Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A kid in a special suit that can turn him into a paint swimming squid has to fight an underground group of evil octopuses to regain some electric fish that power his city. That, in a nutshell, is the plot of Splatoon, Nintendo’s first new IP in a very long while.
Really though, nobody considers Splatoon to be a game about the eternal struggle between squidman and octopus robots. No, Splatoon is in fact Nintendo’s foray into third-person shooters. What makes this game different to other third-person shooters is the fact that instead of predominantly shooting your enemy, you are also tasked with shooting the environment around you with your paint gun. Where other kid-friendly shooters have replaced bullets with corks and human enemies with animals or aliens, caused enemies to disappear completely when shot dead, and removed all notion of blood from what is still a violent genre, Splatoon throws most of that out the window with its bright fluoro colours and interesting array of somewhat non-violent weapons.
Let’s start with the single player portion of the game, as it’s quite different to multiplayer. After a lengthy introduction to the world of Splatoon, you’re explained what each area contains. There’s the costume shop, where you can change your look and weapon loadout for multiplayer. There’s also the entrance to the multiplayer world.
And finally, there’s some man in a sewer grate, who is introduced by the game as “someone you shouldn’t talk to”’ as the area he is in is quite dangerous. Well, it turns out that this is the entrance to the single-player portion of the game. Splatoon operates on the assumption that you’ll immediately ignore the fact that it’s ‘dangerous’ and jump right in, but announcing that this area is dangerous still presents the chance that some players will simply miss the single-player portion of the game. It’s a small chance for sure, but it’s still odd to not say “hey, this is the single player portion of the game, guys.”
Splatoon’s introduction is narrated by two of the most obnoxious teen-speak characters I’ve seen in a game. Granted, I’m not the target audience here, but the dialogue in Splatoon is really quite grating. Fortunately though, the dialogue is only what’s written on the screen with the voice acting done in a garbled ‘language’ that the squid people use.
What is unfortunate though, is the music. I understand that the idea is to imitate the Nickelodeon cartoons from the nineties, but it simply does not make for pleasant listening. I was really hoping that with a new IP would come a new Nintendo theme that would find its way into my head at any time of the day. Instead, the music will have you reaching for the volume control.
Another nineties feature used as a core element of Splatoon is the use of bright fluoro colours. If there’s one thing that makes this a must buy for Wii U owners, it’s the superb visual style on display here. The way the paint shines and shimmers is glorious to watch. The bright blues, yellows, pinks, and greens shown here makes you wonder why Nintendo didn’t take the leap into HD graphics sooner. Splatoon is a joy to look at.
Once you’ve progressed through the tutorial and managed to navigate your way to the single-player missions, you’re thrown into the first of five hub worlds. In these hub worlds are various portals that can be entered to allow access to levels that require you to collect electric fish (or Zapfish). Collect enough Zapfish in a hub world and a boss level appears. Knocking over the boss rewards you with the final Zapfish, which opens up the path to the next hub world. Adding to this bizarre universe are the portals to the levels. Well, not portals as such, but rather a kettle that sizzles and squeals when you pass through it. It’s nonsense, but enjoyable nonsense.
One of the main reasons to play through the single-player campaign prior to multiplayer is that it’s a varied and enjoyable campaign. Levels are never overwhelming, but instead combine interesting navigation methods alongside challenging enemies that gain in difficulty as you progress. In your humble human form, you’re a bit inept at moving around, so you have to rely on painting the ground in whatever bright colour you’ve been designated for that level. Shooting the path in front of you reduces your paint level, but hitting the left Z button causes you to dive into the paint as a squid, replenishing your paint levels. When diving into the paint, you can swim along any painted area. If you happen to end up on a surface where there’s no paint, you can still move as a squid, but instead you’ll look more like a fish out of water, flopping around.
Your health is also tied your paint, so to regain health you simply dive into the paint and you’ll be back up to a healthy level again. Why does diving into the paint revive your health? Is this the wacky in-game logic at work again? Well, not entirely. Enemies, just like yourself, shoot paint of a different colour at your little squid pal. Any other colour paint drains your health, so diving into your own colour paint helps wash that paint off you.
The single-player campaign sees the player traversing through a few different level types. One is reminiscent of Super Mario Galaxy in many ways, with the player navigating through floating platforms and tackling various kinds of enemies. Another is similar to the multiplayer mode, in which you have to progress through a level shooting other humanoid enemies in order to reach the precious Zapfish at the end. Finally, there is a mixture of regular shooters with a big boss at the end.
As mentioned, the enemy variations are great. There are some that throw paint bombs at you, covering the area you’ve just painted in their colour. There are some flying enemies who can shoot at you with their Splattershot Guns. In some of the later levels where there are invisible platforms, there are enemies who wash away the paint that you shoot, which means you have to really time your shots and path forward. It’s these challenging and varied enemies that, alongside the wonderful level design, makes the single player a real joy to play through.
