Splatoon – Review
Splatoon is Nintendo’s first new IP in 14 years, That’s quite some time to ride the coat tails of arguably the most beloved characters in video games. And although a fair chunk of the games Nintendo have dropped in the past decade and a half have been great, it’s nice to see some new characters emerge from the old stable.
It’s also an absolute pleasure to play on all accounts. There aren’t too many 3d platformer/shooters that I can think of off the top of my head, let alone ones that come across as focused and as well executed as this. Everything about Splatoon feels quintessentially ‘Nintendo’ to me. Splatoon provides a fantastic single player mode in the form of ‘Octo Valley’ that introduces new gameplay mechanics over the course of the campaign, as well as a team based competitive multiplayer mode in ‘Splat Zone’. There is also the ‘Battle Dojo’, which is a 1v1 local competitive mode, allowing two friends to verse each other with one using the Wii U gamepad and the other using a controller and the TV.
I’ll start with the multiplayer, as it feels like this is at the core of what Splatoon wants to be. Territory control is main objective rather than the usual ‘kill everything’ seen in most online multiplayer games, and it’s a very welcome change of scenery. Both unranked and ranked matches are offered, though ranked matches only unlock once you reach level 10 via playing unranked games. Each mode has a two map rotation that changes fairly regularly, and has become more varied in the weeks since release thanks to free map add ons that have been released online. The matches themselves are highly colourful affairs, with most of the map being covered entirely in ink by the end of the 3 minute round. The team with the highest percentage of ground covered takes the spoils, as well as the extra XP that comes with the win.
You gain XP not just by winning matches, but through your actions in the game as well. Gaining XP increases your characters level as well as unlocking new items and weapons for you to buy and equip before each round. Each of these upgrades are purchased via the shops that appear in the games hub world, which is essentially an in-game main menu. In the hub world you’ll see other player avatars wandering around, as well as the occasional Miiverse post (which by the way have stepped up their game, going from mildly amusing to straight up bonkers).
Splatoon is one the most graphically impressive games on the Wii U, hands down. The liquid simulation of the ink is spot on and super satisfying. Shooting a giant balloon till it explodes in a shower of colour and covers everything within a 10 metre radius scratches an itch I didn’t know I had, all while looking superb. The special attacks that unlock after reaching a certain score like the inkstrike and killer wail also look massive and imposing when unleashed near you on the map.
You can transform into a squid at any point during the match, allowing you to swim through your own teams ink as well as refilling your ink tank. It’s also possible to stay unseen while swimming as a squid, adding the possibility of using stealth to approach and stalk opponents. It felt pretty great to jump out of the ink Rambo-style and blast a couple of unsuspecting enemies in one fluid motion.
Octo Valley is the game’s single player mode, and it features some of Nintendo’s very best level design. One particular highlight involves invisible platforms and giant balloons, as well as some clever boss fights to cap things off. Early on things feel little more than an extended tutorial but as you progress the depth of the game’s design is revealed, and it’s just great.
I can’t really say the same for the 1v1 mode. Each match is a game of shoot the balloons, highest score at the end wins. There isn’t anything particularly rewarding outside of playing against a friend on the same console. I do wish instead they’d explored the idea of a cooperative mode against bots, or something similar to that.
Its inclusion doesn’t detract from Splatoon in any way, although the exclusion of any kind of co-op mode does leave me wondering if it’s absence is merely an oversight (which I doubt if I’m honest) or if the tech just pushed the hardware too far. Splatoon never struggles to run smoothly, but it definitely gives the impression that it’s working the Wii U hard.
In closing, I feel like people might understand what I mean if I describe it this way. Splatoon is the most ‘Nintendo’ Nintendo game I’ve played since Super Mario Galaxy 2; brilliant puzzle based platforming combined with shooting that is satisfying and unique on every level. On release it was fairly light on content, but over the recent weeks it has seen a huge number of weapons, items and new maps added to the game for free. It shows me that Nintendo have no intention of letting the Wii U float off into the abyss without a fight, and Splatoon puts up a pretty darn good one.
James Swinbanks is a Games Critic currently writing for GameSpot, although you’ll still occasionally see him popping up on Player 2, because frankly, he loves the smell of the place.