Nintendo knows fun. This is evident in their latest venture into the online multiplayer-focused, Splatoon. For a long time many have criticised Nintendo for not bringing new IP’s to the table. Luckily the wait has turned out to be not only worthwhile but an entirely unique experience as well. Sadly not without a number of shortcomings.
While it is evident that Splatoon shines on the online stage it has a deceivingly enjoyable single player mode. This story driven adventure, entitled Hero Mode, sees the Octarians (the bad guys) invading the Inklings’ (the good guys) world known as Octo Valley. The first difference here is the absence of customisable weapon combinations. Instead you are given the stock-standard inventory which you need to use to ink your way through nearly 30 individual levels. The ‘limitation’ regarding the weapons has been purposely applied building environments that require the basics, which some more advanced weapons would fail to be used. Each level is accessed by first searching and discovering transparent portals that transport you to the assorted levels. You squirt some ink on these portals to bring it to life. Once transported to a given level you are tasked with making your way through multiple puzzle-based platforms to ultimately collect a Zapfish.
The basic mechanic and theme is that you are a child/squid hybrid that can attack and cover the level with ink. Once the surface area has been inked you can navigate quickly within the covered area while recharging your weapons with ink. Enemies in both the single and multiplayer modes attack with an opposing coloured ink that harms you when in contact, but can immediately be covered with your given, random, colour . It’s an interesting dynamic and works well in letting you choose between an attack or defense approach. You need to collect a specific number of Zapfish in a location before you progress to another area with the option of finding hidden Sunken Scrolls. You’ll wan these scrolls as it’ll expand on the games storyline. The absolute highlight of the Hero Mode are, without a doubt, the boss battles. Each one has been distinctively designed to attack (and be attacked) in a cleverly calculated manner. One word of warning though… the final boss is quite the scoundrel.
The single player Hero mode is outstanding and progresses in difficulty at a sufficient level but chances are that you aren’t going to buy Splatoon for a quick single player campaign which can be completed under 10 hours. You’re looking at purchasing this title for the multiplayer aspect. Considering Nintendo’s elaborate marketing crusade leading up to the games release, chances are it is the reason you’re interested in playing Splatoon. Turf War is the primary online mode that pairs you with three random players in a team of, yet again, three other random, players. In order for this to happen you need to sit through, questionably, one of the worst lobby systems available. Once you join the lobby there is no way to change your weapon combination or gear. This is more of an issue than one may think as when you are paired together with similar weapon types you are at a distinct disadvantage. There are no AI players that results in the lobby being debunked the moment 8 players aren’t available. This won’t be an issue during the launch period but down the line this could cause some concern. Lastly, and most importantly… the absence of online team voice chat… *insert facepalm here*. This immediately eradicates any way of knowing what strategy your teammates are following which in turn results in unnecessary chaos.
After sitting through the laborious lobby you finally get to do battle. The objective is simple; cover the levels surface area with more ink than the rival team. After each battle you are evaluated and leveled up based on your performance. Once you reach level 4 you are able to purchase and unlock a multitude of weapons and gear. Each weapon combo is comprised of a primary weapon, a sub weapon and a special attack. The combos are reasonably balanced pairing stronger primaries with weaker specials or subs. Your gear comes in the form of headgear, footgear and upper body gear. Different gear upgrades or adds various abilities. You can increase the recovery rate of your ink, add to your special duration or speed up your respawn time. There are over 20 abilities to pair allowing a substantial level of customisation which could, or couldn’t give you that much needed edge. The battles are fast, ferocious and generally quite stable once you get going. The gameplay is complimented perfectly by the gamepads features. Your aiming is handled by gyro movement which for the first 2 minutes of playing the game feels odd but this quickly becomes second nature. The good news is that the gyro can be turned off to use your standard analogue scheme. The touch screen is used to reference the stage design and the level of ink coverage. It also allows you to quickly spawn to any area providing a team mate is situated there. This technique becomes crucial once you reach level 10 that unlocks the more competitive Ranked Battles. Playing that unlocks a new mode based on those found in more conventional online shooters.
Nintendo might be less experienced in the online arena. This comes across in the absent online aspects that we’ve become accustomed to with other titles on rival platforms. This is a concern that stems some stern frustration. At the same time Splatoon delivers on all the other categories you’d expect from a Nintendo title. Nintendo knows charm. Nintendo knows smooth gameplay. Nintendo knows fun.