mode

When Splatoon was first announced, it was unclear whether there would even be a single-player campaign. Yet that campaign is as beautifully designed as online play.

While multiplayer is all about painting the ground, single player is an action-adventure platformer devoted to exploration and blasting attackers.

Your enemies are Octarians, a race of suction-cup-armed creatures who fire guns, throw bombs, or just barrel at you (very slowly if you’ve painted their path). The trickiest are octolings, aggressive humanoids who can also have a squid form. There’s not much story to the game; they’ve stolen creatures known as Zap Fish and you need to get them back. Along the way you’ll be able to find new weapons that can be used in online play.

Levels often have a particular game-mechanic theme, like rotating platforms you will need to paint so you can swim from one side to the other, or small cubes that expand when painted, or floating platforms moved by shooting paint at propellers.

From time to time you will have a boss battle. These are terrific, their ingenuity reminding me of Legend of Zelda bosses, as when you must paint and then climb a boss.

If you buy any of the three Splatoon Amiibos you can replay single player missions using different weapons, like the paint roller. This can create some interesting challenges, and every once in a while you get a prize, like a hat that reduces damage slightly.

The Downside: Forgettable Local Multiplayer, Unskippable Newscasts

Nintendo often has a few annoying things in their games, and Splatoon is virtually free of those. The only serious exception being an annoying newscast in which two perky girls tell you which of the game’s arenas are currently available online. There is no need for this big production, since a button on the gamepad will give you the same information in an instant, but you can’t skip these, and if you’re playing when the game switches arenas, as it does every few hours, you have to sit through the newscast again. I don’t even watch; I just keep hitting the A button until it’s over.

Eager to create a great online multiplayer game, Nintendo put little effort into something they’re generally known for, local multiplayer. Local multiplayer is 1 on 1 and involves shooting balloons, with one player using the gamepad and viewing the game through the touchpad while the other uses an alternate controller and the TV. As I said when I previewed the game, it wasn’t worth trying to talk a friend to come over to play that.

I’ll also mention that once you are in the lobby waiting for a game to begin (and due to the low number of people playing on the press site that was a long and sometimes fruitless wait) there is no way to exit short of turning off your console. This may explain why sometimes you discover when a game starts that one team member is just standing there not moving the whole time; they probably got impatient and ran off to the bathroom. It would be nice if you could use this time for switching weapons; you have to leave the lobby altogether if you want to change your gear.

Many people have complained about the absence of voice chat, but that doesn’t bother me. Still, it might be nice to chat in the lobby during a long wait.

The Presentation: Glorious in Every Way

Nintendo is great at dressing up their games, and Splatoon is particularly glorious. The online arenas are interesting concret and metal spaces covered with posters and graffiti and soon, of course, bright, shyny paint. The kid-squid characters have a hipness generally absent from Nintendo games, down to the stylish shirts, hats, and shoes you can purchase that will increase your damage or the speed your ink tank refills.

Equally wonderful is the game’s score, which ranges from a mellow reggae tune played in the lobby (during which time you can play a little squid-hopping mini-game I soon tired of) to a sort of weird funk music for single player to the squealing rock of online battle.

The Verdict: One of the Best Things Nintendo Has Ever Done

Splatoon is like no other online shooter out there, but that’s no surprise from the company whose idea of a racing game is Mario Kart and whose version of a Real Time Strategy game is Pikmin. Splatoon follows the Nintendo formula of taking something you thought you knew and turning it into something you’d never have imagined. In the process, they have created the only online game that I want to keep playing even after I’ve reviewed it.