Nintendo gets a lot of flack for relying pretty much completely on Mario and Zelda games to sell their systems, but the fact of the matter is that’s what the people want. Nintendo has been steadily pushing out new IPs that are well received like Pushmo or Sakura Samurai, but they’ve been on a smaller scale of success due to the fanbase’s preferences. However, Splatoon is set to be Nintendo’s first big push for a major new IP to join their pantheon of games in a long time. The game is a shooter minus the bullets, as you are instead tasked with covering as much of a particular area with ink as you can. Does it have the potential to stand alongside the Nintendo greats? In my opinion, that answer is a definite yes.
You’re plopped into Splatoon‘s world of Inkopolis as a level one squid, with a sweet little hub world that gives you an idea of what the game is all about very quickly. On the left side of the map you have your shops where you can purchase new shoes, hats, shirts and weapons that all come with useful stat bonuses, though you need to be a certain level before the shop owners will consider you “fresh” enough to do business with you. Other real-life players’ characters are sprinkled throughout this hub area, though you aren’t seeing them actually playing the game as much as the game just has them stand around for you to read a personal message from them and see their equipment. Other little oddities like a hub to scan in Amiibo for new weapons to use, a spot to play the addicting arcade game Squid Jump and more give this little area of Inkopolis a lot of heart and really makes it come alive.
As you wander through Inkopolis plaza you notice a mysterious old man popping out through a manhole, and in following him you are lead to the game’s story mode in Octo Valley. The old man is Cap’n Cuttlefish and he tells you that Inkopolis’ source of power, the great Zapfish, has been kidnapped by the evil Octarians. Of course, you’re just the inkling up for the task and you must journey through multiple levels that are set up very much in the fashion of a Mario game. Each world has multiple levels that you must complete that leads to a final boss, which then unlocks the next world. These levels almost feel like a mixture of Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy, as the levels have multiple areas that you are constantly launching around as you spray your ink (instead of cleaning up ink like in Sunshine).
Splatoon is a third-person shooter, though instead of shooting bullets you are shooting ink. In the game’s story mode you will have enemies that you will have to splat to move forward, but much of the strategy comes in trying to cover as much area as you can with your ink. In doing so you have more areas to hide in the ink to both avoid enemies and refill your ink, while also giving enemies less areas to maneuver around in. There’s also plenty of platforming that must be done, as you use your ink to cover walls so you can swim up and around them, which leads to some really unique scenarios. The levels are very well designed and keep the action pumping from start to finish while also containing a fair bit of challenge in the later stages.
The boss fights are also very well done, as they feature some truly original designs and require a little bit of thinking to finally bring them down. They aren’t incredibly difficult and typically end up with you having to shoot at a weak point three times, but their actual character models and how they maneuver around the level still makes it a lot of fun. The true crown jewel of the game is the final boss fight, and I won’t spoil anything but it’s one of the best final boss fights I’ve ever played in a game. It’s huge, has multiple stages and has you making your way through an entire level all while taking him on and an onslaught of other enemies that is all simply incredible. The story mode will last you anywhere from 6-10 hours depending on whether or not you go for each level’s collectibles, which I highly recommend as it fleshes out the games backstory a ton and features some fantastic writing.
The story mode is great, but it’s the online mode that is what will be taking up the most of people’s time. In this mode you have access to both regular and ranked battles, in which you play against other players in quick matches. The main mode is called Turf Wars, where you and your team must cover as much of the area with your team’s ink as you can before the time runs out. Whichever team has the most area covered wins, which is a simple concept but it’s actually a breath of fresh air for this genre. While you can focus on just trying to splat as many enemies as you can, the main focus is to follow the objective of working with your team to ink everything and that’s how you’ll win.
As you play more matches you will gradually level up your character, which will give you access to more weapons to buy at the shop and more coins to buy them with. There’s actually a really solid amount of weapon variety in this game, and Nintendo has been gradually adding more for free. There are standard guns that work like machine guns with varying degrees of range and power, but there’s also ink brushes, ink buckets and ink rollers that all have their own distinct pros and cons depending on the map you’re playing on. Using the ink roller might work out great for you on one map, but on other you might find that it gets you nowhere at all. I love that aspect of the game, because it means that all of the weapons have their place to be used and won’t result in a majority of weapons being completely ignored down the line.
Except the Splat charger, which is essentially this game’s sniper rifle. I suck with that thing and refuse to ever use it again.
The online mode also works spectacularly well, as I have been finding matches very quickly and have experienced absolutely no lag. Some people were bumming out about there being no voice chat, but I personally find that to be a blessing in disguise in this situation. This game is marketed right at the jugular of little kids, so does anybody really want to hop into a match and listen to 10-year-olds crying whenever they lose? Nope, not this guy! I also love the short amount of time each match is, as it allows for you to get in several bouts in a relatively short amount of time. While the amount of modes/maps may have been a little sparse at launch, Nintendo has been regularly adding new ones for free to keep things from getting stale. Splat Zones and Rainmaker are two of the different modes on offer, which are essentially king of the kill and capture the flag types that fit right in with everything else the game has to offer.
There are some quirks to how the online menus work that I would like to see smoothed out at some point, however. In between searching for matches you don’t have the ability to change your loadout, meaning you have to back out of matchmaking every time you want to use a new weapon. Also, as you begin searching for a match you can’t back out of it even with the gamepad’s home button, which is really weird for any online game. Maybe they did this to try and stop people from leaving games, but when you hit that button by mistake your only option to back out is to shut off the system. Still, these are more or less nitpicks that really don’t bring my opinion of the game down much.
Splatoon is one of the most fun games that I have played all year, which I’m so glad to be able to say considering that it’s a brand new IP. Nintendo has manages to carve their own niche into the world of multiplayer shooters, taking a relatively simple concept and running with it. The story mode is great and features fantastic level designs and boss battles, while the online mode has tons of things to unlock and a steady stream of new weapons, maps and modes to check out for free. The package might have seemed a little slight at launch, but as more time has passed more and more content has been added that continues to hammer the point home that Splatoon will happily be in everyone’s Wii U’s for a long time to come.