Unlike the multiplayer levels, you’re only equipped with the one weapon type – the Splattershot Gun. This weapon is a bit like an assault rifle that shoots out paint pellets. However, if you have one of the three different Splatoon Amiibo’s, then that opens up some different challenges and allows for other weapons to be used in the single-player campaign. If the level design and enemies weren’t so enjoyable to play with, I’d have been a lot more annoyed by the fact that you’re restricted to one weapon – particularly because you’re restricted from the enjoyable paint roller that features as a challenge weapon for the applicable Amiibo.
Whilst the single-player campaign is short, I do like that fans can purchase what I like to consider physical Day One DLC in the form of those Amiibo’s to extend their single player fun. However, given that Splatoon is being promoted as the “must have” multiplayer shooter for the Wii U, it’s about time we had a look at that and see how it compares to the bundles of fun that the campaign delivers.
Let’s get the worst out of the way first of all. For a game promoting multiplayer so heavily, it’s sad to see that this section is not as fully fleshed out as it could be. This may be because Nintendo could be providing a reduced amount of content to reduce load on their servers, but it’s disappointing to see so few game modes at launch. Nintendo have said that throughout the year they will roll out new content for Splatoon, and going on the basis that there is usually only one entry in a first party series per Nintendo system, I would hope that means that the Wii U version of Splatoon will evolve into something better than what’s on offer here.
As it is, there are five maps that are rotated every four hours, depending on which region you’re playing in. For the regular battle, each round lasts for three minutes and that’s it – there’s no best of three rounds option or rematch, it’s simply three minutes to do your best and then it’s over. Regular battles consist of four versus four combat, with each team working as hard as possible to cover the game arena in their colour paint.
Covering the arena in your paint is exceptionally enjoyable, with a huge variety of weapons available. Starting off with the basic Splattershot Jr gun, you earn coins from playing rounds, which can be used to buy other weapons as well as clothing variations. The weapons vary from a variation on a sniper rifle in the Kelp Splat Charger to my personal favourite, the Splat Roller – a giant paint roller that covers as much ground as possible. Every weapon comes with a secondary weapon, which could be anything from a sprinkler head that sprays paint everywhere to a cyclone of paint. Unlike other shooters, there are no classes here, with each weapon instead taking the place of a traditional ‘class’.
Before slapping down your hard-earned digital dollars on a brand new gun that you may end up hating, you have the option of testing them out in an enjoyable shooting range. This helps avoid mid-match frustrations where the weapon you’ve selected doesn’t match up to what you’d hoped it would be. Unlike other multiplayer games, once you’ve entered the arena, you can’t change your weapon choice for that round.
Until you reach level ten, you’re stuck with one game mode. At level ten, ranked matches open up. Whilst this sounds great (because theoretically you should be playing against players of similar levels to you), I still found in the regular battle that as a level six player I was competing against level twenty players. I’m sure this is something that will be ironed out over the next few weeks, but it does make for some frustrating rounds.
Even though there is essentially only one game mode, there is still a lot of fun to be had. The three-minute time limit is both a blessing and a curse. Rounds feel like they could go for a couple of minutes more, as it’s all over just as you’re getting into it. That said, given the target audience is a youthful audience, I can see the short rounds making for some easy pass the controller couch multiplayer gaming.
The Wii U’s gamepad works wonderfully, with the touchscreen showing where the paint has been spread on the map. This also shows your team mates positions, which is wonderful because at any time during the match you can tap on a team mate and launch through the air to their location. There is even the option to shout out to your team mates to get them to swarm on your position. As there is no voice chat available, this is the closest thing to seeing that your team mate is in peril and needs help.
Sadly, there is no local four-player multiplayer, which is disappointing. There is a one versus one mode which is more of a training ground for the four versus four mode. This is still enjoyable, but is no match for the already slight multiplayer.
Finally, Splatoon includes one of the most enjoyable elements I’ve seen included in multiplayer game. It’s an idea that has been stolen from Bayonetta in a way, and that is the loading/waiting screen mini-game. Here, it’s a simple platform game where you navigate a humble squid to the top in an attempt to catch a bird. It’s nothing deep, but it makes the short wait between rounds enjoyable. As a further bonus, it saves your progress as well.
Overall, there is a lot of promise here in Splatoon. The single-player portion is well fleshed out, and is a supremely enjoyable campaign to play through. The multiplayer is a lot of fun, but feels like the foundation for what will be a really great entry into the Nintendo IP catalogue.
(The final score is an average between the score for single player – 9/10, and the score for multiplayer – 7/10.)