Good Not-So-Clean Fun
At last year’s E3, Splatoon took the Nintendo booth by storm, splattering onlookers both near and far with its unique take on the squad based shooter, launching Nintendo into the genre with a fresh and innovative approach. Since then, Nintendo has added a few more brush strokes of information to keep our interest piqued. Now we have the game, and after cracking open the can and rolling on the paint for many hours, I’ve stepped back. I’ve enjoyed my chore, but find the coverage is thinner than expected.
Splatoon highlights an issue that is becoming more prevalent with modern gaming, where a developer promises post launch content that will eventually fill the product to respectable proportions, and will be free in the case of Splatoon . Yet we as reviewers cannot make assumptions based on what will come. We must critique the content we have at the time of release, and sadly for Nintendo, their latest intellectual property is lacking. Now granted, Splatoon has that Nintendo trademarked fun factor that will keep you playing, even with watered down features. I myself have enjoyed well over a hundred matches so far, and still wait impatiently after each battle for the next one to begin. However, there are also many liberties and choices removed from the players control that limit the amount of customization and ease of access the player has, all of which could have been easily integrated.
But let’s just dive into everything Splatoon has to offer. After a simple character creation screen where you choose the gender, skin tone, and eye color of your Inkling, you’ll be transported to the hub, Inkopolis. The central structure and multiplayer lobby entry, Inkopolis Tower, will immediately beckon you to the game’s most touted mode of play. But wait, first you must sit through the news report that reveals which two of the five maps are currently selected for the Regular matches and which two are for the Ranked matches. This selection changes every four hours, pinning you to a random pair of maps, no matter your preference. It’s an odd design choice, to say the least. Ideally, the stage selection should mirror the well-thought method used in Mario Kart 8, where each participant chooses their preferred stage, and then a roulette of sorts randomly picks from the selections.
Still, each map of the initial quintet has its own unique tint, with differing strategies required for each. As a four on four, each team begins on opposite ends of the field, with each side mirroring the other so as not to provide any advantage to one team. The task in Turf Wars, the Regular match mode, is to paint more of the ground than the opposing team, with the percentages posted after the match’s three minutes time limit by a fat feline named Judd. The weapons (all loaded with ink) are things like fully automatic rifles, sniper rifles, and massive paint rollers. These tools are used to both spread paint and splatter foes, though the latter has no effect on the score. It merely forces that player back to their respawn point.
Covering the most area requires plenty of strategy, from thoughtful pathfinding to holding the high ground to guarding areas already covered. Effective use of the sub and special weapons, mastering the quick movement in squid form to close the gap or retreat from enemies, and knowing when and which ally to Super Jump to for an effective strike, all become honed with practice. Yet despite the debate that has spurred since the Global Testfire demos, my opinion after many, many matches is that voice chat is non-essential in Splatoon . Whether it’s due to the condensed stage area, the map on the GamePad screen being updated in real-time, or simply the novel objective of Turf Wars, everybody seems to understand where to go and what to do in silent cooperation. If my typical starting path is being rolled ahead by an ally, I simply find a different path to cover. If the rest of the team is deep in enemy territory but a stealthy opponent makes its way to our side, I attempt to quell the encroachment instead of Super Jumping to the front line.
That said, a complete lack of communication restricts the players. I often wished I could wrangle up some of the level 10+ players to shift over to the Ranked matches, or could have a thirty-second powwow prior to the match beginning just to get a sense of each player’s tactics. Simple, preset dialogue captions could have easily accomplished this, as well as offered positive critiques and suggestions after a match.
Completing matches earns you coins and experience. The former lets you purchase ability buffing gear such as tops, footwear, and headgear, as well as weapons. The latter unlocks new weapons to purchase… that’s it. No character advancement or statistical boosts, just the ability to buy different weapons and play in Ranked matches once you’ve reached level 10 (which takes dozens upon dozens of Turf Wars to achieve). While I don’t feel character advancement needs to emulate other modern shooters, something beyond a simple weapon unlock would have been appreciated.
The singular mode in Ranked matches is Splat Zones, which requires teams to hold a specific area until their timer reaches zero. It’s a worthwhile variation to Turf Wars, but why is it limited to Ranked matches, and why is Turf Wars only in Regular matches?
There is also a single player offering that pits you against a variety of octopus enemies in a series of platform puzzling stages. The campaign can be breezed through in just a few hours, but does have some clever interactable environments such as expanding sponges, ink rails for speedy travel, and fan-propelled platforms. It’s a shame that none of these elements are found in the multiplayer maps, as they could have added even more variety to a team’s tactics. It’s also a shame that you are limited to the standard Splatter Shot weapon throughout the adventure. With only meager rewards transferred from the single-player mode, it feels more like a glorified tutorial and last resort should the multiplayer lobbies be light.
There are a few other notable gripes that should have been addressed prior to launch. Local play is limited to only two players. There is no way to cancel out of a multiplayer lobby except by shutting down the system (not even the Home button works). The ability slots on each piece of gear are random, thus forcing you to choose between style or substance. You can only choose your gear while roaming the tiny hub of Inkopolis. You may favor certain weapons on specific stages, so it would be nice to have a loadout option after the stage was selected but before the match begins, allowing you to choose between custom weapon and gear loadouts before each match. Seeing what your teammates have chosen would also eliminate to possibility of every ally wielding the same weapon. Finally, rage quitters should be replaced instantly with an AI controlled player, as losing just a single player makes it nearly impossible to win a match.
Despite these heavy criticisms, Splatoon is simply oozing with personality. The Inklings themselves are cleverly designed, the shopkeepers are an eclectic mix (the sharp-tongued clownfish named Moe that swims around the anemone hair of Annie, the headgear clerk, takes the cake), and the brightly colored palette certainly adds a distinct flair to Nintendo’s repertoire of first-party franchises. The music is also a unique and distorted blend, reminiscent of Earthbound at times, but full of quirks. The vocal jabbering also feels pulled from other Nintendo trademarks, very Animalese-like from Animal Crossing but with a hint of the original Star Fox blended in.
The final praise must go to the controls, as Nintendo has once again found that sweet spot (as it typically does). The game offers the traditional dual-stick format, but once you become acclimated to using the GamePad’s gyroscope for aiming, you’ll find it to be the most responsive choice. The speed of the matches and the speed of the characters are in perfect balance, making those three minute battles the ideal length. With only a few server glitches after countless forays, Nintendo gets a exemplary grade for keeping the action smooth and lag free.
I dove into Splatoon with high expectations and high hopes for the new Nintendo IP. But now, after playing over a hundred matches, I am torn between its pros and cons. For its merit, it has that simple, pure, fun factor that keeps me coming back, even after memorizing every nuance of each board. Yet with a sparse selection of maps, a single match type for each mode, and what feels like a dousing of turpentine on character customization and choice, in the end Splatoon feels like purchasing an expensive gallon of paint, only to crack open the lid and find just a quart of paint within. Nintendo promises to fill that can at no extra charge, but unfortunately that means day one purchasers will go home and start painting, only to feel like the job is half finished.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Nintendo has once again found a unique presentation for a new franchise. The details may be lacking, but the colors are anything but dull. 4.5 Control
Finely-tuned controls that have a slight learning curve, but reward the dedicated with honed skills and a mastering presence on the battlefield. 3.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
It’s quirky, off-tempo, yet oddly more subtle than I expected, considering the upbeat theme song we’ve heard countless times promoting the game. 3.0 Play Value
As much fun as Splatoon is to play, it’s hard to overlook its lacking content. 3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|