I have to admit, I didn’t pay much attention to Splatoon when it was first announced. It’s not that the game looked bad, it’s just that the competitive gamer in me went into hibernation a while back. I understood the concept of the game, and I thought it looked great, but there was nothing that really drew me in. Not even the thought of adding more Amiibo figuress to my ever-growing collection was enough to warrant a second look. But after having an opportunity to play Splatoon during Nintendo’s open beta this past weekend, I must say it has my attention now.
Platforms: Wii U
Genre: Team-Based Squid Shooter
Release Date: May 29, 2015
ESRB Rating: Everyone
After a rough ten minutes or so trying to connect to a server jam-packed with gamers, I was finally able to participate in the Splatoon beta. The “Global Testfire” focused on the game’s main multiplayer mode: 4v4 Turf War. In this mode, players work together to cover an arena with their team color. Rounds end after three minutes, and whichever team covered more of the arena with their paint color, wins. Splatoon offers a fresh take on the usual deathmatch or capture-the-flag modes, and is actually quite fun. I started off using the Splattershot, a mid-range weapon akin to that classic water gun, the Super Soaker. I spent a good portion of the round trying to spray the ground, when I realized my time would be better spent taking out the players from the other team in order to allow my team to “mark their territory.” So the game immediately went from slightly competitive to downright bloodthirsty.
Your inkling can also transform into a squid at the push of a button, and swim in the ink that you and your team laid down. This offers several benefits: first (and most important), swimming in the ink refills your weapon’s ammo. Second, your character moves much faster than their humanoid form, allowing you to traverse the map at a brisk speed. Finally, the ink doubles as a hiding spot, and your opponents can’t see you in your ink. This makes for a great opportunity to ambush the other team.
Depending on your personality, the different roles available in Splatoon are quite drastic, which is one of the things I enjoyed most about the game. If you want to avoid the other team and just try to cover as much of the map in paint as possible, then have at it. If you’re more accustomed to playing shooters online against others, then you can do that as well. I took out a few members of the other team with a combination of gunfire and paint bombs, leaving the path clear for my teammate to lay down his Paint Roller (which I’ll get to in a second). The sense of teamwork was definitely there, and even though I couldn’t actually talk to my team, I could still get a good sense of camaraderie.
The Splatoon beta had four weapons available. There’s the aforementioned Splattershot (and the Splattershot Jr.), the Charge Shot (a long-range weapon similar to a sniper rifle), and the Paint Roller. Again, choosing your weapon will dramatically change your play style. If you prefer to camp out and assist your team, you’ll want to pick the Charge Shot. But if you want to do your best to cover the map with your paint, you’ll want to use the Paint Roller. This is the character I kept coming back to. Pushing around that giant roller was enjoyable, and the feeling I got from steamrolling an enemy with it was oh-so-satisfying.
The game looked very nice, too. I was reminded of the old show Nickelodeon Guts and the NES light gun game Gotcha. Colors are vivid and slick. The animation is super smooth, especially when you change into a squid in order to swim in your team’s ink. Having the map on the Wii U GamePad gave me a great overview of the arena and what areas I needed to focus on. Having the map on the screen offers another option: if you are at your team’s spawn point and tap on a teammate’s icon on the GamePad, you’ll super-jump to their location. I didn’t know about this until I was about to get taken out by an enemy, when two of my team suddenly dropped in and a one-on-one battle quickly turned into a three-on-one beatdown.
Now, I’m sure you’ve heard all the complaints about Splatoon’s lack of voice chat. Opinions of the omission ranged from wholehearted agreement to apathetic acceptance to outright venom. Personally, I’m of two minds on the subject. On one hand, online gaming has become a cesspool of inappropriate language that I would just rather not deal with, and there’s no way I would ever let my kids chat online with strangers. On the other hand, Splatoon can be a very tactical game, and being able to communicate with your teammates is crucial when trying to pull off a win. Additionally, as much as I don’t want children exposed to the kinds of things gamers talk about online, I feel it should be my decision, not Nintendo’s. But my son played a few rounds without chatting and was having a blast, so I guess everything’s gravy. Plus, it is nice to see an online shooter that isn’t all blood and guts.
We still have a few weeks until Splatoon hits stores, and the game has gone from being completely off my radar to a potential day-one purchase. I’m glad to see that the game features a deep single-player campaign in addition to the online multiplayer. Nintendo did a great job with their first-ever open beta and whet our appetites. And judging by all the positive feedback, Splatoon looks like it could make quite the splash when it releases on May 29th.