Ryan Smythe ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
It’s been nearly twenty years since Nintendo pushed first-person shooters into the mainstream with GoldenEye. Now they look to improve their game catalog with Splatoon, their new take on the FPS genre.
What initially sets this game apart from its competitors is the use of paint guns and rollers rather than bullets, and the focus on covering as much of a map with their team’s color paint as possible. That, and the lack of voice chat means there’s no chance of hearing an angry teen swearing through their headset. The various speech bubbles in the main lobby are still concerning to say the least, but it’s an improvement to what a game partially targeted to kids could be.
Players control a boy or girl Inkling, a humanoid that can transform into a squid. Armed with a diverse set of weapons, players can challenge single player, local 1v1, ranked and unranked online battle options. With the proliferation of online shooters, it seems best to start with those modes.
Starting out at level 1 with only the most basic weapons, players are thrown into a battle arena against anyone else on the servers. It’s quite common to be paired against level 20s, the highest anyone can go for now, in the very first game. Initially, this is quite jarring. The experience gap is just too large for most players to overcome, and a lot of frustrated matches are likely for the first while. The basic gun is a mediocre machinegun, so going up against opponents armed with sniper rifles, tactical nukes, and homing missiles feels borderline impossible.
This lack of a proper ranking system, whether it’s because there aren’t enough low-level players or because it doesn’t exist, only feels like a problem for the first few rounds. It becomes quickly apparent that even with a terrible gun, it’s still possible to win rounds and “splat” your opponents. It’s definitely more difficult than it would be with better weapons, but the true competitiveness only really starts in ranked battles.
By that point, everyone is at least level 10, which means at least the base weapon of each class is available. Some minor perks require a full level 20, but it’s hard to argue that the game is completely unfair in ranked. With only four maps to play on at this point, learning the layout is very easy, though Nintendo has DLC planned and on the way for people who still want more.
Remember when Titanfall came out with only online multiplayer and no single-player campaign, saying that they wanted to focus on the online experience? Splatoon manages to have a fun online portion while still maintaining one of the best single-player campaigns since Portal 2. The core mechanic of switching between Inkling and squid forms to cover the ground in ink and then swim along through it doesn’t seem like it should be very groundbreaking, but it feels even more satisfying than flattening onto walls in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. With a quick “plorp,” your character drops into your paint, stealthing from enemy octopi and recharging your ink tank.
Not only does the single-player campaign introduce the increasingly complex techniques possible in the game at a very comfortable, yet entertainingly challenging pace, it manages to incorporate them throughout the entire game. No one ability stops being useful once the level it’s learned in is over, end every new skill feels immensely valuable as it allows you to traverse increasingly treacherous terrain.
But, like classic Nintendo games have a tendency to do, the boss fights are the highlight of Splatoon. Each one is spectacular in its own right, and amazingly unique from each other. Each ramps the difficulty up to borderline frustrating levels, but they never quite feel impossible. The final boss has the tendency to feel slightly unfair, but in the majority of the fight he pushes himself up the ranks of every classic Nintendo boss, and when combined with the challenge, background music, and sheer size of the monster, this is one fight that can stand up to every Ganondorf, Bowser, and King Dedede.
The incredible techno music, dramatically different from any other Nintendo soundtrack, and bright colors of the ink make every aspect of this game better, to the point where at least when you fall off an unexpected cliff, there’s still music to enjoy and pretty colors to take in. One of the best touches the designers of this game put in comes in the online battles, where both teams’ ink colors are chosen as complimentary colors. There is no clashing in this game, and the color choices also ensure there is no confusion about which ink is dangerous territory.
Unfortunately, there are still only four maps to battle on, and a lot of the single-player content is Amiibo-only. Once the Amiibo all get back in stock it won’t be as much of an issue, but until that point it’s best to avoid the scalpers jacking up the price on the now sold-out squid Amiibo. The boy and girl Inkling are both still available however.
One thing Nintendo has shown through Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. 4 is its dedication to well-priced DLC. Up in the right corner of the Splatoon loading screen, it notes that it’s currently version 1.2.0, almost guaranteeing continued love from the Nintendo development team.
Somehow Nintendo took one of the most tired genres in video games, the shooter, and revamped it in a way only Nintendo can. Potentially competitive, often challenging, and always entertaining, Splatoon deserves to be mentioned alongside every other top-tier Nintendo property as a reason to buy a Wii U.
Overall Grade: A