Splatoon Review: Totally Fresh

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Developer: Nintendo EAD Group No. 2, TOSE

Publisher: Nintendo

Platform: Nintendo Wii U

Release Date: May 28, 2015 (Japan); May 29, 2015 (NA/Europe); May 30, 2015 (Australia)

It’s always obvious when Nintendo is really excited about one of their upcoming titles. When Nintendo hypes, boy, do they hype. The excitement seems especially strong, though, for Splatoon. Between all the gameplay videos, Treehouses, and the Splatoon Global Testfires, Nintendo has shown off its colorful foray into shooters from as many angles as possible. As far as gameplay goes, there are very few secrets. The questions, then, this Splatoon review has to answer are whether the individual components work together to form a solid title, and if the game retains its quirky enthusiasm after the first few hours of online play.


Upon loading up Splatoon, you are greeted with a character customization screen for your Inkling, followed by a quick tutorial. You can pick your gender, eye color, and skin color, all of which are changeable at any time via the menu. This is useful, since your Inkling is tied to your Nintendo Network ID, so you can only have one per account (different NNIDs on the same Wii U result in separate characters), but there’s really no detriment to this unless someone logs onto your Inkling and loses a lot of matches in Ranked Battle.

Your Inkling is unleashed into a short tutorial course on the way to Inkopolis, the central hub of the game. It’s your basic run, look, shoot, special weapons kind of tutorial. Most of the controls are fairly straightforward and easy to use. Run with the left stick, shoot with right trigger, left trigger turns you into a squid and lets you swim at super speed through your team’s ink.

The camera is finicky in the tutorial. The default camera for Splatoon uses motion controls on the Gamepad, allowing you to look on screen wherever the Gamepad is pointing. For the sake of the review, I tried this for awhile, but I hated it. Fortunately, you can toggle it off and adjust the camera with the right stick like most shooters. Maybe the motion controls are fun for some, but to target anything with any degree of accuracy I had to keep mine off.

From the tutorial to online matches and into the single-player campaign, the gameplay itself is straightforward and lots of fun. You can shoot ink from your main weapon to cover floor, walls, and destroy most enemies. Switching into squid form allows you to swim rapidly through your own ink on the ground, and up walls. You can’t swim through opposing teams’ ink, and when walking through it, you move painfully slow.

Sub-weapons can be launched for a high ink cost to cover large areas with ink (in the case of bombs) or set up other special effects. Special weapons are usable via an ink-meter in the top corner of your screen that fills up as you cover more turf. Once full, you can push down the right stick to unleash a huge tornado of ink, turn into an ink-spewing kraken, or shoot smaller tornadoes at your enemies.

Right off the bat, every gameplay mode is open to you, so there’s plenty to do.

It’s a very easy to understand system for all levels of skill. I’ve played very few shooters, and was able to comfortably settle into this one easily. With the exception of a few gun types, a high degree of accuracy or skill isn’t required to hit your target and cover ground–you are shooting paint after all. The controls are intuitive, the graphics are colorful and lovely, and the music is really stinking catchy throughout. There’s also plenty to look at when you’re not frantically spraying ink.

Inkopolis and all the maps have all sorts of quirky posters and background decoration that really flesh it out as a strange, squiddy universe. If you have a moment, it’s worth stopping and looking at the paintings on the walls. Plus, all the dialogue in the game is hopelessly, yet delightfully punny. All the character and shop names are puns on fishy things, and Inkopolis has its own hip and trendy lingo (voiced by characters in a very Animal-Crossing-esque jibberish) that’s just the right amount of ridiculous to be funny.

After the tutorial, you’re dropped into Inkopolis. You can wander through the hub and see other people’s Inklings and Miiverse posts, visit shops to upgrade equipment, start the single-player campaign, go to the Battle Dojo for a one-on-one match, or queue up for online matches in the central tower.

You start off with only a basic gun and some simple equipment. Upgrades can be purchased in the shops, but you don’t have any money and the shopkeepers won’t even talk to you–you’re not “fresh” enough. You can gain their respect, and some coin, by playing a lot of online matches. Right off the bat, every gameplay mode is open to you, so there’s plenty to do.

The Octarian Menace

The online multiplayer has been the aspect of the game most celebrated by Nintendo, but I can’t praise the single-player campaign enough. As your Inkling, you play through various missions in five different areas as you aid Cap’n Cuttlefish in taking down the Octarians. The Octarians are very similar to the Inklings, and they’re angry about the results of an age-old “Turf War” (Splatoon’s name for multiplayer battles) and have come to exact revenge.

Each mission presents a unique challenge. You are given a basic gun and bombs at first, and as you complete more missions you can upgrade the gun to have a higher rate of fire, as well as unlock more sub-weapon options such as seekers. Some missions require you to spray ink to reveal invisible platforms, or climb walls past cleaning robots who remove all the ink you spray almost as fast as you can spray it. Nintendo’s ability to design interesting, puzzling, and challenging mechanics is out in full force in the campaign. Though none of the puzzles pushed me to my limits, they were still a lot of fun and took time and thought to complete.

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Some missions are mock Turf Wars with Octarians, where you have to defeat and splat past AI Octarians with the same types of abilities you’d encounter in online matches. The AI for these enemies ranged from not-quite-hopelessly-stupid (I watched them throw bombs at nothing) to too-smart-for-their-own-good (I got splatted. A lot.) If you’re doing the campaign first, this is a great chance to get a feel for how such matches might play out, and these mock Turf Wars as well as the other missions can clue you into strategies you may not have thought of otherwise.

After completing all the missions in each area, the boss will be unlocked and you will face off against a giant Octarian in a typical Nintendo three-stage encounter. Compared to the challenges in some of the missions, the bosses were a cake-walk. I was somewhat disappointed in how easily they were defeated, and most of the encounters boiled down to hitting them in a certain spot to disarm them, swimming to revealed weak spot, hitting that, and repeating.

Activating an Amiibo via the designated kiosk in Inkopolis unlocks a unique way to play the single-player campaign. I received an Inkling Girl Amiibo from Nintendo for the review, and with it was able to replay the campaign missions I’d already finished normally using a charge-shot, one of the many available weapon types in Splatoon. This added an additional element of challenge to the puzzles, and was a lot of fun to try with the added bonus that completing sets of missions unlocked new gear for my Inkling to use in online battles, as well as currency for purchasing upgrades in Booyah Base, the shops in Inkopolis.

Next: More Splatoon Impressions Our Final Verdict.