Platform: Wii U
Update: For more thoughts on Splatoon, you can read our more recent article on how Nintendo can make the next Splatoon game a perfect 10.
I didn’t think it was possible for an arena shooter to be a happy/fun game, but Splatoon is proof that it’s not only possible, but it exists! When I was struggling to enjoy a “serious” game earlier in the month, I would throw on Splatoon and have a blast.
It’s not perfect, but Splatoon has a lot of things going for it. First off, most of the modes are not focused on killing other players, but on coloring the ground with your ink gun in a “turf war.” This surprisingly ends up being a lot of fun, and if you have the desire to occasionally “splat” someone with your gun, there’s plenty of opportunities to do so.
In fact, the availability of different strategies is one of Splatoon’s strengths. Yes, the main objective is to color the floor with your ink, but how do you maximize your gains? Do you pick a wide “roller” to leave a large trail of ink in its stead at the cost of engaging enemies at a distance, or do you opt for the ink version of a quick fire machine gun which provides a balance? Sometimes it makes sense to have one teammate perch on a high level with a sniper weapon, taking out the opponent and frustrating their ability to ink the floor themselves. The game has a lot of possibilities.
Splatoon is also absolutely brilliant in its color scheme. The vibrant continually changing colors of you and your competitor’s ink keeps each match feeling fresh and new, which is a good thing given the limited number of maps that were available at launch. While some have justifiably complained about lack of content at launch, what’s there is polished with that special Nintendo seal of quality, and doesn’t disappoint.
Aesthetically, apart from the ink colors, the game also has neat outfit options that are functional as well as fashionable. As someone who usually doesn’t put invest any time into character customization, I found it was really enjoyable to play around with my character’s outfits. Different styles offer different (very slight) power-ups, so there’s some strategy to your selection as well.
There are two main online modes, Turf War and Ranked Battle. They both involved teams of 4×4 where you try to cover the entire map in your team’s ink color, or else a small section of it, respectively. These modes are the focus areas of the game, and for the most part work exceptionally well. The game also offers a 1v1 lackluster local multiplayer option that involves simply popping balloons (no, really, that’s it) which is unfortunately pretty bland in comparison to the other gameplay options. I usually think of Nintendo as the king of couch co-op, but that’s not the case with Splatoon.
Splatoon also features a single-player mode. It’s nothing special, but it was fairly enjoyable and long enough to be more than just a side thought when playing the game. There are some really innovative combat and locomotion mechanics in the single-player campaign, but it felt a little empty at times. I would enjoy a bit more variety.
It’s clear to me that this game was rushed in development. In true Nintendo fashion, it works great and is far from being “broken” on day one like so many other games, but it clearly has a limited set of features that they just didn’t have time to finish in time. Nintendo decided this game needed to come out when it did, and be damned if all the features weren’t ready by then.
Thankfully, they are continually releasing new content for free, which I admit is an interesting way to keep people coming back for more on a regular basis – it was Mario Kart 8’s recent DLC pack that had me picking up the game for the first time in a few months, and it’s a good strategy to release updates. However, the sheer volume and frequency of updates shows that this wasn’t simply a good strategic plan; the game needed more time to be completed.
There are some other issues with the game as well. As has been discussed in many threads, Splatoon does not feature voice chat. I wouldn’t care to talk with random people personally, but it does get annoying to have to dial up Google Hangouts every time I play with a friend. I won’t beat this into the ground, but suffice to say that this game would have benefitted from having that feature, at least for conversing and strategizing with friends.
Online connectivity is less than ideal. Every time I sit down for a two-hour play session, I get knocked off about once or twice each hour. That’s unfortunate, especially because you have to wait a full three minutes before you can join your friend’s match at that point. They could have made this a lot more tolerable by simply letting you spectate your friend’s matches while you wait, but unlike the stellar Mario Kart 8, it doesn’t offer this option. Instead, you’re left staring at a blank screen while you wait.
The characters in the game, while perfectly adorable and fitting for the environment, simply talk too much. WAY too much. I’m incredibly tired of having to sit through long strings of dialogue every time I want to do something. What’s even more egregious is that we’re made to listen to the two sisters announcing the latest stages every time we sign in. OK, I’ll admit, they were charming the first time. MAYBE the second time. But now it’s to the point where I dread having to hear their inane banter even one more time. All this needs is a simple skip button, problem fixed, but for some reason they decided to make us all endure the entire speech every time.
While I mentioned the single-player campaign was not bad given what I was expecting, there were some frustrating sections in it. Worthy of mention is the final boss. No spoilers here, but I will be mentioning a few brief details of the encounter, so if you don’t want to know those, skip the next paragraph.
The boss fight is separated into 5 or 6 sections, and to be fair, it’s a really inventive and well-orchestrated encounter, one of the more interesting boss fights I’ve seen in a long time. It’s long, but that in and of itself isn’t a problem. What IS a problem is the fact that you have to do the entire experience over again if you die at the last section of the boss. Which happened to me, over, over, and over again. It happened embarrassingly often. Each full boss encounter runs 15-20 minutes depending on your efficiency; getting to the last hit (literally) and dying was easily one of the most frustrating situations that I’ve experienced in the last decade or even longer. I actually rage quit this game…I can’t even remember the last time I truly rage quit any game! What’s even stranger about this is that I did not take one single hit from any of the previous four bosses (not one!), and then there’s this crazy difficulty spike at the end. This experience (I did eventually beat it) led me to swear off the game for a week, but I came back fairly quickly and started enjoying it again for its main focus, online multiplayer.
In summary, Splatoon is a great game held back by some likely rushed development decisions. It might seem like I had a lot of critiques in my review, and I do think there is considerable room for improvement; however, the game is still a lot of fun. I enjoy my time with Splatoon and plan to regularly return to it in the future. It’s a shame that it wasn’t just a bit more fleshed out and polished, but it’s a great start for the new IP.