by Jacob Garr, Columnist
I squid you not: Splatoon, the new third person online shooter game by Nintendo exclusively for Wii U, is one of the better online shooters I’ve played in some time. Splatoon is a simple game of territorial control where players control wildly creative creatures that are a hybrid of squid and human called Inklings. Inklings must paint most of the game’s battlefield with their team’s color during a three minute match where they utilize paint-themed weapons in order to win.
The concept is simple, but well executed: Nintendo still knows how to innovate.
The paint themed weapons featured in the game are fun and unique twists on shooter genre staples. Instead of a shotgun, there’s a paint-roller that scatter-shoots paint, Instead of a machine gun, there’s a paint filled super-soaker, and one notable paint poppin’ pistol is replaced by Nintendo’s classic NES Zapper gun. In the tradition of modern online shooters, weapon choice is varied and somewhat customizable as are the Inkling characters themselves – once you purchase gear from one of three clothing stores using in-game prize money, you can equip different gear to give your Inkling different powers and advantages during a battle. Each weapon includes a perk for getting so many kills/splats or covering a lot of the battlefield in paint. These perks range from “paint-strikes” that airstrike paint on a portion of the battlefield to the “Kraken” which turns a player into a large squid that takes no damage and paints the battlefield wherever it swims.
While some of the shooter genre formulas gamers have come to know are still there, some unique innovations by Nintendo have really made this game stand out to me. The first innovation is that this online shooter fully utilizes use of the Wii U gamepad’s gyroscopic controls which detects the gamepad’s movements with relative ease. At first I was leery to use the gyroscopic controls. Splatoon offers the option of playing the game with the motion controls turned off, but when I chose to switch them on after a few matches, it was a day and night difference. The motion controls allow you to move freely through the environment and target enemies with very fluid one-to-one movements. My score skyrocketed after moving over to the gyroscopic controls. Paired with that is the gamepad’s display screen which has a live-feed of the map being painted and touch control recon that allows you to spawn by your allies with the touch of a button.
The other feature that really stood out to me was how seamlessly the Inklings can go from a human kid with a weapon to a squid swimming around in ink (which is ridiculously fun, by the way). Squid form allows for players to swim through their team’s painted territories – hard time climbing a wall? No problem. Just paint it, turn into a squid, and swim up the wall. This form also allows players to escape from dangerous situations – getting shot at? Turn into a squid and swim out of there! You also swim around in ink to reload your paint ammo, it’s a clever little mechanic that takes the game’s fast paced action to the max.
The games flaws can be found where Nintendo’s flaws usually fall, for the many great innovations this game company brings to the table, it often takes a few steps back in other places. Splatoon shines when talking about the game play, but the online features and options are lacking. The biggest shooter-sin that Splatoon commits is the lack of online voice chat. Nintendo has allowed voice chat among friends on games like Super Smash Brothers and has a built-in microphone on the gamepad to boot, but because Splatoon is rated E 10+, the family-friendly business image that Nintendo maintains had the company opt out of putting voice chat IN AN ONLINE SHOOTER. Sure, the rounds are three minutes long and I’m sure it’s a relief for parents to know that a shooter exists where their kids can play and not get cursed out by moody “adults,” but I wonder why the game can’t have kid friendly rooms featuring no voice-chat and a mode with voice-chat enabled that can be parentally locked through the Wii U’s settings.
Another disappointment for me is that players who prefer regular controls over motion controls cannot use the Wii U pro controller to play online. The pro controller can only be used in a local 2-player battle mode, but having the pro controller as an option for online play would be astounding. While the gamepad’s motion controls have become a preference for me, the gamepad only has three hours of battery life when not plugged in and the pro controller has a whopping 80 hours of battery life and is very light on the hands as opposed to the heavier gamepad.
The last little nitpick for Splatoon is the lack of map options – the game features six online multiplayer maps, but only two maps are randomly selected to play every four hours. This is certainly a case of Nintendo wanting innovation where innovation didn’t need to be: the two map system was created so that the six maps wouldn’t get old, swapping maps out was the idea placed to keep things “fresh.” I certainly think it’s important to try new things, but this featured map system paired with an unskippable cut scene when you start the game that announces the maps feels annoying. The maps are well made, and having access to all of them anytime you play seems more reasonable. I would certainly be prone to play for hours if the map variation was present. The good news is that many free downloadable content maps have been announced in the near future for this game, so there will be a lot more content variety in the near future.
The fact that Nintendo is making Splatoon into a game where quality content can be released shortly down the line has me hopeful that some of the more unlikeable aspects of the game can be fixed – especially something as simple as pro controller support for online games. Within two days of release, the game received its ranked battle update with a new king of the hill mode. Splatoon has a bright, paint covered future ahead of it with an ecstatic, squid-meme loving community backing it. It has a short, but fun single player mode complete with boss fights and stages that exploit the game’s mechanics and features a two player Battle Dojo that serves as a more laid-back experience compared to playing online. Splatoon oozes charm with its ocean-based creatures in the hub-world blabbing to you and a game ref cat named Judd who throws out tips and tricks. This game is definitely worth playing right now, but the free content and future updates will seal the deal for Wii U owners still on the fence about this title. Splatoon might be stirring some waters now, but future updates promise to make a big splash in the coming year.