*please note: for content to be included in this review it must have been released before June 2 2015. Any content released after this date will not be reflected in this review.
Last E3 we got quite a few surprising announcements from Nintendo. One of these was a new IP that had shooting elements that (at the time) seemed 100% multiplayer. We learned it was mainly new people working on it with help from some of Nintendo’s older members as well as the addition of single-player, amiibo support and tons of free content (the first of which is now out). The game also seemingly got negative press every time we got new information such as lack of voice acting and no team building at launch. Despite no matter how many times Nintendo tried killing hype I was still always at least a little excited. Now that it’s out and I’ve had a little time to play around let’s take a look.
Splatoon at its heart is a shooter. You have a weapon, sub-weapon and special. These are all pre-built but I found there were quite a few different sets that it wasn’t a big deal. You get weapons by ranking up, beating bosses in single-player and beating amiibo challenges (all of which I’ll go into later). You can test every single weapon without any cost to you to see if you like how it works which was nice. Aside from weapons, the other major customization is clothing. You can choose your headgear, shirt and shoes (what’s with Katsuya Eguchi and not letting you customize pants?). Aside from making you look like a Kindergarten student dressed themselves, give you different boosts. Some can make you faster while swimming or making your weapons or subs take less ink or be more damaging. It’s always fun playing around and since everyone is going to look terrible anyway, I have no issue mismatching clothing to get the best abilities (except the sacred School Uniform).
Since every mode works differently it’s a little to give a general gameplay paragraph but I’ll try my best. Basically, unlike most shooters where your goal is to get the most kills, the goal in Splatoon is to get the ground covered in your ink. This is especially prominent in the main game mode Turf War, in which you play 4v4 matches and whoever covers the most of the stage with their ink wins. You have the ability to be a kid and shoot getting points for shooting empty space or the enemy’s ink or, with the press of a button, becoming a squid with the ability to swim. While swimming you will refill your ink, move faster, jump higher, and you can hide (although you do leave bubbles so you can be seen if they’re playing attention). You can only swim in your own ink and attempting to swim on ground will just make you slow and on enemy ink will make you take damage. While the goal is to get the most turf covered you can kill other players (even gives you a kill/death count at the end of the match) but as far as I can tell, as this does is send them back to their base and stops them from inking that area with no points given.
The single-player mode is called Octo Valley which has 26 missions including 5 bosses. These were all pretty fun and none overstayed their welcome or felt too easy or too hard. Each level generally introduces a new gimmick with generally 1 level per world with an Octostriker (keeps ink striking you until you get to the end and get to attack back) and one with Octolings that act like Inklings that you have too keep fighting to make it to the end. Most stages were also original with a few (mostly from the 2 level types I mentioned) coming from the multiplayer maps (including a few that aren’t yet in the game). The bosses were all fun and again, while not challenging, not easy either. They each had a unique way to take them out which was cool. My only real complaint with Octo Valley is the level select. I like how it was a puzzle trying to find each level but the fact they were on different platforms AND invisible until you sprayed them was more annoying. I constantly had “I need 1 more Zap Fish, where is that stupid level!?” moments although I was still able to find them all myself so they weren’t too tough.
The amiibo function is basically taking some of the single player levels and adding different challenges depending on which one you scan. For every 3 challenges you will fight a boss which will then unlock either a piece of clothing, a new weapon, or a new arcade game to play on the gamepad while you’re in the online lobby. While the order doesn’t appear to be random (which is actually surprising knowing Nintendo) I really didn’t like this feature. Yeah the figures look cool and I love the School Uniform but, with how amiibo are currently (and how the Squid amiibo is so hard to get in NA/EU) so many players are going to be locked out of this content. The challenges aren’t very good either (I’ve only done the first 3 rows of the Inking girl at the time of writing). They pretty much are just “beat this single player level with the Charger/Roller instead of Blaster” I think the squid’s are different but as anyone who wasn’t lucky enough to get a pre-order is unlikely to ever get a Squid amiibo, I’m not even going to bother testing for review purposes.
Something most reviews probably won’t update to cover but I will since the review goes up after they were uploaded is Ranked Modes. The very first thing you’ll notice is you don’t even have the terrible joining a friend’s game options from Turf War. Currently the only available mode is Splat Zones and it’s really not doing much to make me move from Turf Wars. Instead of trying to ink the entire map you now only really care about an area in the middle and I found generally, if a team got the zone then killed every single member of the other team they were now guaranteed the win. Camping becomes way too easy and unless you just give up the zone for the other team, there’s nothing really to do once you’re in this position besides camp. I was on both sides of doing the camping and being camped and neither were fun. The most fun I had was the one match we actually ran out the timer as it was constantly close but that was 1/10. Sure that’s a small range but when 9 matches had either team win without the other even having a chance I grew frustrated and couldn’t be bothered to continue.
While I listed a couple complaints in the paragraphs above I still have a few more. For one, the Squid Sisters appearing every time I turn on the game got really old, really fast. I don’t even see a point besides maybe using that time to load as all they do is tell you the current stages and make some stupid jokes. You can see these stages when you join a lobby so it’s pointless, and if you were going on for single-player it’s even more pointless. Secondly, relating to the stages, there’s only 5 at launch. While I don’t personally have an issue with this there’s only 2 available at a time and they switch every 4 hours. Why not use a similar system as Mario Kart 8 and give a random selection (or since there’s only 5 all of them) in between each match and let the players vote? There’s room on the screen for a third stage but I honestly don’t think that will help much. Lastly, how hard it is to play with friends. Yes I know this is coming but I can’t think of any good reason a co-op based shooter launched without allowing you to play with friends easier. Currently you have to join a lobby they’re already in which if it’s full is almost impossible. If you have 7 other people you want to play with good luck.
The game looks amazing. The colours are all different enough to not be hard to tell them apart (Nintendo has options for those colourblind as well). The clothing and weapons all look pretty good as do character models. I also like the enemy designs in Octo Valley. The game ran very smooth with pretty much no lag online (I have noticed a few times it takes a second for ink to appear on the ground but this usually happens during peak hours). If you look at the transition between being a squid and a kid in slow-motion, that looks pretty nice too.
The music is all really catchy. My main issue is there’s very little of it so it gets repeated a little too often. I’m not sure if Nintendo has mentioned anything about music being added but I really hope it is as I’ve already got the point of muting the game and listening to a podcast or something. It really sucks as I do like the music but I don’t want to go insane hearing it too often. The voice work is like Animal Crossing where it’s gibberish (at least sounds like it), while I don’t mind listening to an actual language I can’t understand with text or subtitles helping I really don’t like gibberish and usually when it happens (unless it’s only 1 character for comedic effect) I often wish they were just silent or made gasps and grunts like in The Legend of Zelda.