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June 22, 2015 / Jett

Splatoon Review

It’s cute! It’s colourful! It’s…the next big shooter? Splatoon for the Wii U dares to mix things up in a genre where most are still copying from the Call of Duty playbook. In fact, Nintendo’s newest entry into the genre strays so far from the norm that shooting other people isn’t your primary objective. As crazy as that may sound, it works surprisingly well here.

Taking a step back for a second, Splatoon is a 4v4 online third-person shooter where paint is the only ammunition. Using water guns, paint rollers and other paint-distributing gadgets, players will hose down the map with their colour of paint. Once the timer runs out, the team who has covered more of the world with paint wins. Sure, you can kill your opponents by blasting them or running them over with a giant roller, which is particularly satisfying experience by the way. It does help your team in that the incapacitated opponent is out of the mix for a few crucial seconds. At the end of the day though, your kill count doesn’t contribute to the final score.

Fundamentally shifting the focus away from headshots makes for a game with a very different feel. For one, you don’t have to be a good shot in order to contribute to your team. As long as you’re spraying down neutral or opposing team paint, you’re making a positive impact. Two, the area control aspect of the game is actually quite thrilling. The sound of shooting floors and walls doesn’t sound that great, but it’s shockingly riveting. Part of that comes from finding the best way to use your weapon for painting. For instance, the roller leaves a large trail of paint behind you as your run forward, while the sniper rifle can unleash a long and straight blast from a perch. As battles progress, there’s a clear tug-of-war going on as players battle each other for control of every inch. You can see it on your gamepad as the colours constantly change in favour of one team or another. Three, the match time of just three minutes is perfect. It’s just enough time for the drama to rise and peak at the very end of a match.

Firefights aren’t your prime operative, but they are exciting and fun nonetheless. The guns are fun to shoot people with, as they give you the sense of being a kid soaking your friends with a water gun. Most guns mow people down quickly, making it fairly easy to get a kill. Some weapons add a unique element to the combat, such as the roller, which lets you run through hapless foes that stand in your path. Depending on your loadout, you’ll get access to different super weapons that can turn the tides of battle in a big way. Some of the most memorable include one that sends out a sonic scream that kills everyone in its path, a bazooka that shoots a huge blast of paint, and a power-up that lets you turn into a destructive kraken.

Best of all is everyone’s ability to turn into a squid. By doing so, you can travel through your ink much quicker than you can run. Also, you’re pretty hard to spot while in motion and impossible to see when moving still. It sounds silly, but fits perfectly with the style of the game and adds a ton of cool options. If you run into a hallway where you’re outgunned, flip into squid mode and quickly swim out of the way. On the other hand, swimming through ink is an awesome way to get the drop on an unsuspecting rival.

One thing that Splatoon does take from Call of Duty is the importance of building up your character. Each match rewards you with XP and money that can be spent on gear. By earning XP, you’ll unlock more and more gear from the store. Of course, you’re going to want to buy better guns, but clothing, shoes and headgear are important too. Besides making you look cool, each article of clothing comes with one stat boost, plus the ability to apply more stat boosts to it by leveling up your gear. The trick is that when gear levels up, the game will randomly assign a boost to each article of clothing you’re wearing. The randomness might drive some people nuts, but it’s also a great way to incentivize the buying of more gear and experimenting with stuff until you get the perfect outfit.

Splatoon shines brightest in the moment. Once the match starts and the colours fly, it’s three minutes of mayhem. Once it ends, the sensation to want to play again is tough to deny. An online multiplayer shooter hasn’t hooked me in like this since Titanfall. Nintendo’s forte may not be shooters or online gaming, but they know how to crank out a quality title and this is certainly another one they can take credit for.

Everything ancillary to that core 4v4 experience delivers with varying degrees of success. For example, the game’s lack of voice chat is a bummer, especially since this is a team-based game where coordination through voice would be very helpful. Out of the box, the game only came with five maps, of which only two are available at a time. Recently, a new gun and level were added as free DLC, and Nintendo has promised more free DLC throughout the summer. Each stage goes a surprisingly long way, but it’s still less than an acceptable offering as of writing. Hopefully by the end of the summer, this will no longer be a point of concern.

There is also a distinct lack of control you have over your loadout once you enter a lobby. After entering, you’re stuck with whatever you entered with. You can’t change mid-match, which would be nice, nor can you change while waiting in the lobby for it to populate with players. It is very annoying that this is the case and one that I hope Nintendo has plans of remedying.

If you want to add this to your local multiplayer rotation alongside the likes of Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Splatoon is woefully lacking in that department. For those hoping for a Goldeneye-style 4-player split-screen mode, you’ll be disappointed to hear that it only supports two players in a unique battle mode. This isn’t what anyone wants and probably will fall out of your rotation quickly.

Single player also not what I was expecting, but not necessarily in a bad way. Thinking this would be just multiplayer with bots, it was surprising to see this game have a full campaign more in line with Super Mario Galaxy. Each level requires you to all of the tools you have at your disposal to cleverly maneuver through them. It’s not particularly challenging or compelling as a 3D Mario adventure, though it’s neat to see how far Nintendo went to find every use for the paint mechanic. Furthermore, some of the stuff you unlock in single player will carry over to the multiplayer mode, such as variant versions of existing guns with different abilities.

Splatoon is a joyous rebellion. Turning the genre on its head, it’s a refreshing take on a hardcore genre that shooter and non-shooter fans will like. If you’re going into this solely for the online multiplayer, the sheer experience of combat and paint coverage will lock you in for a long time. Having said that, it’s hard to ignore the glaring faults in the package though. Until all the DLC comes out in the summer, this isn’t quite a full game, and one with some really annoying faults that will likely stay after all the content comes out. We’ll have to wait and see if if this eventually shapes up into a full package, but for the great things it does deliver today, it’s worth your time.

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