Splatoon review – Fun time, ink time

Nintendo has injected a new IP into their library with Splatoon; their attempt at an online shooter that is family friendly. With colors galore, interesting character designs, and what appears to be a throwback to the golden era of Nickelodeon, does this new IP offer enough to garner a purchase?

Character designs, like the Inklings, are fun
Character designs, like the Inklings, are fun

Visuals – 8/10
As stated before, this game visually reminds me of an old ’90s Nickelodeon program. In fact, if the player gets into a match with two specific colors attributed to the two teams (dark blue and bright orange), it really looks like one giant Nickelodeon commercial.

Aside from this, however, Splatoon holds up very nicely. The frame rate stays incredible smooth, whether playing online or in the solo campaign, and the visuals are very nicely done. One of my favorite visual aspects of this title is the ink: the various colored inks used throughout every game mode look outstanding. It may seem a little odd, but there is something incredibly satisfying seeing the color overload covering the landscape that used to be the drab grey of concrete.

Character animations are alright, the art direction is very fresh and unique, and the character designs are fun and endearing. Overall, the visuals, both technically and artistically, are well done. However, this isn’t to say the game is flawless. Though character designs are goofy and innovative, the weaponry is designed well, and the ink is superbly crafted, the online maps are somewhat lacking that polish that is usually associated with Nintendo titles.

Look at all that colorful ink!
Look at all that colorful ink!

Though the maps themselves offer nice gameplay variations, the drab look of them is quite….well, boring. I understand that the maps quickly get inked over with bright colors, but I would’ve liked to see some other methods to create a better visual presentation; for instance, the addition of more trees (yes, there are some trees used, but not nearly enough), shrubbery, and maybe shallow pools of water to incorporate more greens, yellows, reds, and blues into the map visuals. What’s more interesting about this is the landscape beyond the arenas has some nice details that I would’ve liked to see in the arena – tennis courts colored red, parks full of green, etc.

This is a minor complaint, though, and quite possibly a moot point, since – as previously stated – the landscape quickly gets “color-fied.” Hey, if Nintendo can be creative with games, I can be creative with words.

Anyway, Splatoon runs very smoothly, and is a feast for the eyes. I think this visual aid, in the form of luminescent ink, actually plays a large role in why the game is so addicting over its shortcomings.

Weapon selection is quite nice in Splatoon
Weapon selection is quite nice in Splatoon

Audio – 7/10
The audio in Splatoon is both great and very lacking. Though it feels a bit odd to write that out, it’s the only way I can convey my thoughts on it. While the music that is used is catchy and fun, and the audio cues are nicely implemented, there just isn’t enough of either to avoid aural fatigue.

Music is a blend of pop, punk, and quirkiness. The tunes are catchy, they fit the feel of the game perfectly, and help to create the mythology that is the Inklings and Octarians. There just isn’t enough variety to keep the player listening for longer than a couple hours of gameplay. When playing online, I believe I only heard two different songs played throughout; sometimes, the songs weren’t even alternated, but rather, played back to back. At first this wasn’t an issue, but after having played the game for so long, I usually just turn the TV down and listen to something else while I play.

As for the audio cues, all are extremely well done. The “put-put-put” of a heavier, slow-firing weapon definitely gives a different perspective than the unique sounds a charger may make, or even the quicker “tat-tat-tat” of a weapon with better firing rate. The sound of ink being splattered on the ground is oddly appealing, the squid-squeal of a character getting “inked,” and the tingle of your special weapon being enabled for use are just a few more examples of excellent audio cues. The sounds in Splatoon are well placed, well made, and don’t get old. What does get old, however, are what I call the “squid voices” used whenever a character speaks. To put it bluntly: many times they’re outright annoying. I wish there had been either actual dubbing or no sounds at all. Even just the text making a noise would’ve been better for me. From the annoying vocal noises of Commander Atarime, to the tiring ones of Callie and Marie (don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind their actual announcements!), I found these audio cues to cause a little aural fatigue.

Aside from lack of variety and tiring vocal audio cues, the audio fits very well.

