Review: Splatoon for Wii U
It’s time to get inked.
Updated a few lines for clarification, as noted below.
One thing that many a detractor tends to point to with Nintendo is a lack of new franchises. While there is a case to be argued against this stance through titles such as Pushmo, Dillon’s Rolling Western, or even Wii Fit, among others, Splatoon seems to be the biggest answer to come out of Kyoto in quite some time.
Splatoon not only marks a new franchise, but some new ideas as well. Previously, Nintendo’s competitive online efforts have mostly centered around the likes Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros., but Splatoon takes on the genre of arena-based combat, albeit with a bit of a twist.
So, how does it do? Read on to find out!
Splatoon places you in a world full of Inklings, beings capable of transforming from a child-like form to that of a squid and back again. As is befitting their name, and squids in general, there is a large emphasis placed on ink as you use a variety of weapons to spread your colorful liquid far and wide. The more you splatter everywhere, the more effective “home turf” you have to take advantage of, wherein you can use your own color of ink to recharge your supply and move quickly around in squid form, whereas enemy ink slows you down in either form and is practically toxic to you.
Despite the promise of customization, you don’t have a lot to choose from when you begin the game — mainly gender, eye color, things like that. As such, lower-level Inklings have a tendency to pretty much all look the same, save for the color they’re sporting in a battle.
There are three main ways to play: Four versus four online, one on one locally, or a single player mode. The single player mode, Octo Valley, has you seek out and follow the instructions of Cap’n Cuttlefish as he guides you through the domain of the Octarions, a rival bunch of rabble-rousers who have stolen the Zapfish used to power Inkopolis.
Octo Valley provides a pretty unique experience from the other modes, as you deal with a lot of other enemies and obstacles which aren’t present in multiplayer. It’s not bad, and works pretty well as a training course of sorts, but loses something once you’ve gotten a taste of the multiplayer mode, even though this is where the main story happens.
That said, the two sadly do not overlap. No perks from one mode carries over to the other, not even currency or the weapons and gear you purchase yourself out in the Inkopolis hub using money earned in the online multiplayer. As a result, you can’t build yourself up to stand a better chance in multiplayer during the single player campaign or vice-versa.
Edited the above paragraph for clarification/badly put statement. There is no carryover between the two modes at all.
The online multiplayer “Turf War” is the meat and potatoes of this game, and is by far the most fun… most of the time. Options are pretty limited in what you can do, as two levels are available per hour, and are chosen randomly for you and those you’re playing with/against. What’s more, there is only the one way to play, and you can only compete in four on four matches, which kind of sucks when you’re not able to get a full eight people together. It probably/hopefully won’t be an issue after launch, but myself and others have spent quite a bit of time with six or seven of us waiting for the remaining number needed to join in, only to have the whole thing time out. Worse still, you can’t even back out after committing without resetting the game.
While waiting for people to join, you can partake in a retro-style game called “Squid Jump” on the Wii U GamePad. It’s a simple and fun way to pass the time, though it wears out pretty quickly if people aren’t quick to join in.
When you have all eight people together, Turf War begins. The goal here is to cover as much of the map as possible in your team’s color of ink, the winner of course being determined by whoever inks the most area. At least, that’s supposed to be the goal, though sometimes it seems that some people are just content to kill members of the opposing team as much as possible instead.
Unfortunately, the game tends to start pretty rough. Your goal upon beginning the game is to basically try to build your levels up, but it feels like you don’t get to do much except get killed (usually in one hit). Once you hit level 2, things get a little better as you can purchase a slightly better gun, but none of the other equipment dealers will have anything to do with you until you reach level 4. With your new gun, getting to level 3 is a bit easier, but making it from there to level 4 is a slog, as subsequent levels take longer to accumulate the experience for, but you’re not granted much of anything to improve your chances in between.
Once you’re at level 4, things start to open up a bit, as you can buy more custom gear and newer weapons which might better suit your style. Even so, you may still have a rough time of things, as it was not uncommon for level 1 people to be grouped with players of levels 12-14. Teams seem to be randomly assigned, and someone who is your worst enemy in one match could be your best friend in the next, and fair play doesn’t seem to be much of a consideration.
It wasn’t out of the question for some matches to group people with higher rankings together versus people with lower rankings, sometimes with a disparity as great as a team with players at levels 3 and 4 against a team with guys around the late teens and early 20s. The result is exactly what you might expect: A wholesale slaughter. The game is considerably less fun when you and your allies spend most of the match as a colored smear on the camera. Even when it was more closely balanced, guys at level 8 and 9 were on one team while the guys at the bottom were grouped together.
I really hope that this improves after launch, that maybe this was a symptom of playing with other journalists in a pre-release copy. I’ll attempt to follow up with an addendum should I get back to it and find things are different.
