It’s time to let your tentacle hair down and splatter enemies in vibrant style with Nintendo’s brand new IP for Wii U. With its super slick battles combined with ingenious puzzle elements and gameplay, the third-person shooter Splatoon is deeply engrossing, addictive and injected with a tank full of fun.
Developed by Nintendo EAD’s team, Splatoon is your inner child’s dream come to fruition. It’s messy, colourful and gorgeously fluid in control. The third-person shooter is a sweet blend between US and UK-based TV shows such as Fun House or Double Dare – from the late ’80s and early ’90s – and the popular activity Paintball. Though if you’d rather be pain-free and always wanted to be gunged on Nickelodeon, Splatoon is as close as you’ll get to the action. Perhaps it’s my own inner child speaking but splattering enemies and painting the turf with ink is so satisfactory and fabulously fun, I could play all day.
Though online play is at the heart of the game, Splatoon also has a solid single player campaign which features 27 levels of platform magic. Playing as either a boy or girl Inkling, with adjustable skin and eye colour changes, you are tasked with bringing back the stolen Zapfish and must fight the Octarian Army using both humanoid and squid forms. By shooting coloured ink from your weapon, you can exterminate enemies at the push of a trigger. And turning into your squid form not only replenishes your ink tank, but it also enables players to move with stealth, jump higher and avoid enemy detection.
While it will never follow in the footsteps of Nintendo’s famed plumber – nor does it intend to – with its difficulty scale, the shooter showcases Mario-esque elements in style and gameplay. Sunshine jokes aside, players can ink invisible platforms to reveal walkways, slide fluidly through ink rails, blast rotating propellers to reach higher areas, hunt down keys to open launch pads, and even climb upon ink-soaked, expanded sponges.
Single player mode’s Octo Valley also serves up some interesting characters in the form of Cap’n Cuttlefish, bearing similarities to Kapp’n from Animal Crossing – though sadly without the melodic tunes – and notable bosses throughout the six worlds. Boss weaknesses are, however, painstakingly obvious which dilutes battle in light of its often chaotic environment. Players also have the opportunity to collect orange squid eggs in order to upgrade weapon damage rate, their ink tank and purchase an assortment of bombs. Discovering sunken scrolls throughout single player mode is also a great way to add to your private weapon collection during online battles. Simply take your blueprints to Sheldon in the weapons shop to unlock new and enticing guns or rollers to try before purchasing.
Adding to Splatoon’s puzzle elements in Octo Valley are various levels featuring Octolings and Octo Inkstrikers. While splattering the Octarian Army is insanely fun, players will need to keep their wits about them when confronting more difficult opponents. Octolings can move through ink, as well as use artillery, and Octo Inkstrikers seize the moment to throttle Inklings in one fell swoop. It’s in these stealth-favoured levels that Splatoon shines the brightest, often requiring much more thought than the standard splat-and-go approach.
Aside from single player mode, the third-person shooter also features local co-operative play in the Battle Dojo, amiibo compatibility which unlocks extra challenges, and four gear shops in the central hub, Inkopolis. In the Battle Dojo, two players fight against each other and compete to win the most points by shooting balloons. While one player controls their character via the Wii U GamePad in off-TV mode, the other must use an additional controller – such as a Wii remote or a Wii U Pro Controller – to play on screen. With only five areas to battle in currently, local co-op is highly limited and, unfortunately, one of the game’s downfalls. On the other hand, Inkopolis’ shops alternate their stock on a daily basis, so if you’re looking to keep up with the trends and upgrade your defences with hats, shirts and shoes there’s plenty on offer to do so.
Of course, the real meaty section of Splatoon lies within its online battle modes, including Turf War from launch, and Ranked Battles. In Turf War, you’ll play with up to eight players in four-versus-four online matches, where you must ink the most ground in your team’s colour for a chance to win. How many points you individually score will depend upon two different factors; how much ground you ink and how many of the opposite team’s players you manage to splat. Points accumulated will also level up your character, gain you in-game money to use within Inkopolis and allow you to unlock different weapons per level gained.
From launch, you’ll be able to play up to five different stages including Walleye Warehouse, Arowana Mall, Urchin Underpass, Saltspray Rig and Blackbelly Skatepark. While each area has its quirks, they also provide you with strategic routes depending on which weapon is chosen. And with Nintendo adding extra stages and free DLC after the game’s launch, stages are likely to be varied enough without becoming monotonous.
However, there are considerable flaws in online play; a lack of match customisation is a particular sore spot with sessions locked to three minutes before you’re back in the lobby waiting once again. Plus, the five maps available from launch reduce to just a measly two, which are switched out every four hours. It’s tiresome when your 50/50 chance results in a string of battles on one map mode. But in order to combat the waiting times, Nintendo has added the retro arcade game Squid Jump to alleviate frustrations. It’s a neat extra, particularly when a blank screen is the easier choice.
If you’re itching to play some challenging matches, ranked battles are certainly your calling card. These strategic battles won’t be open from launch, however, you’ll be able to fan the flames of war once enough players have reached level 10. In Splat Zones, players fight against each other to take control of specific zoned areas. Again, there’s a set time limit which cannot be customised, and it’s particularly irksome during such battles when they can be over at the drop of a hat. Imagine shaking a can of pop or soda, watch it fizz a little, and then hand it over to the nearest person. Swap the pop for ink, and it’s bottled chaos, though perhaps without the angered face.
As much as I love Callie and Marie’s name choices, their introductory regular and ranked battle announcements are far from fresh. Mashing the A button like you’re rocking out at the Pokemon Center is the only option here as there’s no skip button, but at least the duo are much more interesting in design – apologies to the numerous Nurse Joys. With no voice chat in the lobbies or even between friends, Splatoon becomes a little ghostly, particularly since online co-operative play isn’t even an option with the Wii U GamePad as the only playable controller. It’s a missed opportunity from Nintendo on both parts, given the game is a few tentacles short from perfection.
With an intense online battle mode and free content updates promised from Nintendo, Splatoon is quite possibly the most entertaining third-person shooter you’ll play this year. Its varied though short single player campaign, coupled with a great control scheme and puzzle elements, gives players an adequate breather from online battles. So stock up on extra calamari, as you’ll be making ink squid rings in no time.
Please bear in mind that this review was written and based from a pre-launch set up, specifically for review purposes. As Splatoon is primarily based online, the final score may change when the servers are fully functional and when additional DLC has been released.