The "voices" in Splatoon are a little tiresome
The “voices” in Splatoon are a little tiresome

Gameplay – 7/10
The gameplay in any online shooter is what truly makes the game worth a purchase; content, solid controls, and unique gameplay mechanics help titles to stand out amongst the crowd. Splatoon hits the mark in some aspects, while failing in others. Before continuing on, though, it needs to be mentioned that the developers have promised an outflow of additional content, and have stated another larger update will be arriving in August; this means that the additional content could alter my thoughts on the game, but I’m reviewing the current version that is available for purchase.

Firstly, the controls are very nicely done. When I first began playing Splatoon, I used the traditional control scheme – basically, turning off the gyro controls. However, I decided to give it another shot, and after about 30 minutes, I discovered I preferred the motion controls to the standard. I realize this is preference, but the motion controls are still well done for those who choose to use them. The developers use a blend between the right stick and the motion controls: the right stick helps to go to the right and left more quickly, while the GamePad is used to aim up and down. In addition to nice motion controls, the touch screen is fairly useful. The player can perform a Super Jump by touching a fellow teammate on the touchscreen map – this launches the player to that specific spot on the map. The map is also a useful tool in seeing where enemies are and the ink coverage between the two teams. This touchscreen is also used to quickly select options in the Inkopolis hub.

Splatoon is missing some foundational features that have become the standard for just about any online game. Lack of voice chat, inability to change weapon load-outs between matches, inability to leave a lobby once “Join” has been selected, small selection of initial maps, and no group/party options are all flaws that do mar the overall online experience. Some features, like voice chat, actually aren’t that big of an issue, though. Due to the matches being so quick and the type of gameplay (splattering ink on the ground to cover the most of the map), voice chat isn’t really required for solid teamwork. The option, however, would’ve been a welcome feature that is a standard with just about every other online game.

Teams of 4 face off and "ink up the place" in online modes
Teams of 4 face off and “ink up the place” in online modes

There are currently three different game modes – Regular Battle with Friends, Regular Battle, and Ranked Battle. Regular is the “jump in and have fun” game mode, while the “with friends” simply means joining a friend’s game if available. The ranked are for the dedicated players: the game is a version of “King of the Hill,” called “Splat Zones,” where players fight for a specified piece of turf to cover and control. The team who counts down their clock first wins, which can be done by holding the piece of turf. For every win, the player gets 20 points counted towards your rank (on a grade scale, such as C-, C, C+, etc); for every loss, the player loses 10 points from the rank. I found this mode to be frustratingly fun: some games were great, and the teams were evenly matched, while others had the teams completely lopsided (as far as skill and character level go).

Another online mode has two teams of four players face off in “Turf War.” In Turf War, teams fight to cover the most amount of the map in their team ink before the timer runs out. It’s simple in concept, but extremely fun and requires strategy against harder opponents.

The online experience works well enough (I’ve only been dropped once or twice, the frame rate holds up solidly, and I’ve only had an issue getting into a game once or twice), but there are plenty of shortcomings that get in the way. This is where Splatoon is an utter mystery to me: it’s so fun that I still continue to play online, and I enjoy most the matches I join. I cannot explain it other than the game is so unique and so colorful that is turns into pure and simple fun. The various weapons and clothing (which are essentially perks for your character, and can be upgraded) are plentiful and are fun to try out. Each weapon and clothing combo can completely change your style of play, and this is where the game shines.

So many puns...but, I kind of enjoyed them...
So many puns…but, I kind of enjoyed them…

As much fun as the online can be, the single player campaign is even more so. The player navigates various levels – each escalating in difficulty and ingenuity as the player progresses – with the goal of nabbing mini Zap-fishes, and the ultimate goal getting the main Zap-fish. Within the levels, orbs can be acquired, which count as currency to upgrade weapons in the single player mode. In addition to the orbs, there are scrolls to be found that are hidden throughout, and some of these collectibles can be turned into the weapon store clerk (who looks suspiciously like a Minion); he can craft weapons from some of these scrolls for usage in online play. My one complaint about the single player in Splatoon is that it is so short; I truly hope they add additional areas/levels in future updates, as the platforming and puzzles are very well done. The whole single player experience is very enjoyable, albeit a little too short.