That said, the online multiplayer is a lot of fun when you get an evenly-stacked match between two teams going. In a way, it kind of reminded me of when Super Mario Kart was a new thing and my friends and I would spend so much time playing Battle Mode, which is as hearty an endorsement comparison as I can think of. It’s not perfect, as outlined above, but when it works, by God, it works! Interesting this comes on the heels of the Mario Kart with the weakest battle mode yet. Hmm…
Speaking of working, the whole thing is, of course, contingent on being able to connect. When we got a game going, it worked flawlessly most of the time. Between my wife and I, only one instance come to mind where there seemed to be any sort of lag — the paint just seemed to appear slightly out of step with the player, but it was barely detrimental if at all. Just a little jarring. Even so, I feel confident in saying this was the smoothest online experience I’ve had on a Nintendo platform to date.
Still, if you don’t have a solid internet connection, you might want to be careful before investing in this one. We’re on Rogers, while some others who have been playing have used TekSavvy, which runs off the same infrastructure (or so I’m told). At first, we had trouble getting and keeping a connection, and it even seemed to nuke our ability to connect to the Miiverse and Nintendo eShop. Strangely, Nadia couldn’t get matches to connect most of the night on her profile, but when we switched to mine, it connected straightaway. And then when switching back, hers worked. It’s a weird thing, but again, it seems to come down to one’s provider — it’s even been said that the service is affected down to the neighborhood, so it might be worth checking out before getting into the game.
Another main mode featured is the 1 vs. 1 Battle Dojo. The rules here are completely different from the online multiplayer, calling for points from popping balloons rather than coverage.
This is kind of a shame in different ways. For one, this is definitely fun, and I wish it were an option in online multiplayer. Conversely, I also wish it were possible to play a simple one on one version of Turf War as well. In either case, more variety would be most welcome. Maybe in Splatoon 2, unless Nintendo rolls out some good downloadable content for this one.
Oh, and you don’t get to use your own custom characters in this mode. It’s a double-edged sword, as you don’t get to use the Inkling you designed, but the two sides are even, and you both get to choose from the same assortment of tools that you may or may not already have access to in the other modes. In fact, it’s too bad that there’s no sort of online multiplayer mode that works the same way.
Two other things I didn’t get to try out: The ranked battles in online mode (you have to be level 10 to access it, and between being slaughtered and not connecting, I’m not there yet), and the Splatoon amiibo, which unlocks a set of 20 Octo Valley challenges which reward you with some exclusive gear. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to try these out someday and report my findings.
Other thoughts include the visuals, which carry a neat aesthetic about them — sort of a Jet Set Radio meets Nickelodeon sort of vibe, which is pretty cool. The soundtrack is fitting and suitably catchy as well. I don’t know if I can say it’s all my kind of music, but I still have tunes from it running through my head as I write this.
As others have made a note of, there is no voice chat. While it would be nice to have, particularly when playing with friends, I didn’t feel like I was losing much by not having it. Strategy is pretty straightforward: Paint everything that isn’t your color so that it is. Abusive language from strangers would probably only serve to drag the experience down with no real gain, but again, it would be nice to have with friends — after all, the system has Wii U Chat built right in to the home menu, so how would this be any different?
The controls are good, and there is even an option some people seem to like to use the Wii U GamePad’s gyroscope to help with the controls. This didn’t really suit me, though, so I turned it off. Meanwhile, Nadia preferred the Wii U Pro Controller, but that and the Classic Controllers are only usable in Battle Dojo, nor is their OffTV play. More’s the pity.
Also, the start up is kind of a drag, as you have to listen to Callie and Marie give their spiel every single time as they tell you which arenas are available at the time — something you can see as soon as you enter the tower. I don’t dislike them, merely the inability to skip them when I’m not interested in hearing the same old thing.
Oh, and one cool feature worth mentioning is that in addition to seeing messages from fellow players in the Inkopolis Plaza, drawings you leave on the Splatoon Miiverse community will appear in the in-game arenas as graffiti. A drawing my wife made of Final Fantasy‘s octopus-like Ultros has shown up a few times in our matches.
All in all, Splatoon is a great game, though that is largely contingent on other factors. For one thing, I don’t know that I’d recommend it to anyone who can’t reliably get online with their Wii U. The single player is okay, if not pretty good, but it doesn’t measure up as well to the excitement of the multiplayer. Plus, if you’re reading this in, say, 2020 or thereabouts, you would be best served by researching what sort of community — if any — is still playing the game, unless you’re able to get it for a song.
But if you’re in the here and now of 2015 with a solid internet connection? Splatoon is definitely a must-play, and hopefully this won’t be the last we see of the Inklings from Nintendo.
A review copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.