Hey there, Nintendo Force fans! Though our reviews are normally hosted only within the pages of each magazine issue, we’re breaking away from the norm to present our full review of Splatoon as a special look inside the new Issue #15! If you aren’t already a subscriber, click over to the NF Store to rectify that situation! (You’ll get a snazzy double-sided Splatoon poster along with Issue #15, too.)
I THINK I’M addicted to ink.
I can’t sleep at night (because I keep staying up later and later, playing multiplayer matches). My mind is stuck in rewind (“If only I had turned around and looked behind me, I would have splatted him before he got me!”). I’m far too seriously concerned about how an overweight cat will evaluate my “vibe” on any given day (“Am I SO HAWT!! today, Judd?”).
It’s an addiction. And if you’re smart, you’ll make it yours too.
Nintendo has put a lot of marketing muscle behind the launch of Splatoon – we’ve spent time covering that in this issue already. But this isn’t a case of a company trying to push a lemon on you. Splatoon is the revolution, and they know it.
If you’re unfamiliar with the game’s basic premise . . . well, we haven’t been doing our job here very well. But here’s the core concept again for anyone coming in totally fresh: You are a squid. A squid who’s also a kid. You can transform back and forth between squid and kid forms at will, and you’ll need to learn the rhythms of just when each is most appropriate if you want to succeed in the Turf Wars.
You see, that’s the main recreation for the whole society of squid kids – who call themselves Inklings – in which you find yourself. You team up with three other Inklings to form a fighting force of four. You’re then pitted against another team of four, and the two teams are sent to war against each other, armed with ink-launching weapons. Your goal isn’t too kill the other team, as most other shooter games would have you do. Rather, the team who emerges victorious is the one with the greater percentage of their color of ink covering the ground in the arena at the end of three minutes. It’s a color war! (And if some of the opposing Inklings happen to get “splatted” along the way, well . . . .)
Whether you want to focus on attacking your foes or laying down as much of your team’s color of ink as possible is the first of many strategic decisions you’ll make in Splatoon’s multiplayer. While “splatting” enemies doesn’t contribute to the final tally of ink percentage at the end of each round, it does set them back each time you zap them – or when they splat you, of course. When that happens (and it will happen a lot), you get sent back to your team’s starting point, having to wait a few seconds to rejoin the fray – while the enemy who dispatched you enjoys a few free moments to claim territory for his or her team unaccosted.
But you’re not dealt quite as much of a setback as you might think after you’ve met with an untimely end on the battlefield, if your fellow teammates are still in the fight – using the Wii U GamePad’s touchscreen, you can tap on their location and instantly perform a sky-soaring super jump to sail through the air and land right back by their side. You can do that any time, actually – not just after a splat. If you see a friend is in trouble on the far side of the map, you can super-jump right over to them to help them turn the tide at any time.
When you find yourself right in the thick of a firefight, ink flying everywhere, that’s when you have to be at your best in managing your transformations back and forth between kid and squid forms. As a humanoid, you can wield your weapons – it’s how you fight and lay down ink on the ground for your team. But as a squid, you can swim through that ink – moving much more quickly than the plodding pace of your bipedal form. What’s more, the squid form introduces an incredible element of stealth and deception into Splatoon’s already engrossing dynamics. You can hide in your own color of ink, undetectable by the other team – so an entirely valid strategy is to ink a hiding place for yourself near a position where you know the enemies will be walking past, then pop up from behind to blast them in the back.
Of course, if you wait around too long just lurking for prey, you won’t be laying down ink for your team and contributing to what ultimately wins the match.
Are you getting a sense of just how layered and complex the tactics of this design are yet? Splatoon is a masterpiece of balance in design – a chess match between you and your opponents as much as it is a shooter rewarding quicker reflexes. It is a purely phenomenal multiplayer experience.
Not everything about Splatoon is multiplayer, though – the game also comes equipped with a superb single-player campaign. In it, your Inkling is recruited by the spry old squid Cap’n Cuttlefish and pressed into service fighting the Octarians – a race of octopi who’ve fishnapped several electricity-generating “Zapfish” that the Inklings need to power their town of Inkopolis. It’s up to you to retrieve them, one at a time, by questing through self-contained platforming/shooting challenge levels.
I’m going to run out of positive adjectives by the end of this piece, but Splatoon’s single-player is just as sensational as its multiplayer matches. Its closest equivalent is the Super Mario Galaxy series, in that each level is set up as a string of floating platform areas. On each one, you’ll face a puzzle to solve, an enemy to blast or some combination of the two, and if you succeed you’ll activate a launchpad that will allow you to do your squidly super jump to the next area.
The two modes complement each other well, as playing through the single-player campaign will force you to become much more maneuverable in your squid form. You can swim through ink even when it’s plastered on vertical surfaces – swimming up walls – and you’ll become such a master at this while questing under Cap’n Cuttlefish’s command that you’ll gain a fuller sense of how verticality plays into the dominance of the Turf Wars arenas.
Those same arenas will also play host to other types of multiplayer matches too. Happily, myself and several of the other Nintendo game reviewers of the world were able to check out “Splat Zones,” another game type nested under Splatoon’s Ranked Battles banner that won’t be available on Day 1 of the game’s launch. (Nintendo won’t be turning on access to Ranked Battles until enough players around the world reach Level 10 or above, indicating the collective community’s readiness for more intense conflicts.)
And intense they are – the Splat Zones gametype is seriously brutal. You will get splatted in these zones, again and again and again. It’s an altogether different style of play. Whereas in the normal Turf Wars it’s important to lay down ink across the whole map, in Splat Zones the only areas that matter are small, designated rectangles or squares – so those small areas become constantly embroiled in incredibly savage firefights as each team tries to lay claim for a longer stretch of time than the other. Control of the zones bounces back and forth briskly, and it’s a blast to be in the battle. It’s fun even when you’re losing!
Splat Zones also demands a different approach to weapon selection than Turf Wars – half of the battle is won ahead of time, in the shops of Inkopolis, as you equip your Inkling for the coming fight. There are dozens of different weapons to wield, along with subweapons and special weapons too – you’ll find a personal favorite quickly enough. (I’m a big fan of the Seeker, which acts like the Zelda series’ Bombchus by traveling in a straight line and then exploding.) Fashion, too, is important, as in addition to making your Inkling look good, each hat, shirt and pair of shoes has a stat-altering boost applied to it.
Splatoon is spectacular all-around, and my only complaints are minor things that seem like they could be patched out easily enough. You can’t easily swap out weapon sets between matches without risking losing your spot playing with the same group, for example. The number of maps made available at launch is low, too: only five, with just two in rotation at a time.
Finally, I feel obligated to address Splatoon’s lack of voice chat, since that’s been a hot-button issue for many through the past months: I don’t miss it. These matches only last a few minutes apiece; they’re not 30-minute affairs where you need to coordinate a huge amount of strategy between a large group of teammates. If someone on your team needs help, you’ll see that on your GamePad map and you can super-jump to them. If there’s an area that’s been neglected and needs more ink, you’ll see that too.
So I’ll apologize on the behalf of anyone who makes you think missing voice chat is a problem. It isn’t. Splatoon is perfectly realized and nearly perfectly executed exactly as it is. It’s been billed by Nintendo as “the next big thing,” and it proves itself worthy of that promotion and praise. So buy Splatoon. Let yourself get addicted to ink, as I did. You’ll be happy you did! (You just won’t get as much sleep anymore.) – LUCAS