And speaking of store clerks, there are three others to purchase pieces of clothing from: a shrimp that sells shoes, a jellyfish that sells shirts, and a coral reef….thing that sells hats. Each piece of clothing comes with a main perk, and higher level clothing come with additional perks that can be unlocked by playing online matches. In addition to purchasing these clothes, there is a sketchy character that enables the player to “order” clothes from players congregating at Inkopolis hub. The player simply walks up to one of the characters, presses “A,” and chooses to order their clothing (if desired, of course).

Though lacking features, which will hopefully be fixed/added as time goes by, Splatoon is simply fun. I’ve had a blast so far in my 16 hours of play time, and it doesn’t look like I’ll be done with it any time soon.

Single player campaign is great, albeit a little short
Single player campaign is great, albeit a little short

Entertainment Factor – 8.5/10
A game like Splatoon is exactly why I choose to add this section in my reviews. A game can be technically subpar, lack features, or have other flaws that can drag the overall experience down; but if the game still manages to be fun, it deserves to be mentioned. Through it’s various shortcomings, Splatoon is fun. Oh, and it’s addictive.

I’ve played countless matches, both good and bad, and I still have the drive to play “just one more.” Part of this has to be due to the appeal to my OCD: covering every inch of the map with ink fulfills my OCD in some odd way. Along with my OCD fix, this game can get rather deep, as far as gameplay goes. At first, it was simply “ink all the map!” As time progressed, and I played against more skilled players, I began catching on to neat techniques to help boost points, and lift the team up to the win. For instance, using squid form in frequent short bursts can help you evade otherwise dire situations of getting splatted; or, jumping constantly while in a stand-off with a rival can help you avoid getting stuck in enemy ink and getting splatted more quickly.

One other aspect I’ve found great enjoyment from, as well as great disgust, is the usage of Miiverse in the title. Players can post in the Splatoon Miiverse forum, and it will often end up in your Inkopolis hub and on maps (as graffiti, to be covered by ink, of course). I’ve found some very fun posts, like these:

Splatoon Funny 1
Nice Offspring reference
Splatoon Funny 2
Dang it, Bobby…
Splatoon Funny 3
Good ol’ SpongeBob references, along with a nice song reference

I’ve also found some….disturbing posts, usually involving odd SpongeBob references, raunchiness, or just plain odd posts.

Should probably take care of that...
Should probably take care of that…

Overall, though, I’ve found most posts to be entertaining, and it’s a fun way to incorporate Miiverse. In addition, I enjoy the amiibo usage in Splatoon: each amiibo unlocks a set amount of stages that appear already in the main campaign, but require you to use different weapons to complete the tasks. For example, a level that might be fairly easy to complete with a Splattershot weapon may not be so easy with a Roller. After beating bosses unlocked by amiibo (again, nothing new, but simply have to approach the battles in different ways, thanks to the weapon selection), there are weapons to be unlocked. In addition, mini games can be unlocked by amiibo, which are quite fun. So, though it isn’t the best usage of the little NFC figurines, it is a nice addition, nonetheless.

Splatoon manages to hold my interest and desire to play as each day goes by. I look past its flaws, only every so often being frustrated with them, because the game is so different from others shooters I’ve played. The game is fun, and that’s the bottom line.

Would I recommend it right now? I can clearly see Splatoon is not for everyone, and many will be dissuaded from purchasing it in its current form; I don’t disagree with this. However, I’ve made the purchase and haven’t regretted it one bit. Hopefully Nintendo keeps delivering on its promise to continuously add on content, which will keep players coming back for more, as well as entice new players to take the jump “into the ink.” I’m looking forward to future titles with this new franchise Nintendo has established.

Overall – 7.6/10

Splatoon is available now at retail stores and on the Nintendo eShop for $59.99

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