Splatoon was pretty much an impulse buy for me. Everything I had seen and heard about the game was pretty positive up to launch but I was on the fence mostly for reasons outside of the game, namely game backlog and game budget. But when I was out picking up the Jigglypuff Amiibo Friday morning I saw the Splatoon Amiibo 3 pack in person and I caved and just went for it. So far I’ve been pretty impressed. Its not everyday Nintendo puts out a brand new IP and in this case they are experimenting in a genre they don’t mess around with too often, a third person shooter. Splatoon excels in creative game mechanics and it has that “just one more game” quality that keeps you coming back for more.
In Splatoon you play as an Inking, an Anamorphic Squid Kid who hails from the squid version of Harajuku. Splatoon forgoes the tradtional machine guns and grenades of most shooters for various different paintball guns and paint bombs. The current online multiplayer mode is called Turf War. Online matches are set up in a 4 v 4 configuration with each team being assigned a random paint color in the beginning. Once the match starts your team starts spraying paint anywhere and everywhere while simultaneously battling the other team Wherever you spray paint on the map it persists until the other team sprays the same area. At the end of a match the total area covered with paint is tallied up for both teams and the team with more tagged turf wins.
The paint mechanic is what makes this game special. By holding the left trigger your Inkling will transform into a squid which allows you to travel stealthily through paint of your own color. It also allows you to scale walls and travel through grates by following the paint trails around the environment. To quickly transverse a map its fastest to pop in and out of paint trails, spraying new trails where non exist and using the current trails to gain speed and perform “short cuts” over and around the various surfaces of the level. The paint also acts as your bullets of course so when you see an enemy Inking a few direct hits from your weapon will “Splat” him and they’ll be sent back to the respawn point. The trick is to not get too obsessed with splatting your enemy because at the end of the day how much turf has been tagged will determine the winning team.
This perhaps is also the greatest fault of Splatoon in its current iteration. There is exactly one online mode currently available and that is Turf War. This is no death match, capture the flag, domination (although turf war is sort of this), or any other mode, there is simply Turf War. The Nintendo devs have promised new modes are on the way but frankly this is new territory for Nintendo to release such a bare bones game with only the promise of new functionality. Say what you will about Nintendo but their games are always full featured and you feel like corners were not being cut and proper time and attention was given to a game before its release. Splatoon is the first Nintendo game in a long time that feels incomplete at launch and that is a shame.
To be fair though, what is there is brilliant in its simplicity and its depth. There’s several different weapons from automatics to sniper rifles with different load outs including sub weapons and special weapons that allow you to drop a lot of paint on the enemy team or perform some tech that gives you an advantage in battle such as an echo locator or ink sprinklers that can keep an area locked down. Perhaps the most innovative weapon in the game is the roller type. Its literally a giant paint roller that you run around the ground with to cover your turf. Tapping the fire button will give it a quick shake that releases something akin to a shotgun blast of paint that is deadly at close range. Countless time I’ve been ambushed by an enemy waiting silently in a blob of paint only to pop out and roller me in the face. It ends up being very balanced though because if you get the drop on someone using a roller there is a good chance you’ll win the battle strictly on range alone.
The game also contains a single player mode that kinda reminds me of a third person shooter version of Mario Galaxy. There are dozens of challenges that present you with some gameplay mechanic and by the end of the stage you will have mastered that mechanic and advanced the lightweight story wrapped around the stage as well. These stages allow you to earn some gold you can use to buy pieces of gear and weapons so you can fight in style with the latest fashions and instruments of destruction. A nice addition is that the Splatoon Amiibo provide you with some additional twists on these challenges and the chance at even more gold and some exclusive gear such as the mechanical robo-squid outfit my Inking currently sports.
There’s some real promise here. The matches are short and sweet with solid and stable online match making. I haven’t once yet been disconnected mid game and finding a match has been quick this opening weekend. Like I said before, its a shame there isn’t more game there yet because with the creative paint mechanic I think Nintendo could come up with some wicked new types of modes you just don’t see in other shooters. Turf War is a great start but I’m hoping Nintendo can take it to the next level with some free DLC that completes the game and takes the concept as far as it deserves to go.