This review covers the game as it was at launch, and thus does not take into account any gameplay modes, maps or DLC released after May 29.
Throw together some squids and a bunch of ink, and you might think you’d get a bit of a mess. That’s what Splatoon has set out to do, but in all honesty, at times, this game could afford to get a little messier.
Splatoon has splashed onto Wii U as Nintendo’s take on the first-person shooter genre. The promotional push for the title from the company has been large to say the least – ranging from calling up a few Playboy Playmates to getting D-list celebrities to run through a giant obstacle course. Clearly, Nintendo has aimed to make Splatoon appeal to both young and mature audiences, but no matter what age you are, is it worth dipping into?
Splatoon does an admirable job of taking the shooter genre, spinning it, and making it feel different, fresh, and creative with its use of colorful and quirky ideas. Instead of bullets, you’re shooting ink. Instead of killing, you’re splatting. Instead of voice chat, there’s, well, nothing.
At the start, players select to play as an inkling boy or girl, and after a short tutorial, your inkling arrives in Inkopolis, a plaza that acts as the overworld connecting to different areas of the game. The atmosphere feels immediately reminiscent of any recent Nintendo game with its bright colors, off-the-wall characters, and the (sometimes overbearing) handholding. The concept is simple: spray your ink to cover ground and defeat enemies while simultaneously swimming through the puddles to hide, defend and refill your supply of ink. The ability to turn into a squid and traverse through ink is easily the game’s best mechanic. It feels unique and adds a completely different level to the gameplay, allowing you climb walls and sneak up on enemies.
Though Splatoon contains both single and online multiplayer modes, the latter seemed to be the larger focus for the game since its reveal at E3 2014. It’s surprising then that, at launch, this is the part of the game that seems to be the most slim when it comes to amount of content. The sole online multiplayer mode available when the game was first released, Turf War, pits two teams of four players against each other in this classic ‘claim your turf’ mode. The objective: cover as much area of the map in your team’s color ink as possible in a three minute match. After each match, your inkling earns an amount of experience points based on your performance that contribute to your inkling leveling up.
While online connectivity was generally quick and reliable, Turf War’s biggest problem is its lack of variety in what content it does have. There are only about five maps available at launch, and only two are playable at a given time as they swap availability in four hour intervals. This becomes even more painful based on the fact that what maps are available are not even that interesting or different from each other. Turf War is a really fun and innovative approach to multiplayer, but being the only playable mode at launch, while forcing players to traverse repetitive maps strongly affects both the mode’s short and long term appeal.
It’s disappointing that Nintendo has failed to include any additional multiplayer content at launch. While a local 1v1 option named ‘Battle Dojo’ is also available, Nintendo has promised additional content after launch, including a new “Ranked Battle mode” that will unlock when enough players have reached level 10. If the new content is enough to fill the void is yet to be seen. Multiplayer is also slightly downplayed by its controversial lack of in-game voice chat. Your inkling has two commands: “booyah” or “c’mon” and neither are really useful in helping your teammates figure out where you are headed next or what area of the map could use coverage. Sure, the gamepad displays a colorful map of where the ink has landed so far, but looking at the gamepad for too long could result in being splatted by an opposing inkling. The lack of voice chat here ends up making you feel more isolated from your team than anything else.
The single player campaign of the game is actually much more flourished that expected, which is surprising as Nintendo hasn’t focused on it all too much. This mode, which can take about six to eight hours to complete, feels heavily inspired by the Mario franchise. Each level contains mechanics and platforms that revolve around a certain object, type of enemy, or puzzle, and these never overstay their welcome. The only criticism of this campaign is that seasoned players may be disappointed at the lack of difficulty in this mode, but it’s a great starting point to check out prior to entering the multiplayer mode in order to get a feel for the controls and gameplay. Each grouping of sub-levels usually ends in a boss battle that requires almost no challenge at all (the final boss being the exception to this rule). Overall, the campaign is surprisingly fun and deep, but besides the single hidden sunken scroll in each level, the replay value for this part of the game is moderately low.
The other modes in the game are smaller in comparison: there’s a few shops where, once your inkling reaches level four, you have the ability to buy weapons, headgear, clothing and shoes to customize your character, or to become “more fresh” as the in-game characters call it. The final area is the amiibo compatible zone, allowing you to use the boy inkling, girl inkling and squid amiibo figurines available on launch day. Touching each one to the gamepad unlocks additional challenges depending on which amiibo you’ve utilized. It’s an interesting use of the amiibo figurines, though it still feels like day one content that is restricted and dependent on whether you were able to discover and spend an additional $35 on the set of amiibo.
Splatoon does a lot of things right. A new IP rarely, if ever, can do everything it sets out to in a perfect way. Splatoon has achieved a success in implementing a new and creative idea, but fails to supply enough content at launch to really merit it being a ‘must-buy’ title right now, especially when full access to all of its content for the game totals near $100 when counting both the game and amiibo. A die-hard Nintendo fan may be interested in grabbing the title now, but anyone on the fence may want to wait a little while longer before diving in and squirting their ink.