By Anni Simpson on May 31, 2015 at 6:01pm
"Splatoon," announced duringE3 2014 as a brand new IP from Nintendo, a developer known for rehashing its IPs until the end of time, finally released last Friday, May 29. The game is based around two squid girls with the power to shoot their color-coded ink at enemy targets to defeat them. A cutesy shooter that’s fun for the whole family is an interesting concept, as is the fact that Nintendo even created a new IP in a usually untouched genre (for them). So how did it do?
“Hero Mode” is obnoxiously restrictive. In Hero Mode, you play as a single character who completes puzzles throughout the level using a combination of shooting ink, shooting bombs, soaking ink, and using ink to overcome physical barriers. While this sounds fair enough, there is no option for cooperative story mode, and if you want to go down that route, you must resort to the 90’s-era method of passing the controller back and forth after one person completes a level.
That isn’t to say the objectives or the levels themselves aren’t engaging – they are. However, I would have loved to see a co-op mode in which you could rely on your friends, rather than only engage them in battle.
Also worth noting that the health bar above you in the left corner is not intuitive. There are three sections to this bar. Each section is an actual life; you get three per level. If you drain one section, you start over at your last checkpoint (of which there are many.
There is also a local multiplayer mode – “Battle Dojo” – in which two players compete against each other to see who can pop the most balloons with their squid. This is much more pleasant and entertaining if you’re into multiplayer and knocking down your friends in a family-friendly environment.
“Splatoon” also does a vastly better job of supporting online multiplayer that blends co-op and competition. For example, “Turf War” consists of 4v4 in a paired match online try to win by using the most ink to cover the map. This may be my favorite. You’re randomly assigned three teammates, and you basically cover the entire map in your ink while undermining your enemies’ efforts and taking them out to get an advantage. The map you take is repeated for an hour, at which point it changes. However, because of the newness of the game, you can still be pitted against people twice your level, people more likely to have more intense, more useful upgrades for their inkling than you do. I am willing to bet this gets ironed out when Nintendo has more than a weekend after launch.
There are up to three amiibos you can use with this game, but if you’re into the amiibo scene, you probably picked yours up already. The inklings could come together in a three-pack with a squid or separately; the squid cannot be purchased separately. Once you link an amiibo, you unlock the ability to complete extra objectives for gold, which can be used to purchase upgrades specific to your character.
However, this mechanic requires you complete parts of story mode … after you’ve completed them normally … so it gets a little grindy. Even though you are confined to different weapons, etc. when you replay the levels, it just isn’t enough to differentiate the experience.
Personally, I felt these to be overwhelmingly complicated and unintuitive. With the Wii U gamepad, you can use the tilt to change the perspective of your character. Left joystick moves you, and the right joystick changes your camera. To use all of these in harmony is difficult (and not in the fun way) in the beginning, even though you have the option to reset the “default” perspective using “Y” at any time.
The rest of the controls were easy enough. You don’t have too many moves. Bombs are controlled by right shoulder; shooting is controlled by right trigger. Left trigger controls “squid mode” where you transform into your squid form and soak up ink and swim through ink already left on the ground. This was fairly easy to grasp almost immediately.
Almost all of the initial difficulty came from wanting to use different joysticks for different purposes and having to be really careful about the way you held the gamepad at all times.
There’s no question that “Splatoon” is stylistically unique. Rather than relying on overly-realistic graphics or styles that Nintendo’s already familiar with, “Splatoon” paints a new picture with new characters, a theme that somehow manages to combine Saturday morning cartoons and battledome, grungy shops for your character to browse, and high-contrast colors that work extremely well. By not trying to be something or someone else, the characters and the scenery really pop in a way that’s visually interesting and engaging. “Splatoon’s” style is easily one of the best things about the game hands down.
Because it’s Nintendo, because it’s new, and because it’s a shooter, I really wanted to like this game. And I do. I like that it’s not faceroll-level easy, and I like that there are multiple ways to play by changing up weapons, gear, and modes of play. However, the controls just aren’t intuitive and ramp up the learning curve in an awkward, unpleasant way. Additionally, the grindy mechanics behind the amiibo bonus is not enjoyable; changing up one weapon doesn’t really mix up the core of each level, so I didn’t feel like I was doing anything but working towards an arbitrary end goal.
The game really shines in its support for online multiplayer by offering different mechanics using different themes in the game. Because online shooting matches tend to vary wildly, the experience of matching up six times in a row is not repetitive or boring; you get a brand new game every time you queue. However, the lack of support for local multiplayer is painful when online is just so rich that I can’t help but be mad. I hope it improves soon, but I shouldn’t have to.