Thursday, June 11, 2015

Splatoon is Unadulterated Online Fun

Young teenage inklings compete in a series of fun paintball-esque online competitions. Shooting coloured ink with various weapons, they can then use their ability to turn into a squid form and swim quickly through this ink. Meanwhile, in the plaza, a mysterious old Cuttlefish encourages you to join him in his battle against the Octarians to recover the stolen Zapfish which power Inkopolis.

Nintendo finally did it. For years, people have been wanting to see Nintendo make an online action game. Something to be their version of Gears of War, Halo, or Call of Duty. With Splatoon, Nintendo have made a very Nintendo online focused third person shooter. More impressively however is that on their first try, they’ve made what I feel to be the best online shooter since Call of Duty 4.
Instantly accessible. Addictively fun. Incredibly deep. That’s Splatoon in a sound bite.

Enemy ink being like glue makes for a constantly changing battlefield.
The masterstroke is making the whole game revolve around ink. In the main gametype, Turf War, you don’t win by killing the other team, or capturing a flag, or completing objectives. You win by being the team who has painted more of the floor in their team colour after three fast paced minutes of competition. Weapons fall into a few different groups. There are chargers, which are the rifles of the game. Shooting furthest, but only laying down a thin stream of coloured ink. There are rollers, big giant paint rollers that can be pushed around and which cover turf quickly, but offer little in the way of ranged attack. Then there are shooters and this class of gun shoot out blobs of ink over medium distances.

Inking up enemy inklings (always categorized by the game as ‘bad guys’) is far from necessary and focusing on it too much can actually be detrimental, but it’s still useful, as when you splat an enemy they’ll burst in a puddle of your team’s ink. Putting them out of the game for a short while and sending them back to their own base, also clears the way for your team to lay down more ink.

There are also a series of sub weapons, like grenades, and sprinklers, and also super weapons which can only be used after filling up a meter (which you do by inking the ground in your colour).

Trying to walk through enemy ink is like trying to walk through glue and is a recipe for doom. The playing field is constantly changing as you gain and lose turf. Your ink slowly recharges as you use it, but you can refill your ink faster by swimming through your own ink. Being able to dive into ink and quickly flank an enemy is a great feeling.

Nintendo have done a number of unusual things in how the game is setup online. Whenever you first load up the game, Callie and Marie, the Squid Sisters, will introduce the levels currently in rotation. In four hour blocks, the game will randomly offer up games on two of the six current levels. While this might sound limiting at first, replaying the same couple of maps allows for a real back and forth as you adapt strategies and adopt techniques other players are using. A big part of what makes the game accessible is that you aren’t constantly being thrown into a new map.

Every four hours, there’ll be another news bulletin from the Squid Sisters and two more levels will be in rotation.

Initially you can you can only use one weapon, but it’s actually a pretty good one, so it won’t be long before you start reaching higher levels and can pick from an ever broadening selection of weapons. Each weapon has specifically assigned sub weapons and super weapons. Then there is gear. These are cool outfits, hats and shoes that all come with a special ability, like slowing down how quickly your ink drains, or making it harder for other players to see you when you are swimming through ink. Many also have extra slots, which unlock with random abilities as you play games wearing them.

Once you hit level 10 (currently level 20 is the maximum level) another mode, called Splat Zones, unlocks. In this mode only a small section of the map counts, and you will be thrown against similarly skilled players in a series of ranked matches. While your level can only go up, the letter ranking you get playing Splat Zones can go up and down as you win and lose.

Anyone looking to get better at the game or just for some more intense gameplay will want to check out this mode.

While Splatoon is probably one of the friendliest online games I’ve played, Nintendo haven’t forgotten about people who are looking to play with someone on the same couch. There’s a two player mode where you compete to pop balloons, with one person using the screen of the gamepad and one person using the TV. It’s a fun addition for sure and while it doesn’t quite have the technical polish of Turf War (it runs at a lower framerate) I’m glad it’s there.
You have to play the main game on the TV despite being able
 to play local multiplayer on the gamepad

Finally, there is the single player, which is a good five or so hours-worth long, offering up a few dozen linear levels that you have to ink, fight, and swim your way through. These maps focus a lot more on moving through the environment and are similar to the kind of things you’d see in a Mario game. Single player is definitely something worth checking out as it uses the same brilliant mechanics in a whole other way, and it showcases the same polish that the online modes offer.

Splatoon is an impressive first step into the online focused action arena from Nintendo. As someone who rarely gets into online gaming I have been struggling to tear myself aware from Turf War to play single player, or heck, to write this review. It’s the most fun I’ve had playing a game in over a decade, and I don’t throw such hyperbole around lightly. Unadulterated fun is really the perfect phrase to describe the game and I give it my highest recommendations to anyone even slightly interested in online gaming.

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